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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

8 Harmless Lies Everyone Tells at Work at Least Once

Disclaimer: Before you get too excited, The Daily Muse is not all of a sudden pro-lying at work. We are, however, honest about the fact that sometimes you might need to tell little white lies to get through the workday without making life more difficult than it needs to be.

As you probably know, there are situations in which it’s just easier to make up a harmless excuse than get into a long, personal story about why you have trouble waking up when your alarm goes off. Other times, it’s sounding professional that’s at stake.

For example:

1. “Traffic Was Horrible”

Or, if you take public transportation, “Sorry I’m late; I had train issues.” You probably pull one of these out if you’re running late (again) and you can’t bear admitting to your boss that you’re just not a morning person, that the truth is you overslept again. Sometimes, it’s quicker and less revealing to blame your tardiness on outside forces, particularly if your manager’s the type to wake up at 5 AM each day to run six miles before getting to work.

2. “I’ve Got to Be Home for the Plumber”

It’s been a rough week, and you’re exhausted. There’s plenty of work to be done before the weekend, but, frankly, you’re not sure you can handle another day at the office. In fact, you know you’ll actually get more done from home, and so you tell your manager that you’ve got to work remotely to be present to let the plumber in.

You can email him the night before with the unfortunate news that a “pipe burst,” or the “heater’s broken,” or the “toilet’s clogged,” and that you’ll be online if he needs you.

3. “I’m Working on That Right Now, in Fact!”

Your boss or a colleague checks in with you about a project you’re overseeing. Although there wasn’t a specified due date, you’re now being asked to report on your progress. The problem is that you completely dropped the ball and flat-out forgot about the item. It’s something you can get to quickly and follow-up on though, so instead of confessing that you’ve got nothing to show, you instead say you’re working on it, at which point, you do commence working on it.

4. “This Email’s Been Sitting in My Drafts Folder”

When someone sends you a follow-up email and you suddenly remember that you’d totally meant to respond (last week!), grab this handy excuse. The thing is, it probably has happened to you, and it’s most likely happened to the person who reached back out to you, so no need to make anyone explicitly aware that you momentarily lost control of your inbox. The drafts folder has been taking blame since the beginning of email.

5. “My Kid’s Sick”

You wake up to a torrential downpour or to wind gusts so strong that the thought of leaving your house for the office makes you want to curl up into a ball and stay that way. This is the kind of day when you go for one of the great fibs: the sick child. Or, if you don’t have offspring, the dog that won’t stop throwing up. Either way, you’re sorry but you’re not going to be able to make it in today. If and when the weather clears tomorrow, you assure your boss that you’ll resume your regular commute.

6. “I’ve Got a Prior Commitment”

The leadership team extends an invitation to a boring networking event or an even more lame dinner with the board on an evening that you have a date with your couch and the big game. Since that’s not exactly a great excuse, you go vague and turn down the invitation because you’ve got a conflict.

It would be rude to tell the truth here and say that you don’t want to go, but citing another obligation is neither suspicious nor impolite, and it’s the better way to say no.

7. “Let Me Look Into That and Get Back to You”

Someone asks for an intro or some other favor that you’re just not comfortable with. Instead of telling it like it is and admitting that it’s not something you’re willing to do, you do the brush-off, saying you’ll look into it and hoping that the other party forgets or is too embarrassed to bring it up again. In a perfect world, we’d all be at ease asserting true thoughts, but this isn’t that, and sometimes, the less painful way is to just avoid ever giving a direct response.

8. “I’ve Got Food Poisoning”

You desperately need a mental health day. You’ve been working your butt off for months without a single vacation. You’ve even been putting in weekend hours. Approaching burn out is where you are, but telling your boss that isn’t an option. So instead you choose a fleeting illness, like a migraine or stomach bug—that way you can show up tomorrow without having to explain a miraculous recovery.

Honesty’s the best policy. There’s a reason that’s a common, oft-repeated saying, and yet, some days, it just won’t do as well as telling a little white lie. With that said, these are common lies for a reason—everyone tells them. So if you find yourself reaching for the same one again and again, your boss is probably on to you (how bad can your plumbing really be?). And if you’re at that point, it might be time to step back, look at what the real problem is, and come up with a (more honest) solution.

Photo of woman on couch courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.