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The secret to giving good excuses, according to science

When you’re late because you had a long Starbucks stop, do you blame traffic? Science says you shouldn’t, and there’s a better way to give good excuses.


We all have excuses

We’ve all experienced it: we’ve been late for a work meeting, behind on a deadline, or forgotten about drinks scheduled with a friend. These are situations that inevitably call for our best excuses. Most of the time we fumble around for any explanation, any story that will help us to save face or avoid consequences. Usually these excuses take the form of a lie, sometimes with good intentions–we want to save our jobs or prevent our friends and family from being hurt by our lack of follow-through.

The people who consider themselves the most skilled at giving excuses often integrate a version of the truth into the lie (“I was stuck in traffic” when the traffic was only five minutes long, not 40). However, according to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, this is not the best way to give an excuse.

The secret to giving a great excuse is–are you ready for this?!–telling the bald, bare-naked, God’s honest truth. That’s it.

You might be squirming in your seat already

“You mean I have to tell my friend I completely spaced our hang out time? He’s going to think I don’t care about him! And I have to tell my boss I overslept this morning?! She’s going to think I’m a slacker!”

The answer is yes, yes you should just come out and tell it like it is. Why? Because, according to Dr. Whitbourne, when you are honest about the reason for your excuse, it allows the other parties involved to feel empathy with you. Admission of fault, while difficult, is very relatable. Providing an honest explanation allows people to try to recall their own mistakes, and to understand the situation from your perspective.

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The side effects of your going this route

Another reason to tell the truth as opposed to making up a lie as an excuse? It’s good for your own self improvement. Dr. Whitbourne explains it this way, “Telling the truth helps [you] believe you’re a good and honest individual while allowing you to behave in ways consistent with that self-image.”

Also, in a time when we are overloaded with information on a minute by minute basis, who has the mental capacity to keep track of lies? If you consistently provide half-truth excuses, it isn’t likely that you will remember which excuses you made to whom. It’s a hot mess waiting to happen.

This makes it a win-win!

Better to avoid the hot messes and follow Dr. Whitbourne’s advice, no matter how uncomfortable. The best course is to bite the bullet; not for the sake of justifying your behavior, but for the sake of telling the truth, and moving on with your life. Your friends or your boss will most likely understand, and you will probably sleep better at night, knowing you’re a person of integrity.

Which means you might actually hear your alarm the next morning, and make it to your appointments on time (no excuse necessary!): win-win.


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Written By

Amy Orazio received her MFA in Creative Writing at Otis College of Art and Design, in Los Angeles. She lives in Portland now, where she is enjoying the cross section of finishing her poetry manuscript and writing for The American Genius.

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