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Think of a time where you had plans but were nervous to cancel, despite having a legitimate reason. You are nervous because you don’t want to disappoint your friends or colleagues, but mostly you hope they understand and find your reason legitimate. The way you communicate your explanation is a delicate balance that can be easily seen as excuse, and if you are starting from a perspective where you are cancelling, there is already some ground to make up.


Today, we will explore the differences between an excuse and an explanation and will start by looking at the definitions of the two:



  1. a statement or account that makes something clear.
  2. a reason or justification given for an action or belief.


As we can see, an explanation provides clarity, and though you don’t always owe someone an explanation, providing one can help avoid having others fill in the gaps on their own.


Explanations also allow you to build credibility and can give others insight into your priorities and morality. If you are missing a meeting due to a serious family event, it can be assumed that you have your priorities in line. However, if you are missing the meeting because you are walking your dog, it can show a lack of preparation and cause people see you as unreliable. That is the basic difference between an explanation and an excuse.




  1. attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); seek to defend or justify.
  2. release (someone) from a duty or requirement.


  1. a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense.


Here, we can see that an excuse is associated with words that have negative connotations like blame or fault.


An explanation can quickly become an excuse when we place blame on others, no matter how true. When something is obvious, sometimes providing an explanation can make you look worse. This is when an explanation turns into an excuse. At the end of the day, we are in control of our own lives and there is almost always a solution.


In a sense, the difference between the two words can be as simple as being honest or dishonest. This includes being dishonest/honest with yourself. By relying on excuses, you are hurting yourself. Excuses can be a way to ‘let ourselves off the hook.’


With this, we had two quotes in mind:


 “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” ―George Washington Carver

“We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.” ―Rudyard Kipling

With explanations, less is more and if we are in the right, we shouldn’t feel the need to provide unnecessary detail. The more information provided, the more room for misinterpretation, especially over email.


Understanding the difference between explanations and excuses can help you avoid making excuses and can improve your life in many ways. Excuses are only self-created roadblocks to success. If you want to be successful, you need to stop making excuses, and the only person getting in the way is you.





Would you say an explanation becomes an excuse if it is not deemed a sufficient reason?


Would you agree the word excuse has a negative connotation?