The Costanza Defense

I love Seinfeld, that sitcom from the 90’s that was about nothing with Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George Costanza. I know it has been off the air for a while, but it is still living on in rerun heaven, not to mention Hulu, and/or Netflix and/or other purveyors of binge-worthy television shows.  Seinfeld made significant contributions to our philosophy and lexicon, including: yada yada, serenity now, regifting, and double dipping to name a few.  One thing that perhaps has been overlooked is about to be rectified though.  That is what I am going to call the Costanza Defense.  This comes from an episode where George Costanza has sex with an office cleaning lady.  When he is confronted (and ultimately fired), essentially his defense is that he didn’t know that was against company policy, that “no one told me I wasn’t supposed to do that…”   It is funny because it is so ludicrous, but it also isn’t that far off the mark.  

“I didn’t know I had to be on time for every client meeting.  If someone had only told me, I would have set my alarm.”

“I didn’t know I couldn’t wear nice flip flops to the office.  If only someone would have told me.”

“I didn’t see in the handbook where I couldn’t call in sick if I was hung over.”

These are examples of what I have dubbed the Costanza defense.  It is a defense where common sense takes a backseat to policies and procedures. It is a desperate defense for sure, and one that I have seen deployed from time to time.  

The bad thing is, under some management styles, the defense can work.  If you are in a supervisory role, my challenge to you right now is simple: the next time common sense goes against something that is not expressly written out in a policy, don’t be afraid to trust your gut.  It can be challenging at times to confront an employee without clearly drawn out instructions in front of you as ammunition, but don’t underestimate the power of your common sense.  You will find that, just like George Costanza, the “nobody told me,” defense is pretty weak and crumbles under even a little bit of pressure.

For extra credit, here is a short clip for your viewing pleasure.

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