No regrets: how to refuse an invitation

acceptreject1It shouldn’t be difficult to turn down an invitation but it is. We feel that because someone has asked us, we have to say yes. We feel we have been put on the spot, put in a situation which gives us no choice.

Start by flipping that switch and telling yourself ‘It’s OK to say no.’

In fact, it’s more than OK. With some exceptions, of course, the right thing to do if you don’t want to go to something is to say so. To join in an occasion half-heartedly or grudgingly and moan about it afterwards as if it is someone else’s fault that you didn’t have a good time, is mean-spirited and unworthy of you. Here are some ways of dealing with invitations.

Accept the person, if not the invitation

An invitation is an offering. Someone has thought of you, and is suggesting an event that they think you will enjoy. Receive the offer warmly. Smile and look engaged. Say thank you.

Listen to your gut feeling

Your instinctive reaction will tell you how you feel about an invitation to go bowling with the work crowd, attend your ex’s wedding, go out for a meal with friends, come to to an eighties-themed party, join a camping expedition. Our gut reaction is often a reliable indicator of the invitation’s appeal.

Buy a little time

When your gut screams No! No! pause before you open your mouth. You need not reply straight away. You can say something along the lines of  ‘That sounds like fun/interesting/a nice idea.’

Then add ‘I just need to check the diary/the schedule/a couple of things/ and I’ll get back to you.’

Be specific about when and how you will get back.

  • I’ll text you in ten minutes.

  • I’ll email you by the end of the week.

  • I’ll give you a call this afternoon.

  • I’ll drop by later today.

Sometimes a little time to let the idea settle can alter your initial reaction. Actually, I’d quite like to join that belly-dancing class, you think, or, it might be fun to meet Andrea again.  In the same way, your initial enthusiasm might be modified as the implications of a suggestion sink in.

Ask questions

If your acceptance or refusal depends on certain factors, get the information you need. A gentle way of doing this would be to ask a leading question. Enquiring ‘I suppose all the old gang will be there?’ should get a reply like ‘Mostly, but unfortunately Kevin can’t make it.’ Hooray, you think, and enthusiastically accept the invitation. Or not, depending.

Even if you are inclined to accept, it’s a good idea to find out what is involved. You might alter your response if you discover that the party involves travelling to another town or country, dressing up in strange attire, will actually – oh, didn’t I say? – last the whole weekend.

‘Tell me more about it!’ is a good way to get the crucial info.

Give a clear no

We think we’re letting someone down gently when we say we’ll try to make it, or we think we can but we’re not sure. In fact, it’s pretty inconsiderate. As for thinking I’ll say yes, then just not show up…it’s not a great way to behave, is it, now that you think about it?

Try something like:

  • Regretfully/sadly I’m going to have to say no to that.

  • Unfortunately I’m going to have to say no.

  • I’m going to have to pass on this one/this occasion.

  • I’m sorry, I can’t.

Excuses, excuses

Once upon a time, girls at least made use of  a standard excuse. We would say we were washing our hair that night. To have any element of truth, the contemporary version of this get-out would need to offer a far more comprehensive range of grooming activities and would definitely stray into the territory of too much information.

You don’t need to give a reason or an excuse. You could but you don’t have to. It just feels as if we can’t say no to an invitation without going into details about why we are turning it down. And of course the more feeble our excuse the more detail we include and the more likely we are to be found out.

You could use a generic phrase such as:

  • What a shame, that’s not going to work for me.

  • Sadly it’s just the wrong time.

  • I would love to, but I’ve already committed to something that day.

What to say when you don’t like the suggestion

Come clean about the fact that you don’t like team sports, book groups, dancing, choirs, fashion shows, whatever it is you have been invited to. If you don’t, you will be asked again. Say something like

  • Thanks for thinking of me, but you know, that’s not really my thing/that’s not an activity I enjoy.

  • You could make another suggestion:

  • But I’d love to meet for coffee one morning

  • I’d like to catch up with the group on another occasion

What to say when you would like to accept but can’t

Show your enthusiasm for the invitation. Say you hope it all goes well and that you are looking forward to hearing about it/seeing the photos/seeing the Facebook updates.

There might be something you can contribute to the occasion in your absence.

Miss Otis Regrets

The ultimate in polite refusals must be Cole Porter’s 1934 song Miss Otis Regrets. The message is delivered by a servant: ‘Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today, madam.’

If you want to know why Miss Otis has to turn down the invitation, check out one of the many versions of the song that have been recorded over the years. Ella Fitzgerald’s interpretation is sublime, Kirsty MacColl gives a bold rendition, and Lonnie Donegan, King of Skiffle and so much more, brings the song an air of magisterial gravity.

I’ll just tell you this. That poor gal sure ain’t washing her hair.