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Drop The Shovel

By Mike McGough

March, 2017

When confronted with what she had done, her first impulse was to try and cover. The embarrassment was great and fear of the ramifications that would surely follow produced a knot in her stomach. She was clearly outside the zone of comfort in which she usually lived, so a strong impulse, a terribly strong impulse, flooded her mind with a thousand excuses. She wanted to get out of the jam she was in, and she acted impulsively to try and do so.

Searching hastily for an explanation for what she had done, she stammered a bit then offered the first thing that came to mind. She was obviously nervous, and her stress level was sky high. Trying her best to deflect any blame or responsibility, she offered a string of somewhat related yet largely fabricated excuses. The supervisor listened intently, showing far more courtesy and respect than he was being afforded. Intertwined in the chain of excuses were strands of truth that ended up calling attention to a number of other job-related misconducts and deficiencies to which she was at least a contributing party. The situation was growing worse by the minute for her, and she seemed oblivious to that fact.

When the supervisor asked some questions aimed at sifting through the tangled web of partial-truths, excuses, and fluff aimed at misdirecting him, the now flustered employee tripped herself up worst with every word. Her misrepresentations were compounded by fabrications that grew further and further from the truth, as she nervously continued trying to explain. Her flimsy excuses were exposed for the pathetic drivel they were, and the mess just kept expanding exponentially.

Growing weary of the farce being played out before him, the supervisor looked directly at the obviously guilty employee and simply said, “Enough!” So intent on her course, she tried vaguely to continue, but soon realized that both her and her story were running on empty. Putting her head down, she tried one last time to deflect the attention away from herself, when she said, “Okay, just what do you want me to say?”

Feeling both frustrated and annoyed by how he was being treated, the supervisor calmly responded with, “The truth would be a good starting point.” Sensing that she had failed miserably in her efforts to talk her way out of this situation, she asked if they could start over. The supervisor agreed that that would be best for both of them.

The infraction was a breach of company policy. It was not trivial in nature, nor was it one of those earth-shattering or career-ending events. There would be consequences and there was a need to set things right as quickly and completely as possible. Sensing the position she was in, she quickly changed her tack from dishonest excuses to explanations that focused on what really had happened. No longer driven by the desire to deceive, she was able to offer a more rational, and believable explanation. There was a sense of relief on her face and in her voice as she did so.

The understanding supervisor was willing to meet the employee half way. They discussed the intent and the seriousness of company policies and the need for employee adherence to them. In short order they had worked through to a resolution. They determined how best to set things right, deal with the consequences the employee would ultimately face, and get past the whole unfortunate situation.

After a moment’s silence, and a welcome moment it was, the supervisor offered a closing bit of advice. “When you find yourself in a hole, be smart enough to drop the shovel!”

When confronted with situations that threaten to expose your errors, mistakes or inappropriate actions, offering up a host of excuses and lies often appears to be a viable response. In the moment they appear to be an attractive alternative, a deflection that can separate you from the situation. In your effort to insulate or protect yourself from undesirable consequences, they can begin looking like the way out. However, as is often the case, lame excuses and flimsy half-truths are general exposed for exactly what they are—stumbling blocks along the path to resolution. And when this happens, the situation only grows worse, and the problem is often compounded and complicated far more than is necessary or desirable.

The lesson in all this is simple. When an error has been made, it needs to be corrected, and the wrongs that were committed need to be set right. Excuses, lies, and efforts to deflect won’t correct errors, and they won’t set wrongs right. They just dig the hole a little deeper. And as the supervisor suggested, “When you find yourself in a hole, be smart enough to drop the shovel!”