Learning the art of canceling plans without any offense can be a valuable skill. You just need the perfect techniques to cancel plans without feeling bad. You need to ave a clear understanding of your underlying reasons. Differentiating between situations where you simply don’t feel like attending or are tired after work versus scenarios involving sudden illness in your children or an urgent work assignment requiring immediate attention is important. Regardless of your reason, you need to be comfortable with your decision, even if it is as simple as needing a mental-health break.
However, using “me-time” as a justification for canceling plans last minute can lead to a slippery slope where you cancel merely due to waning interest.
While this may be tempting at times, experts advise against developing this habit, particularly when canceling last minute. Remember that you made a commitment, and ultimately, it is your responsibility to honor it rather than seeking what appears to be a better alternative on the day of the event. Especially when you are deeply involved or committed to an activity, it becomes more challenging to justify last-minute cancellations unless it truly constitutes an emergency.
This advice becomes even more relevant if your cancellation would have a significant impact on the event. Be able to assess the potential consequences by asking yourself a few questions:
- Will your absence seriously jeopardize the event?
- Was the other party relying on you to contribute something or perform a specific role?
- Were you responsible for transportation?
Essentially, the level of involvement or commitment you had towards the event will determine the difficulty of justifying a last-minute cancellation for any reason other than a genuine emergency.
Nevertheless, unforeseen circumstances do arise, and on occasion, you may find yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to cancel plans at the eleventh hour, be it for a casual get-together or a significant occasion. Regardless of the scenario, the manner in which you communicate your cancellation can greatly influence how it is perceived by others.
How to cancel plans without feeling bad
Here, experts offer valuable advice on salvaging friendships while you cancel plans without feeling bad on short notice:
1. Understand that the legitimacy of any excuse is a matter of personal judgment
Each person has their own criteria for determining the validity of reasons for canceling plans, and it’s impossible to satisfy everyone’s expectations.
In general, people are more inclined to consider certain circumstances as justifiable excuses. Understand that urgent obligations that require your physical presence, such as attending a wedding or tending to an ill family member or pet, or unforeseen situations like personal illness, an unexpected work commitment, or a natural disaster such as a flood, fire, or power outage, are typically acceptable explanations.
2. Have a direct communication through a phone call
Text messaging is inherently informal, and cancel plans without feeling bad at the last minute may not carry the same casualness for the person being canceled on. If you make a phone call, it may seem intimidating because you may be unsure of what to say or concerned that the other person might persuade you to reconsider.
However, you can proactively address this by preparing your message in advance, ensuring that you maintain a firm stance. A phone call will allow the person hear your tone of voice and determine your sincerity and regret, which can make the cancellation of plans easier for them to accept.
3. Apologize as the first step
Experts generally recommend you to prioritize saying “I’m sorry” at first. Apologizing indicates that you have regard for the other person’s time and energy, and you comprehend the potential impact of your cancellation.¹
To ensure the sincerity of your apology, it is also beneficial to acknowledge your initial commitment and the thought process behind your decision to cancel.
You can phrase your apology as follows:
Although I committed to attending, I mismanaged my time. As a result, I have a work project that I know I won’t be able to complete if I attend tonight.
You can then follow up with a statement such as:
I genuinely hope this doesn’t inconvenience you.
Alternatively, you can provide another apology if you are already aware of specific ways in which your cancellation will have repercussions for the event.
4. Choose omission over lies if your excuse isn’t genuine
Whenever you make up a false excuse, even if it seems harmless, there is a potential danger of being exposed, which can harm the friendship more than being honest.² But you might be able to get of a lie though. However, if it’s absolutely necessary to bend the truth by responding with a general denial rather than creating a made-up story.
For instance, you could say, “I apologize for the short notice, but I regretfully won’t be able to attend.”
Although this statement allows for some interpretation, it is still a preferable option to outright lying.
5. Extend the option of rescheduling
Once you have clarified the circumstances, the most effective approach to prevent a cancellation from damaging a friendship is to work together to find a new suitable time for rescheduling. This action conveys that you still hold the relationship in high regard and are committed to investing effort and time in its preservation.
6. Refrain from public social media posts following a cancellation
The absolute trick behind canceling plans without feeling bad is to refrain from displaying any form of excitement or satisfaction after canceling an engagement in a setting where the hosts or attendees may observe it—social media platforms.
Although some people may choose to respond casually with a “No worries,” it is understand that they might still feel somewhat disappointed. Thus, if you show excessive comfort with your decision to cancel plans without feeling bad, it could be interpreted as exploiting their willingness to forgive, eventually leading to frustration or resentment.
7. Prioritize not canceling on the next occasion
Consistently canceling plans at the last minute reflects poorly on you and threatens the relationship. Such behavior raises doubts about your reliability and the level of commitment you are willing to invest in the relationship.
Once you have canceled plans at the last minute, it creates a sort of “friendship debt.”
It becomes even necessary to avoid accumulating more debt by making future commitments you may not fulfill. Even acknowledging your previous cancellation when you meet someone next can help reassure them. It shows that you haven’t forgotten, that you are willing to be held accountable, and that it genuinely matters to you to be there for them in the future.
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