“I respectfully decline”: The Language of Declining Holiday Parties « maslansky + partners

“I respectfully decline”: The Language of Declining Holiday Parties

By Margaret Files


The holiday season is upon us, and that often means an inundation of invitations to holiday parties. In the case of some, you may just not have the time in your schedule to attend.  You may just need a night off to put your feet up and work on your online Christmas shopping. You may have seen that the invitation list comes replete with those guys who sidle up to you every year with a grin and a sprig of mistletoe.


As professional language strategists, we decided to share our recommendations for politely declining an invitation, based on our four principles of credible communication:


Be Personal: Pick up the phone if you can, or at least send a brief explanatory message instead of just checking “no” on an e-vite RSVP.  The personal touch goes a long way to making the host feel that their invitation was carefully considered and regretfully declined.


Be Plainspoken: As soon as you know you’re going to decline the invitation, get to the point and make a clean break of it.  “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make it…” is always a good start.  Don’t leave the host with a wishy-washy “maybe.” That means you’re waiting for a better offer, and they know it.


Be Plausible: Honesty is always the best policy.  If you have a prior commitment, just say so.  But if you have to make up an excuse, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t say you’re bedridden with pneumonia when “I’m getting over a cold” will do.  That way, when incriminating Facebook photos emerge of you knocking back eggnog at another bash, you can at least be somewhat convincing when you claim you suddenly felt better.


Be Positive: Find a way to end on an upbeat note.  Maybe suggest another time that you and the party’s host could meet up – but only if you genuinely want to, lest you find yourself consulting these invitation-declining tips again a few weeks down the line.  Otherwise, you can say something complimentary about how much fun you’re sure you’ll be missing out on, or how you wish you could be there to sample their famous fruitcake.




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