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Reason or Excuse?

I have been thinking about when I hear someone explaining their rationale for saying or doing something that has upset or provoked me or another person. I realize that at times it sounds like an excuse and at other times it sounds like a reason. You may ask what difference does it make?

Providing reasons or excuses in our conflict interactions often seem to arise during the course of a dispute or after it is over. At these times, we – or the other person – may give a reason or excuse as a way of defending what was said or done (see the previous blog on Justify or Just-Iffy). Our reactions when on the receiving end of reasons or excuses reflect how they are experienced – as one or the other. Accordingly, conflict may be further exacerbated, or things may be clarified and have a calming influence.

Among other things, it helps to consider what the intent is behind providing either reasons or excuses in any given situation. We may do either because we know what was said or done is being questioned and we are either responding (with reasons) or reacting (with excuses). That is, it seems to me that giving reasons may be considered more like a response to the other person’s perceived curiosity – a non-defensive answer that is based on the view that our actions will be easily understandable. Whereas, we use the term making excuses which implies an effort to fabricate an explanation as a defence to the other person challenging our actions.

I think too that it is important to consider the nature and degree of emotion that may be underneath either. Reasons are more often stated by way of clarifying and explaining ourselves. If acceptable to the receiver, her or his response reflects that. If our reasons are not acceptable they may end up sounding like excuses. Whereas it seems excuses are an effort to be and be seen as ‘right’ and are often conveyed with a negative edge to it. The receiver tends to feel and rise to the emotion behind what is said and defends her or his viewpoints too.

To examine your own approach in a recent dispute in which you found yourself giving reasons or excuses, here are this week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions).

  • What was the nature of the discussion that resulted in you giving reasons or excuses?
  • Which do you think you were providing – reasons or excuses?
  • For what reasons is that (your answer to the previous question)?
  • How may the other person have answered the question above (whether she or he heard you provide excuses or reasons)?
  • For what reasons may she or he say that?
  • If the other person became defensive, why was that do you think? What may she or he have been defending?
  • If you became defensive in response to the other person’s reaction, why was that? What were you defending?
  • How else did you experience the other person’s response to you when you gave either excuses or reasons?
  • When someone with whom you were in a specific conflict reacted with excuses about something she or he did, why was that do you think? When someone in another conflict reacted with reasons to something you questioned, what was different?
  • If you generally prefer to sound like you are providing reasons as opposed to making excuses, what may you say or do to facilitate that?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

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