The Dos And Don’ts Of Making Excuses At Work

The Dos And Don’ts Of Making Excuses At Work

Most bosses just plain don’t want to hear excuses at all, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. The Wall Street Journal breaks down the dos and don’t for those moments.

Picture: IstoletheTV/Flickr

Sometimes, things just happen and you can’t get your job done properly. The Wall Street Journal looked at a few studies to see what tends to work best. Here are a few types of excuses that people usually prefer hearing:

  • Handicap yourself: “My presentation might be a little off today, I’m nursing a sore throat.”
  • Show empathy: Doing your work much have been incredibly difficult without access to those files.
  • Deflect blame: “If only Henry had given me more detailed data, I could have turned in a more thorough report.”
  • Seek perfection: “I’m almost ready with the report, but I need to refine a few more details.”

And what doesn’t tend to work that well:

  • The lame excuse: “I fell terrible about missing that presentation to the executive committee, but I got stuck in traffic.”
  • The self-serving story: “How could I have come close to making my quota when nobody is buying real estate. The economy is putrid.”
  • The devil made me do it: “Please excuse me for blowing up. I’m so passionate about what we’re doing here that I got wound up too tight.”

So, if you have to make an excuse for messing something up at work, stick with one of the ones that work. It turns out people just don’t have that much empathy for you when you’re stuck in traffic.

Making Excuses that Actually Work [The Wall Street Journal]


  • Deflect blame: “If only Henry had given me more detailed data, I could have turned in a more thorough report.”

    As a former boss, I see that as a pretty negative one, indicating a potentially low work ethic of the person presenting the report. My immediate question would be ‘If you knew the data Henry gave you was not as detailed, did you take this up with Henry as well? Why did you not see me prior to the report being submitted so we could counter this situation?’

    It just reeks of laziness. I used to hate subordinates who made excuses, I would only accept ‘reasons’, the two are completely different. The situation there, is not a reason as it could have been avoided.

    • You are the kind of boss that I would love to work for.
      I’m sick of others that have lame excuses at work.
      Personally I would have kicked Henry’s arse if he didn’t provide the proper data that way I wouldn’t have wasted any of your time 🙂

      • Henry is a lazy son of a bitch! I wanna know why he was given the job of collating the data in the first place! Everyone knows he only does it so he can sit next to the cute girl in the next cubicle. I’ve been telling everyone for the last 10 months that I should be doing it… I’ve had enough, I quit!

  • Deflecting blame doesn’t seem very professional. Instead of making excuses or blaming someone else you should take responsibility and own your mistakes and learn from them.

    • In my experience, if something really is your fault, it’s better to honestly eat the blame and admit fault – as long as you don’t do it too often.

      Sometimes blaming the process can help: “Henry misunderstood the amount of detail I needed for my report, so it’s not as thorough as I would have liked. I’ve discussed this with him and it shouldn’t be a problem in future.”

  • “If only I’d proof read the article I just posted, I could have avoided using the wrong words in multiple statements”

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