Saying ‘I’m Busy’ Might Feel Like A Good Work Excuse, But It’s Not What Successful People Do

Saying 'I'm busy' as a work excuse isn't something successful people do

We’ve all used a good work excuse to help us get out of doing something that we really don’t want to do. Whether that’s telling a boss that you’re “too swamped” to sit through a client meeting, uttering the cliche words “not enough bandwidth,” to a coworker who needs help, or simply going with ol’ reliable, “I’m busy,” dropping a work excuse on another colleague might seem, on the surface, as no big deal, but, deep down, it can lead to a little bit of distrust in the workplace. It may even be one of those things you regret later in your career if you do it too frequently.

If you’ve ever wondered how every single person always seems to be so busy all the time, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s one reason why a new study from a group of Harvard Business researchers brought in 200 working adults and had them consider a scenario: They just invited a friend to dinner, and the friend declined, so what excuse seems acceptable?

To conduct the study, some participants were told that their friend used money as an excuse, simply saying “I don’t have enough money”, others were told that being busy was their excuse, saying “I don’t have time”, and the rest didn’t receive an excuse at all. While the scenario wasn’t related to a work excuse, per se, the study did identify that the participants who heard that money was a reason for the friend not showing up appeared more sympathetic and believed it more than some other excuse.

Here’s what Grant Donnelly, one of the study’s lead researchers, wrote in a Harvard Business Review article following the results:

“Participants found the money excuse to be much more trustworthy than a time excuse or no excuse, in part because they believed that the friend likely had less personal control over the circumstance they were citing as an excuse.”

Of course, admitting that you’re poor to friends isn’t the same as using a work excuse in the office to get out of doing something you just don’t really want to do. Look, we’re all busy, and when someone delivers an excuse, it’s strictly saying they value their own time and responsibilities over someone else’. That’s why those smart people at Harvard came up with a few ways that successful people would turn down a request for help in the office.

Per CNBC Make It:

It’s “more effective to decline by saying you ‘don’t have energy’ versus ‘don’t have time.’” And that’s because energy is perceived to be a more honest and less controllable reason. Here are some effective ways to thoughtfully say no without hurting your relationships in the process:

  • Tell Them What You’re Up To
  • Take A Rain Check
  • Be Honest, Lend A Hand
  • Just Say Yes

Saying “I’m busy” in the workplace might feel safe as a work excuse, as it gives the impression that you’re actually working and aren’t just mindlessly checking emails or swapping texts with friends. But when another person asks for help, they’re also asking if you invest in their time as much as you invest in your own, and if you become the person who relies on blowing people off too much because you’ve never got the time, it might end up hurting your career more than anything, and, ultimately, hold you back from future success.

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