Stop That Excuse and Offer Alternatives

Last updated: Apr 04, 2014

How often do you say “this can’t be done because so-and-so is such-and-such…”?

If you stop at that and do not provide options, you’re doing disservice to yourself and your team.

Don’t be ashamed if you’ve been saying this as often as you use Netflix. After all, it’s too easy to say “This is not possible.”

Convincing others solely based on why something can’t be done will never make you look smarter nor will it earn you respect from your colleagues. It just makes it harder for your colleagues to work with you.

What’s far harder to say, thus rarely heard, is “This won’t be a good approach (because …). However, we can consider these two other options and achieve our goal.”

How do you do this in practice? Here’s a series of atomic steps I usually take.

First explain why something may not be a good idea. When you explain, make sure you do in relation to the impact on your team’s shared goal. Say something like “doing this will cause some major code change which will take me at least 3 days to fix. As a result it will cause delay in shipping this and that.” Also do not go into too much detail of why it can’t be done unless you’re explicitly asked for more details.

Secondly offer alternatives. This way you can avoid any pointless, pedantic discussion. When you say “FYI, this can’t be done and there’s nothing more I can say about this.”, the only valid response you can expect to come is “why can it not be done?”. This direction, in turn, will make you want to get into a trench and go on the defensive. This is not good.

Thirdly whenever you’re stuck, remember your job is to revisit the shared goal and communicate the next best alternatives you can find. Do your research first. Don’t worry. There’s gotta be some way. It’s better to ask for more time to research.

Research with an axiomatic conviction: believe there will be a ‘good enough’ solution out there. In fact, it’s an awesome habit to religiously assume there’s gotta be another way to approach a problem and ritually Google for an alternative. Again, if in doubt, Google.

Let me recap. When you’re stuck, don’t make up an excuse. Whether the reason is fair or not does not matter much. Go back to a mutually-agreed goal. Provide other options to achieve thd shared goal.

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