How to Make Turning Down An Invitation Simple and Painless

An honest "no" to an invitation is better than a resentful, drag-your-feet "yes."

An honest “No” to an invitation is better than a resentful, drag-your-feet “yes.”

In my old life, I accepted invitations. All of them. Even to gatherings I didn’t really want to attend. I felt compelled to say “yes”. The result was I ended up going places and being in situations I didn’t enjoy. Why didn’t I just say “no”?  No is a small word, but it holds so much power.

After years of coaching clients around the country, it’s clear saying “no” presents more of a challenge for women than for men. Women worry about hurt feelings, about not being liked, and in the process, they completely discount their own needs and feelings. Like I did, they say yes when they want to say no. It’s a lot less painful and time-consuming to just learn to graciously turn down invitations. After all, it is a normal part of life. We just need to learn the way to say it with honesty, in a short clear message, and with an element of grace for ourselves and others.

Honesty Pays   Usually, our first thought is to make an excuse or use a reason that isn’t the real reason for not attending. Nope! Wrong answer. In the end, this tactic always backfires.

A few years ago a friend of my husband’s cancelled a lunch at the last minute. His friend cited too much work as his reason. My good-natured husband gave the cancellation little thought. Instead he headed to Home Depot for his lunch hour to do some errands. Having forgotten about the cancellation, my husband finished his shopping and approached the checkout counter. There at the counter was the friend who cancelled lunch! Not only was he not at the office working, (the excuse he used) but he was shopping with his wife and son. Oops! Totally busted.

A truthful reason to cancel would have been so much better. No matter how tempted you are, DON’T offer an untruth as your reason for cancelling or turning down an invite. There is always a risk of being caught red-handed, or blowing your own cover in a future conversation when you forget the reason you gave.

Less is Best   You’ll be tempted to explain yourself and rationalize (out loud) why you can’t accept this invitation. Don’t do it.  It’s fine to want to minimize bad feelings.  But, that  doesn’t mean you need an entire life story justifying your reason for turning down the invite. You know the ones. The responses that are simply TMI (too much information) either because the explanation is too personal, or because it  provides way too much detail.  It’s just not necessary.

That doesn’t mean that a one-word response of “no” is acceptable either. The ideal response is a short clear message saying you cannot attend with little or no explanation. Detail is unnecessary.

It might sound like this:

 “Thanks so much for the invitation to your networking event. I’ve got a conflict at that time and won’t be able to make it.”

At most you might add:

“I’m sorry” or a “maybe next time, ”  that is assuming you would like to be invited again.

Remember Grace and Gratitude   It’s important to be grateful for the gracious intent of the person who invited us. Turning down an invite with grace is about expressing that gratitude.  If this is not your type of invite, or this person, is not someone you want to hang out with, be prepared. Thank them for the invite and clearly state that though you appreciate the invite, it’s not of interest to you. A response like, “I so appreciate your offer to join you. This particular event is not of interest to me. Maybe we could meet for another type of occasion.”  Most of us can deal with that level of honesty, as long as the message is delivered sincerely.

Skip the Guilt  Spare them your guilt.  First of all, it is a waste of your time and energy to feel guilty.  You want to turn down an invite and that is your prerogative.  However, when you do say “no”, the object is to keep the person who invited you feeling good, in spite of the fact that you declined. Dumping your guilt for not accepting the invite forces them to support you, and THAT’S backwards! It’s not about you!

While I’m ranting, LADIES, please, set a limit to your apologies. In most situations, one is sufficient. At most, you might apologize a second time at the end of your conversation. More than that and you are simply overdoing it. Declining an invite is not the end of the world. Thank them. Express your regrets once, twice at most, and move on. Leave them feeling appreciated and clear. End of story.

With just a little practice, you’ll find this approach much easier than the multiple excuse, multiple apology, long-winded explanation or the open-ended “maybe” that leaves everyone hanging.

It’s taken me years, but I no longer say “yes” to invites I don’t want. Learn from my mistakes and save yourself hours of time at unwanted events.  Say “yes” only when you mean it. You’ll enjoy outings more and no doubt, will have more time to spend as you wish.

Next time you get an unwanted invitation, before “yes” slips out of your mouth, try these five steps:

  1. Take a breath, thinking before speaking. 
  2. Promise to be honest
  3. Keep your response and explanation short
  4. Express your gratitude for the invite
  5. Keep your guilt to yourself

Then tell me your story. I would be interested to hear your experiences, feelings and outcomes.