We all have those weeks where we jam pack our schedule with plans and responsibilities, only to come to the day realizing you don’t have enough energy, time, or money to realistically follow through. If you can relate to this awkward situation and have struggled with how you should cancel plans without seriously offending someone, friendship expert Danielle Jackson has some useful tips to share.
She starts off by noting that it’s crucial to understand why you’re canceling. “If you just don’t feel like going anymore or you’re tired after work, that’s a fundamentally different scenario than if you have kids who suddenly fall ill or a last-minute project that you’ve been assigned at work, which demands your immediate attention.”
Whatever the reason is, it’s important that you’re comfortable with it—even if it’s something as simple as needing a moment to focus on your own mental health. Of course, experts do recommend against making a habit of canceling last minute because you suddenly need some “me-time,” because, at the end of the day, you did make a commitment and it’s your responsibility to uphold it says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, founder of the Protocol School of Texas.
This advice is especially important if you know your absence will have a big impact on the event, so be sure to ask yourself a few questions to gauge the consequences, like “Will your absence jeopardize the event in a big way?” or “Were you the one that was supposed to drive?” Ultimately, the more involved you are in the event, the harder it’ll be to justify a last-minute cancelation if it’s not an emergency.
7 expert tips for how to cancel plans last minute
Accept that the validity of any excuse is always subjective
Everyone will have their own idea about what’s a valid excuse and what’s not in terms of canceling on plans, and it’s worth reminding yourself that you won’t please everyone. Most of the time, people are more likely to accept pressing obligations that demand your physical presence (such as a funeral or having to take care of a sick family member or pet), or something that springs up completely unexpected (like personal sickness, a natural event like a flood, or a sudden work obligation).
Make a phone call
If you’re canceling last-minute, consider giving the person a call rather than a text, which is an inherently casual mode of communication. “I know a call can be scary because sometimes you don’t know exactly what you’ll say, or you’re worried about whether the person on the other end might convince you to change your mind,” says Jackson. However, “A phone call gives the person a chance to hear your tone and to hear the sincerity and regretfulness, which can make a cancelation easier to accept,” she adds.
Jackson advises you to start with the words “I’m sorry,” as apologizing demonstrates that you respect the other person’s time and energy and understand that your cancelation may affect them. She also suggests acknowledging your original commitment and how you came to the decision to cancel. “Maybe you say something like, ‘I know I committed to coming, but I managed my time really poorly. And now I have a work project that I know I won’t be able to finish if I come tonight,” Jackson suggests.
If you have no real excuse, omit a reason rather than lying
Lies, even small ones, can damage a friendship more than simply starting with the truth, says Gottsman. If you really feel like you have to stretch the truth, keep it general rather than fabricating a story by saying something like, “I’m so sorry this is last-minute, but I’m unfortunately not going to be able to make it,” Jackson advises. Even though this statement leaves room for interpretation, it’s still a better alternative than straight-up lying.
Offer to reschedule
Once you’ve explained yourself, try to find an alternative time to reschedule. This is one of the better ways to cancel without breaking a friendship, says Gottsman. Doing this sends the message that you still value the relationship and want to invest your time and energy into maintaining it.
Avoid posting publicly on social media after you cancel
Jackson cautions against posting anything on social media that suggests that you’re celebrating your decision to stay in, especially where the person or people involved in the event might see it.
“Some people may not take it lightly that you’ve backed out, but they also want to avoid confrontation,” Jackson explains. So, it’s always safer to assume that they’re at least a bit disappointed.
Make a point to not cancel the next time
Making a habit out of canceling last minute ultimately reflects poorly on you and you run the risk of damaging the relationship. This behavior brings into question your reliability and the level of commitment you devote to the relationship in question.
Once you’ve canceled last-minute before, you find yourself in a sort of “friendship debt,” which makes it even more important to avoid getting deeper into debt by canceling on future commitments again. “Sometimes, even bringing up your cancelation again the next time you see someone can help reassure them that, one, it’s on your mind and you haven’t forgotten; two, you’re not trying to shy away from accountability; and three, it actually matters to you that you show up for this person in the future,” Jackson says.