Stop making excuses for people

By Francisco Dao , written on May 30, 2013

From The News Desk

Outside of this column, my primary job is to screen out clowns and jackasses, so the people who attend my events don’t have to deal with them. As such, I have to pay close attention to what people say, how they say it, what they do, and the assumptions they make. It’s not that complicated really; keep your word, respect other people’s time, show a touch of humility, and most of all don’t lie to me.

Unfortunately, many people don’t seem to be able to live up to these basic standards. But what’s more fascinating is how often others make excuses for people who fail the character test. I simply don’t understand why people feel the need to do this. Is there some rule about forgiveness that I didn’t learn?

If you want to surround yourself with quality people, stop making excuses for poor behavior and character flaws, especially when the acts are intentional and fully within their control. Here are a few real world examples.

A couple of years ago, I hosted a poker game and invited an entrepreneur friend as a favor to him. I made it very clear that pitching was strictly forbidden, and everyone at the party was told it would be a safe environment where they could relax and not have to deal with anybody hitting them up for anything. Despite my instructions, I would later find out that my friend came to the party with the primary intent of pitching one of the other attendees. Fortunately, the other attendee liked the pitch, but that was irrelevant. He broke the rules, and I was done with him.

For the next year or so, several people I knew would lobby for this guy trying to explain why it was okay. They would say things like, “Well, he was in fundraising mode,” and “It worked out, so it’s all good.”

I don’t give a shit what mode he was in, or whether or not it worked out. He knew the rules. He lied to my face. He potentially could have ruined the evening for a lot of good people, who took time out of their schedule to be there. And worst of all he made me look like a liar in front of people I respect. What excuse is there for that?

More recently, I met a young entrepreneur who told me she “owned a biotech company in Colorado” but wanted to work in the Internet space, so she moved to LA. She looked like she was barely out of college so for clarification I asked, “You own a biotech company?” She confirmed that she did indeed own a biotech company. Since she was only 22, this seemed a little fishy to me, so I Googled her when I got home. As far as I can tell, she was part of a grad student research project that they were trying to convert into something real. There were some impressive looking PhD candidates involved (she wasn’t one of them), but to call the project a biotech company and claim that she owned it was more than a small stretch.

A few weeks later I was telling this story to a friend of mine who said, “Well, she’s young.” What the hell does that have to do with anything? Her age is not my concern. Her willingness to make grossly exaggerated claims in order to make herself look like something she isn’t is the only thing that matters. And regardless, since when did being young make it okay to lie?

Some might argue that I’m unnecessarily harsh or judgmental but I don’t think that’s the case. There is very little upside, and potentially massive downside, to associating with people of poor character.

If you’re worried about making premature judgments, here’s a tip. Carefully consider their intent. I don’t get upset with people for circumstances beyond their control, but I pay close attention to the conscious decisions they make. If they choose to act in poor character, I won’t make excuses for them, even if they’re a friend.

The sooner you stop making excuses for people, the sooner you can surround yourself with people of good character. And seriously, why would you waste your time and energy being around anyone else?

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]