Is an Honest Response Better Than Making Excuses?

better to be honest

Making excuses is a bad habit that anyone can slip into. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and now it’s time to get passed it. Sometimes we make excuses because we are trying to be polite, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Maybe somebody invites us to do something that we really don’t want to do. So, we politely say, “I would really like to, but I just can’t today.”

Why not just give an honest reply and say, “No thanks”?

The funny thing about making excuses is that we can always come up with excuses for why we do it. That’s pathetic when you think about it. If we want other people to be honest with us, shouldn’t we start by respecting others enough to be tactful but honest with them?

How does it make you feel when you invite someone to do something and you know that instead of an honest reply, they just make up an excuse to cover up the fact that they don’t really want to?

Do you prefer excuses or a tactful rendition of the honest truth?

An honest response is not the same as being rude, although it does require a dash of consideration to avoid hurting other people’s feelings. We can, and should, learn to soften our honesty with a bit of tact. We can also explain to others that we care about them and don’t want to hurt their feelings, but out of respect we want to be totally honest with them.

Beware of the subliminal power of CAN’T

When you use the phrase, “I can’t” as an excuse, you send an negative, limiting message to your own nervous system. In your conscious mind, it may just be an excuse, but to your subconscious it sends a message about your abilities or inabilities. Telling yourself repeatedly that you can’t do this, and can’t do that, will have you believing that you can’t do much of anything after a while.

Saying that we can’t do something, when the truth is we just don’t want to do it, offends our internal sense of honesty. Our conscience recognizes the difference between an honest statement and making excuses that are not quite true. If we are motivated to tell others the truth out of respect for them, doesn’t it make sense to show ourselves the same degree of respect?

Strike excuses from your vocabulary

In most situations, excuses are just a convenient cop-out. Even when they are completely true, we should still avoid using “I Can’t.” Here are a few replacements phrases you might consider.

No, thank you.
I choose not to.
I’m really not interested.
I would rather not.
I could, but I don’t want to.
I will, but not today.
Maybe some other time.

All of these phrases clearly and honestly state our intention without resorting to dishonesty or creating negative internal feedback. Using such phrases will help us avoid sending the wrong message to our nervous system and creating limiting beliefs about our own abilities.

As you can see, we can be honest without being brutal or thoughtless with our responses. To the contrary, being honest and considerate at the same time is really a kinder, more respectful way to respond. Yes, it requires that we think before we speak, but we should learn to do that anyway.

Is there ever a situation where a less than true excuse might be appropriate?

Certainly, it is not up to me to make that decision for you, but here’s one that just might provide the ultimate challenge to your ability to be tactful, honest, and kind:

Honey, do these pants make me look fat? :)

Okay, now it’s your turn for an honest response
No excuses!

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  1. Jeremy Johnson April 16, 2010 Reply

    Hmm, I really like that you said, “I choose not to.” I have a lesson to learn here. Thanks!

    • Jonathan April 16, 2010 Reply

      Hey Jeremy, this was an older post but I have heard the phrase “I can’t” enough lately to move me to revisit the issue. I can accept it if a ton of boulders falls on us and someone says “could you come over here please,” but most of the time that’s not the situation.

      When we are cautious about saying I can’t, we find ourselves being empowered that the alternate choices available to us.

  2. Mike King April 17, 2010 Reply

    This is one area I’m very passionate about and I personally strive not to make excuses. I find that sometimes people are shocked at first when you say something like, “I’m choosing not to, that’s why” when explaining when I’m not going to do something but once they know you are willing to be honest with them, and especially after a few “real honest” responses, they will respect your honesty, appreciate it and start to practice it themselves. Good suggestions for phrases to use Jonathan,

    • Jonathan April 17, 2010 Reply

      Hey Mike, thanks for being here. I see excuses as one of the dividing lines between being in control of your life by taking responsibility, and being afraid to step and say “this is me and this is what I am about.”

      Your point about “real honest” responses is a key here. To be honest with others we need to learn to be honest with ourselves first.

  3. Robin Easton April 17, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, Yes, “can’t” is an interesting word. We can think that it’s not affecting us when we throw it out there in a sort of unconscious way, and we can even think that we don’t REALLY mean it, BUT….

    I think it powerfully impacts our perception of ourselves and what is possible in life. It sets a VERY strong immutable lid on our thinking and actions that we more often than not don’t see. We start to live inside the jar instead of consciously stepping outside it where there are few or no limitations and the world is our oyster. Anything is possible.

    “Can’t” may seem subtle or harmless, but it literally IS the LID on the jar.

    Thank you my friend!!,

    • Jonathan April 17, 2010 Reply

      Hi Robin, I am in total agreement (big surprise, right?). I think of a closed door that we are refusing to open with can’t written boldly across it. If you do open that door, you discover that opportunity is written across the back side. But the only way to see the opportunity is to get past the can’t by opening the door.

