• drcatherineyang

Explain versus Excuse


I love to sleep in on a Saturday morning when I don't need to go to work on the weekend. On this Saturday morning, my 6-year-old son crawled into my bed for a cuddle. But when he rolled around to rub his itchy eye, I got hit in my eye by his elbow during the movement. It hurts! Surely he said 'Sorry, mummy' immediately but that did not make me feel better and I was in a lot of pain at that time. I covered my sore eye and told him, 'It really hurts' and was hoping the pain would go away soon. He said again, 'Sorry, mummy' but I couldn't see him with my eyes shut and my worries and anger started to smolder inside me. I knew I need to work on some emotion management before I exploded.

In our household, when my children got into a sibling fight, crying and tattling to get my attention because one or both of them got hurt, I usually would tell them to apologize like this, 'I am sorry (for an action) I hurt you, what can I do to make you feel better?' followed by a genuine act of kindness which actually makes the person(s) feel better.

I have found this very helpful in people management, especially in a situation where emotions take over logic.

Bearing my pain and holding in my anger, I asked my son, 'Do you know the difference between making an explanation and making an excuse?' He shook his head. I went on and said, 'A good explanation helps people to understand you better, therefore easier to receive the forgiveness. However, a poor excuse usually makes people feel disrespected, therefore easier to get into more trouble.' 'Do you know that mummy was in pain when you accidentally hit into my eye with your elbow?' He nodded. 'If you could explain to me in a way to help me understand that it was an accident and you truly feel sorry for hurting me unintentionally and you really want to help me reduce the pain by asking me how or what to do, I would feel so much better than trying to figure out what just happened without blaming you for being careless.' With my other eye managed to open slowly, I encouraged my son to give it a go at explaining to me what just happened.

My 6-year-old son sat next to me and said, 'Mummy, I am very sorry to hurt you. I was rubbing my itchy eyes but I couldn't see you behind me. Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?' I held my son in my arms, rocking him back and forth and said, 'I feel so much better now. Thank you.'


Working as a health professional for 20 years, I know that in some cases, the pain subsides naturally over time; in other cases, the pain is resolved through treatment progress; but in all cases, nothing compares to the joy you feel in your heart when you know someone truly loves and cares about you. At that moment when I feel loved and cared about by my son, my pain had gone away completely!


At work and in life, sometimes we do make mistakes that can cause inconvenience at various levels to ourselves and to others. Regardless of the measurable amount of damage or loss caused, it is people's feelings that are critically important to be managed well in order to avoid exacerbating the problem. The size of a problem remains the same as what it is as a result. However, the problem will seem bigger than it actually is when a person feels overwhelmed by it. Lack of the ability to explain clearly about an issue encountered at work can cause misunderstanding between colleagues. A team member's work performance affected by another colleague can make her/him feel annoyed by thinking through many possible excuses if no explanation is given properly. The whole team's productivity will also be reduced because of miscommunication. "Frustrated, Emotional, Angry and Resentful" are the typical reactions of conflict that I have observed among people in many industries regardless of their professions. I call it, "F.E.A.R. at the workplace".

If you like to know more about how not to let fear step on you and to learn how to put the fear under your feet and step on it, therefore you can feel bigger than your problem and be happy in life, please contact me. I have developed the system of "S.T.E.P. on FEAR" for people to enjoy a fear-less and fulfilling life.

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S.T.E.P. on Fear

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