A big bad word that I stopped using a long time ago, when working with people in their strength training: EXCUSE. As the title suggests, I think this can be a lazy attack word for personal trainers who may not really understand the responsibilities and stresses with which their clients have to contend. I cringe to think how many people I have done this to in the past.
Look, sure it’s legitimate to say that a lot of people make excuses about why they can’t get in shape, lose fat, whatever, but we’re not working with all those hypothetical people, are we? How many times a day does this happen? A trainee skips a training session. His or her trainer asks them why they skipped. “Well, I had a work function and got back too late to train.”
“That’s an excuse,” says the trainer. You could have called me to reschedule for a later session. You want to succeed you need to show up for every workout.”
Is a work function stopping you from making a training session an excuse? No, to you it’s a reason. Just because the trainer gets paid to work in a gym and thinks it is no big deal to re-schedule a workout for later, doesn’t mean you see things the same way. Perhaps you have children and rescheduling your workout would have necessitated a baby sitter. Maybe you can’t afford to pay the trainer his big fat check and also spring for a sitter, or even find one in time. Yes, of course it is a huge inconvenience to a trainer when a client does not show up, but it is nowhere near the incovenience of losing your job, or, perhaps, leaving your young children home alone so you can go to the gym. But once the word excuse is used, the trainer has dug in their heels and set themselves on the high-ground, from whence no further explanation can be heard or accepted. We rarely see the difference between excuses and reasons any more, especially when we view everything as black-and-white.
Stop making excuses, we say. No excuses, we say. What is an excuse to you is a reason to the person saying it. They may not have been very aware of their reasons for behaving the way they did, or for not behaving the way you would like them to, but your negative reaction causes them to have to state a reason.
If both of you understand and accept the reason, then you communicate and move on. When you, the trainer, do not understand and accept the reason, you call it an excuse. Now, you can see yourself as superior to the person “making excuses.” As soon as you start to see yourself this way, your ability to move forward and help the person achieve their goals is diminished. Unless you believe the TV version of personal training where the trainer is nothing more than a drill sergeant who yells and pushes a person into shape.
What you’ve done is denied another person’s perspective, and substituted your own. Quite frankly, when you say to someone “that’s an excuse and you’re being lazy,” it is YOU who is being lazy. I know, I used to be lazy like this all the time. The word excuse translates to “I have given myself permission not to listen to you, to dismiss everything you say, and to not have a productive discussion with you.”
What’s more, you have said that you do not trust the other person. You have implied that they are bad, lazy, etc. You’ve attacked them, and so only managed to make them feel defensive, or bad about themselves, etc., while making yourself feel better. Even if they ARE making an excuse, and the truth is they just didn’t want to exercise, quilting them into moving forward is not a long-term solution.
Have you ever noticed that there is a line we draw in the sand when it comes to accusing people of making excuses? I’m a mother of three and I hold down two jobs is an excuse. If you really want it, you’ll find a way. My family just died in a fiery car crash. Not an excuse. How do we determine the difference? We determine it by making an assessment of whether it would be taboo to holler “excuse” or not in any given circumstance. When someone dies, it’s taboo to holler excuse. When a struggling mother doesn’t want to give up the one hour she gets to spend with her kids or the four hours of sleep she manages to get…it’s an excuse.
If you don’t want people to accuse you of making excuses, you must try to be aware of your reasons for doing things, so that you can speak about these reasons with a certain self-assurance. Even if the other person doesn’t accept your reasons, you can at least see that their denial of your reasons does not need to affect your self-esteem. They may say you’re making an excuse, but you know what your reasons are and you do not need them to see things from your perspective. You also must be able to make honest assessments of those reasons and try to determine if they are legitimate reasons or just a way to avoid making a change.
However, if you don’t want to be the lazy trainer, labeling everything you don’t like with a handy negative word like excuse, then realize that although you may not immediately understand a trainee’s reasons, or accept them, does not mean that they had no reason, or that the reasons are not valid. Instead of using an attack word, ask for further clarification and try to move forward to a place where the trainee is open to your viewpoints.
When you use the word excuse, you excuse yourself from having to explain or justify your reasons for denying the other person’s perspective. Usually, what we see as an excuse is a situational attribution, where the excuse maker appeals to external or situational causes that were out of their control. The person admits that something negative has occurred, but wants to minimize their perceived responsibility for the occurrence.
“Jeez, sorry I was late but the traffic was really bad.” Okay, so you know that a responsible person knows that traffic is unpredictable and he leaves a little wiggle room and leaves early so as to have a buffer for traffic snags. If a person doesn’t do that, maybe he or she is not as invested as they could be? Or maybe they just aren’t as organized as you are. The point is that it doesn’t matter whether or not it is an excuse, what matters is your ability to come to a mutually beneficial solution. Using an attack word is not the way to get that done. Besides, who hasn’t been stuck in traffic?