When you’ve dropped the ball in some way, whether or not it was your fault, there’s a difference between an excuse and an explanation.
An excuse is a way of saying, “It’s not my fault!” It’s a request to be excused, a reason that you think you should be released from blame, obligation, or the need to apologize.
I got a D in French because the teacher doesn’t like me.
I came home two hours past curfew, but my friends needed rides home.
My grades dropped, but it’s because my activities took up too much of my time.
All of those are requests to be absolved. None of them accept blame or offer any insight about how to change the outcome next time. That’s why most excuses, even when they’re true, are usually pretty worthless on their own.
An explanation, on the other hand, seeks an understanding of how or why something happened. And explanations don’t necessarily let the explainer off the hook.
I got a D in French. The teacher and I don’t seem to get along very well, and that’s probably because I goofed off for the first quarter before I really started trying.
I came home two hours past curfew because I’d promised to be the designated driver and my friends needed to get home. But it’s not a good system if I have to be irresponsible to help keep other people safe.
My grades dropped because I took on too much outside of class. I made too many commitments to too many people, and no matter what I did, I just couldn’t keep up.
Explanations are more productive for you and for others. They show that you’re more concerned with really looking at what happened than you are with just saving your own skin. They lead to a better understanding of what actually happened which helps you prevent recurring scenarios. And most importantly, explanations leave room for taking responsibility or even apologizing.
The next time something hasn’t gone as planned and you’re at the center of it, try offering up an explanation instead of an excuse.