Years ago, I had a week when I was late to work a few days in a row. Given that I was normally very punctual, I honestly didn’t think anyone noticed. On the third or so day, I came back from lunch and a brand new alarm clock was sitting on my chair. My boss never fessed up, but I had to assume that it was her way of telling me to get it together.
While you may have a great working relationship, your supervisor is not your friend. He or she is not here for your excuses about a fake doctor’s appointment or train delays. Maybe you really are in grad school and stayed up too late doing homework, or you hit the gym too hard heavy lifting and desperately need a sick day, or you just have a doctor's appointment. All of that is perfectly reasonable, and the onus is, of course, on managers to be understanding and practice flexibility. But you also don't need to make excuses. And you especially don't need to make fake excuses.
Yes, challenges arise out of nowhere, and no one can — or should be expected to — perform at optimal levels all the time. So, too, will there be situations where it's totally justifiable to push back against a demanding boss. The key is in being mindful of the way you explain your situation so that it doesn't appear as though you're simply making excuses. Here are five blame-game excuses that you should nix from your vocabulary, for the sake of protecting your professional image.
1. "It can’t be done."
We’ve all had bosses who ask for the moon and expect it to be delivered the next morning. The issue here is not the unreasonable ask; it’s how you approach the request. If the expected results are truly not possible, then do some due diligence to determine the most palatable alternative. Figure out a new solution before presenting your thoughts, so that you can say, “Unfortunately, X plan is not available given Y… but I’ve come up with a work-around that involves Z…”
Giving up is never the answer and won’t score you any professional development points. Do research, ask for help, but don’t just admit defeat. If you want to succeed in your company and career (and life), you need to become a problem solver. Know what you don’t know, and then get those answers.
2. "My direct report/colleague is not delivering."
You are the manager of this particular project. Although it may be true that someone else’s negligence is derailing your work, that fact is basically irrelevant in your supervisor’s eyes. The potential for success or failure still lies with you. At the onset of any project, you need to allocate assignments according to individual skillsets, inclinations and availability. Good project managers know that they may need to reassess their resources to ensure delivery.
Blaming someone else doesn’t detract from your fault in the situation. In fact, it usually has the opposite effect.
3. "I have too much work."
This can be a tricky one, because while productivity is important, your quantity of output should never impinge on the of quality results. Also, self-care is incredibly important in our overworked culture, and you want to be sure to preempt burn out. That said, you are responsible for managing your work flow and delegating accordingly. Prioritization is vital in the workplace. In a thriving company, everyone has too much work.
If you are consistently working beyond your capacity, then be sure to thoroughly document your accomplishments and request a meeting with your boss. Review the expectations for your role so that both you and your boss can manage them appropriately.
4. "I will try my best."
This sounds like a positive statement, but really it’s a negative one. How confident is your supervisor going to be in your abilities if you’re only trying to get the project done? There are no points for participation in the workplace! Be bold and be confident. State what you need in order to actually accomplish the desired results.
Don’t hinder yourself by creating space for failure. While it’s inevitable at times and offers amazing learning opportunities, lead every project with the assumption of success.
5. "I couldn’t meet the deadline."
This is similar to the first excuse, but more specific to timing. Often deadlines are arbitrary, extreme and almost a set-up for failure. If you find this to be the case, say it before you take on the assignment, not after the deadline has already passed. You are going to be much better off, both immediately and in the future, if your boss understands that you are strong enough to stick up for yourself.
Of course, there are always situations where you are held to this impossible timeline even after you provide a thorough explanation of its improbability and all the alternative approaches. In those instances, documentation helps so that you can point to your analysis without any need for an excuse.
Elana Konstant is a career coach and consultant focusing on professional women in career transition. A former lawyer, she founded Konstant Change Coaching to empower women to create the career they want. Change is good. Elana will help you find out why. Her career advice has been featured on Glamour.com, PopSugar, Motherly and other outlets. You can learn more by visiting her website, konstantchangecoachin