Just tell the truth.
Even if you feel like you’re an honest, hard-working, trustworthy individual (as most of us do), there will be situations in which you just don’t or can’t follow through on a promise. Whether it’s attending a family event, meeting a job deadline, going out with friends, or spending an evening helping the kids with homework, invariably we find ourselves feeling no choice but to use an “untruth” (i.e., a lie) in order to avoid disappointing others. Still don’t begin the string of untruths by lying to yourself so you can sell it to others, just tell the truth.
Not some version of the truth, or part of the truth, or truth that’s technically true but isn’t the real reason for your behavior. It’s got to be, as they say, “the whole truth.”
If you do it, you’ll never again forget which excuses you made to whom, because the truth will be at the bottom of all your explanations. At an ethical level, telling the truth helps you to believe you’re a good and honest individual while allowing you to behave in ways consistent with that self-image.
Before getting to the reason for this advice, let’s look at three faux excuses that don’t measure up to the truth:
- The version of the truth. You were late for a meeting due to lingering too long over your latte. There was a particularly busy rush hour that day, so you offer as your excuse, “Traffic was terrible today.”
- Part of the truth. You don’t really want to go to the Jack-and-Jill wedding shower you were invited to, so you give as your excuse the fact that your family is coming into town that day. It is true they’re coming, but the shower will be long over by the time your folks arrive in town.
- Technically the truth. Some lawyers are expert at giving reasons that are true but only in the technical sense of the word. It is possible, using this logic, that you only remembered your friend’s birthday 3 days after it was over. Your excuse may be that you think it’s much better to wish someone happy birthday in person. Technically that is true, but it’s not why you missed the big day.
In each of these cases, an honest excuse would have involved some loss of face or admission of fault; you’re not perfect after all. However, you would at least be spared the burden of having to remember all the surrounding details of the excuses you gave.
When communicated in a straightforward manner, being honest about the reason for your stumble allows the other individuals involved to feel empathy with you. If you provide an explanation that makes sense—and is 100% truthful—they should be more inclined to try to understand the situation from your perspective. Everyone is late sometimes, we all forget important occasions, and plenty of us prefer a Sunday afternoon alone than in the company of people opening presents.
Barlett, C. P. (2013). Excuses, excuses: A meta‐analytic review of how mitigating information can change aggression and an exploration of moderating variables. Aggressive Behavior, 39(6), 472-481.
Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2015