  4. Nea April 17, 2010 Reply

    Oh wow. You really got me on this one. I say it all the time when there’s something I’m refusing to do, “Sorry, I can’t help you with that.” I’ve never really thought about how untrue it is–almost all the time. Guess I’ll start coming up with better ways to say, opt out without ticking anyone off. Great as usual, Jonathan.

    • Jonathan April 17, 2010 Reply

      Hi Nea, didn’t mean to put you on the spot. I think that once you replace can’t with something that expresses the fact that you are exercising a choice not to, you will feel instantly empowered.

  5. ZuzannaM April 17, 2010 Reply

    Hello Jonathan,

    I was not able to use this word at all, not sure why, but It was not acceptable for my vocabulary. I remember when was in a car accident, then was limited with some activities, and then only then, I had to forgive myself of saying, “I’m sorry but I am not able to do this now.” In my opinion, saying I can’t, it is like closing the door forever. Believe, that we have a better way to express ourselves and not manifest the word ‘Cant’ much in our daily activities. Just like Robin said, “Putting the lid on the jar.” Thank you for sharing your great article!

    As always, much enjoyed reading,

  6. Jonathan April 17, 2010 Reply

    Good for you Z, even in a rough situation being able to say “I am not able to do this now” still keeps the door of possibility open.

  7. Julie November 7, 2011 Reply

    A number of years ago I decided to try the “no thank you” approach when I was being asked to attend things that I didn’t want to or wish to attend. It was a very freeing exercise. I encourage everyone to try it out. It helps wash away many self-imposed obligations that eat into our time and sometimes our character. Great article Jonathan as always!

    • Jonathan December 2, 2011 Reply

      Hi Julie and thank you for sharing your personal story on using this strategy. There are so many little issues like this that really do “eat into our character.

  8. Ken Wert December 2, 2011 Reply

    This is a wonderful post, Jonathan!

    Honesty is such an important part of developing character and happiness. The more we bend the truth and wiggle our way of situations by virtue of the white lie, the more our insides feel that quiet uncomfortable pang of conscience.

    But as you say, truth can be a two-edged sword as well. I’ve heard people excuse terribly rude behavior by saying, “Well, it’s true!” Truth and honesty does not of itself require a brutal form of it. Like you so eloquently say, another sign of character is the tactfulness with which we deliver the truth.

    Thanks for the insight, Jonathan!

    • Jonathan December 8, 2011 Reply

      Hi Ken, I heard a great saying the other day that fits your comment nicely: The truth is still the truth even if no one believes it, and a lie is still a lie even if everyone believes it.

  9. marc December 5, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    A very wise post again. Excuses often hide dishonesty with somebody else or yourself. You show here some nice and practical examples how to do it better – with a soft and honest approach.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Jonathan December 8, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Marc, I have always fount that people of integrity appreciate being told the truth, especially if it is done tactfully.

  10. Nancy December 5, 2011 Reply

    Great post Jonathan – as usual though!

    So true on excuses – great reminder and examples of other phrases that we can use. The important thing that I have found is that you be honest with yourself first.

    Right now I have a little dilemna – a girlfriend wants to go to Costa Rica with me and I’m not 100% sold on going with this particular friend – I may go with others but not keen on the idea of her since I don’t really know her – so I will have to partake in the truth and tell her that I don’t know her well enough and I wouldn’t be true to myself if I went…..

    Thanks for making me think of my answer in truth!

    Living in the possibilities,

    • Jonathan December 6, 2011 Reply

      Hi Nancy, honesty (with tact of course) is a great way to find out who your real friends are. She may end up being grateful that you respected her enough to be honest. Then you will know something very important about her.

  11. Lenia December 7, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    I guess that I use the “I can’t” as excuse because it is easy. But I have never thought about the negative energy included in that phrase. Nevertheless sometimes it is obvious that our audience is quite shocked when we say that.
    I find the replacement phrases you suggest really interesting and I think next time I will try to use one of them such as the “I will, but not today”. With this one, the person we have in front of us doesn’t feel rejection!

    Thank you for this constructive article.

    • Jonathan December 8, 2011 Reply

      Hi Lenia, I think lots of people use “I can’t” for that reason. It’s easy, convenient, makes it look like there are no other options, and sometimes it’s even true. For those times when you would like to but really can’t, make sure express the fact that you would if you could. Then they know it’s not just an excuse.

  12. victoria December 3, 2012 Reply

    Hi jonathan ! Your article really gives me great motivation. It makes me believe that nothing is impossible . i always admire my friend who can achieve fabulous grades in their study. On the other hand, when people encourage me to do something, i just try to find an excuse and easily throw the sentence i cant to them to let them down. Now i realize that there is nothing that i cant do. Therefore, it gives me great motivation, especially in my study….thank you very much

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