You blow a deadline on a big project. But you can't help that you came down with the flu the day before.
You run out of gas on the way to a client meeting. But it wasn't your fault. You just didn't have time to stop at the gas station and you were sure you had enough to make it.
You miss the due date to turn in your expense report. It totally slipped your mind. But geez, can't Accounting cut you a little slack again?
You expect your boss, your client, and your coworkers to understand. After all, these circumstances were beyond your control.
"There's a reason why you aren't able to deliver on time," says Sandy Allgeier, a former corporate HR executive and author of The Personal Credibility Factor. "And 99 percent of the time, there was a way to keep that event from occurring in the first place."
Revisit those scenarios and, if you're honest with yourself, your role in them becomes crystal clear. You had an entire month to finish your part of the big project, but you procrastinated. You knew you were running low on gas. And that expense report - you've known for two weeks the deadline was last Thursday.
Excuses, even legitimate ones, wear thin in a hurry. "People often make excuses when if they'd done some better thinking and better planning to begin with, it never would have happened in the first place," says Allgeier. "A really credible person will approach the situation as a problem to solve, rather than search for an excuse and explain it away."
You might not see it that way. But chances are your boss does.
"There are times when 'cutting some slack' doesn't get things done," observes Douglas Gerlach, president of ICLUBcentral, a provider of software products and Web services for individual investors and investment clubs in Cambridge, Mass. "In those cases, staffers need to know that excuses won't cut it."
While the occasional, legitimate reason certainly isn't cause for dismissal, if excuses are a chronic part of your repertoire an alarm should be going off in your head.
"People don't often connect personal credibility with excuses," Allgeier says. "But make excuses too often and people will stop trusting you - and they'll begin working around you."
And that could spell the beginning of the end. "The finance director at a non-profit I work with was frequently out for what appeared to be legitimate reasons," recalls Dennis O'Brien, president of Coastal Financial Advisors in Farmingdale, N.J. "As a result, he was often unprepared for board meetings.
"The excuses continued and the financial documents were always clouded by 'I didn't have the time to add the event numbers.' The board was not able to trust the documents. He was eventually terminated for several reasons - including a lost grant that wasn't submitted on time."
If this is you, it's time to find the underlying cause and either fix it - or move on. "Sometimes this behavior is a sign that it's time for an employee and company to cut the strings," Gerlach says. "Ultimately, both the company and the employee will be much happier."