Customer service, Leadership, Team

The dog ate my homework

Children are experts at excuses aren’t they? But is it just children?

Do you ever feel that somehow customers or staff just don’t live up to your expectations?  That somehow it’s all their own fault?  It’s easy to drop into this kind of thinking, especially if we’ve had a tough day, week or quarter.  I imagine we’d all recognise though that this kind of thinking isn’t really going to achieve much!

Working with clients I use a really simple concept that we keep coming back to because it is so powerful.  It’s called above or below the line of choice; above the line is where we accept ownership, accountability and responsibility for our actions and results, whereas below the line we blame others, make excuses or simply deny the influence we might be having if it’s negative.

Here is the diagram I often use – many clients choose to put this up on the wall.

Are you above or below the line?







In teams, especially small ones, one person dipping below the line can affect everyone and be very disruptive.  A few questions that you could ask yourself, or others, if you spot that kind of behaviour are:

  • What outcome do I (you) really want, if not this one?
  • What could I (you) have done differently that might have achieved a different result?
  • How will I (you) do it next time?
  • How do I (you) want other people to behave  – and how can I (you) make that easy and attractive for them?

We don’t have to accept the consequences of other people’s behaviour if we don’t feel it’s helpful; and we don’t have to accept our own behaviour either if it’s not helpful!

A client told me a story the other day about baby-sitting for some friends who have two very young children.  As often happens with young ones, there were a few problems around ‘sharing’ between the two!  It would be easy to say something along the lines of ‘Please share with your brother, otherwise I’ll have to tell your mum how naughty you’ve been when she comes home’.  Not much fun, and the ogre of blame is in the air.

An alternative was ‘Please share with your brother, then I can tell your mum how good you’ve been when she gets home’.  Simple and effective, an evening of sharing followed and a good result for everyone.

Of course as adults we have had many more years of practising our behaviour (the good as well as the bad!) and it may take a bit of practice and support to make a change.  It’s pretty powerful when we do though.

What difference could it make for you and your team?  Get in touch you’d like to chat about how to use this, and I’d love to hear your stories about behaviour above or below the line.


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