Gracefully Declining the Invitation


Social activities are a normal part of our work lives, and this time of year, most of us receive invitations to holiday parties, luncheons, receptions, and the alike. These invitations can come from co-workers to vendors to colleagues in other organizations and although nice to receive, sometimes we choose not to attend. We decline such requests because we don’t like to socialize with coworkers outside of work, have a restricted diet, or because of other commitments. But responding to a holiday invitation with a “no” can sometimes be a bit difficult.

One thing to keep in mind is that good manners always require us to be honest and polite. If you do so, you won’t feel guilty responding that you cannot attend. Also, if an invitation includes a RSVP or “regrets only,” then you need to respond regardless of your intent to attend and do so promptly. Otherwise, you are not obligated to inform the host of your intentions.

So, how do you bow out gracefully?

Peggy Post, the great-granddaughter-in-law of the infamous Emily, gives us direction on how to deliver the “courteous no” when declining a social invitation. Keeping these tips in mind will make a potentially uncomfortable situation more pleasant.

Add a Positive to Your Response. You can decline, but also do so in a positive way. You want to preserve the relationship, so keep this in mind when responding. For example, you can say, “No, but thank you for inviting me to the party,” or “It sounds like a lot of fun, but I am unable to attend,” and let your colleague know you appreciate her invitation.

Be Direct. You can decline, but don’t hem and haw with your response. You want to be polite and respectful of others, so just be honest with your answer.  If you have other plans, then just say, “I cannot attend the reception, I have another commitment at that time.” There is no need to make excuses as to why you are unavailable.

Do The Right Thing. If you already accepted the invitation to attend and have a legitimate reason to not attend such as a family emergency, illness, or unavoidable work conflict, then say so. You will want to contact the host as soon as possible to indicate you are unable to be present, explaining to him the reason for your unavailability.

Of course, there are circumstances in which you may feel you have to attend a social work event, but really don’t want to. Keep in mind that unless you are directed by a superior that you must attend, you shouldn’t feel obligated. That being said — if you feel  you must go to that holiday party, then respond that you will attend. You can always make an appearance, but not stay for the full duration.  Be sure to make contact with the individual who is hosting the gathering, thank her for the invitation, and then gracefully make your exit.

Social gatherings at work are intended to be fun and enjoyable. Take heed of these simple tips so that you don’t create any unnecessary stress at work.

Tricia S. Nolfi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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