The New York Times takes a revealing look at self-handicapping excuses—like "I barely slept the night before the test"—and why we create them, as well as the extremely unlikely chance that anyone else buys them. The short version of the research and studies cited is that we all do it, in varying amounts, to protect our fragile egos. It's a two-way victory: If you ace a project, you did great despite your car having trouble, your cat dying, being sick, and not having hardly heard the initial presentation. If not, well, hey, you know why. If you're a regular self-handicapper, though, you can grow too attached to whatever you use without knowing it, whether it's alcohol, rule-defying, sleep-deprivation, or whatever convenience you cling to. Those who study self-handicapping, though, offer a seemingly devious way to go at it another way and benefit—namely, get someone else to deliver your excuses:
In a recent study, James C. McElroy of Iowa State University and J. Michael Crant of Notre Dame had 246 adults evaluate the behaviour of characters in several workplace anecdotes. The participants' impressions of a character began to sour after the second time the person cited a handicap.
"What happens here is that if you do it often, observers attribute your performance to you, but begin to view it as part of your disposition, i.e., you're a whiner," Dr. McElroy wrote in an e-mail message. "But you can avoid this happening if someone else does the handicapping for you, and surprisingly enough, even if they do it often."
Which cliched excuses and handicapping preambles do you wish you could banish, whether in yourself or co-workers? Let's hear your take on pre-emptive defeat in the comments. Photo by pattista.