Saying ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ when trying tactfully to decline an invitation is a social minefield, where the best of intentions can end up giving the wrong impression.

The Imposition

You’re busy. Really busy. And then you get an invitation from a friend or relative that would mean giving up time you can’t spare. And possibly spending money you can’t afford.
And possibly to do something you don’t really like anyway. Like trailing 100 miles to attend a big birthday party, with all the expense of travel, and either a hotel bill overnight or having to stick to soft drinks and then drive 100 miles home. All for the sake of the host, who will be so busy trying to make it a success (and will have ever guest fussing over them), they will barely notice who is there anyway.
The invitation is meant kindly. It’s a lovely thought. These people WANT you to be there.
Yet to you, it seems more like a chore than a pleasure. And you find yourself almost resenting them for inviting you.
You don’t want to go, but how do you decline the invitation without causing offence?

The ‘Can’t Promise’

Someone asks you if you fancy going somewhere on a certain day. You know if you say ‘yes’ there is a strong chance something else will come up and you’ll have to let them down. Which you don’t want to do.

So, how do you decline the invitation gracefully, without giving the wrong impression?

Never lie

Not only is lying a bad thing to do in general; it will come back to bite you. Because there’s always a chance the other person will find out you lied, and then be seriously offended that you did so. You’ve a) lied to them, and b) clearly (in their mind) didn’t want to meet up with them.

What you say and what others hear

You say: “I’m really busy at the moment, and something else may come up, so I can’t promise I will be free then. I might have to let you down.”
They hear: “I’m too busy to find time for YOU at the moment. And something more important than seeing you may come up.”

You say: “Tuesday is a really bad day for me. Wednesday would be much better.”
They hear: “I’m not going to put myself out.”

You say: “Tuesday is a really bad day for me, but if that’s the only day you can manage…”
They hear: “I’m doing you a huge favour by agreeing to meet up with you at all.”

You say: “I’m going away that weekend, and I’ve got a party the following weekend, and it’s Dad’s birthday the week after. But, I am currently free on the weekend of…”
They hear: “I’ve got a fabulous social life. Look how many people want me to spend time with them. I’ll do you a favour, though, if you join the back of the queue.”

how do decline an invitation

So, how do you decline an invitation gracefully?

A few suggestions:

“It’s lovely of you to think of me, and I wish you every happiness on your special day. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend*. But, do send me the gifts list, and I will be with you in spirit. I also look forward to seeing the photos afterwards.”

*They aren’t likely to ask WHY, and you’ve not said anything that can catch you out later.

“That sound great. I wish I could say for sure I’ll be free that day. Unfortunately, work* keep messing me about and I can’t say yes for sure to anything fun at the moment. Soon as I find out for sure, I’ll let you know.”

*or family, or whoever. It tells them they are the people you want to be with, and whatever or whoever is maybe preventing that is the nuisance.

“Wish you’d got in first – I’ve already agreed to do something else that weekend I can’t get out of.
“If I tell you the weekends I am free, perhaps one of them would fit in with your plans?”

Says you’d like to meet up with them, and says when they can do so (rather than when they can’t). Doesn’t imply you’re too busy to fit them in. And subtly lets them know you’re not some Billy No Mates, with an empty diary!

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