How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
When excusing yourself, claim that you had to do something for a friend or family member that was so important you were unable to fulfil other commitments.
Stress or imply the importance you put on family and friends and thank the other person profusely when they are inevitably obliged to accept your explanation.
Then try to make it up to them in other ways, showing that you really are a person who is a loyal employee or friend.
I'm so sorry I was late. My wife was late coming home from the office and I couldn't leave little Oliver alone. I hurried over as soon as she returned.
Ben, I'm not going to be able to come out tonight. My cousin has turned up and I really have to stay and socialize with him. Can we take a rain-check? Same time next week? The first beer will be on me.
I would have done it, but I've a friend who's been dumped and spent the evening consoling her. I hope you don't mind.
Social relationships are the glue of society. And sustaining the implied social commitments we make through deep relationships have a consequently strong influence on our choices, including arriving as a 'priority interrupt' into our other daily activities. Families in particular have a very strong call on our time. As the saying goes, 'blood is thicker than water'.
A related part of social living is in understanding that people with whom we work and play may have occasional emergencies when other people take priority over spending time with us, and our obligation is to gracefully let them break commitments they made to us. After all, we may want to do the same sort of thing some day.
Because of the social obligation, using this as an excuse has an implied sorrow tinged into it. We suggest that we would rather spend time with other friends or at work, but the stronger social pull just has to take priority. This is understood and widely accepted. As a part of the ritual, the people who release us from the secondary obligation smile and show due concern, saying something like 'Yes, of course you must go. Family comes first'.