Now I Know the Proper Way to Decline an Invitation

OK, first off, I’m not getting that many invitations.

But even for the few that I do receive, my first thought is usually, “How can I get out of this one?”

Well, thanks to an article on the Harvard Business Review site by Grant Donnelly, now I know the answer to that question.

Donnelly notes that most excuses fall into the “not enough money” or “not enough time” categories, but there is little research about how others perceive such excuses, and how these excuses affect our relationships.

So Donnelly, along with three colleagues, set out to study these effects by analyzing real conversation data on Twitter and conducting three lab experiments. The results show that giving an excuse about not having enough time can hurt relationships, whereas giving an excuse about not having enough money can help them.

Here are some of the specific outcomes from these studies:

  • Brides and grooms reported feeling significantly less close to guests who cited limited time compared to those who cited limited money as an excuse to decline the invitation.
  • Relative to receiving no excuse, the researchers found that the time excuse resulted in participants feeling less close to the friend, whereas a money excuse resulted in participants feeling significantly more close to the friend.
  • The money excuse was viewed as much more trustworthy than a time excuse or no excuse, in part because they believed that the friend likely had less personal control over the circumstance they were citing as an excuse.
  • People were more likely to distrust the time excuse because they believe others should have more control over their time, and that people should be able to make time to do the things in life they really want to do.

Donnelly’s conclusions?

When we decline someone’s invitation because we don’t have enough time, the person hears that we don’t value them. This makes them feel less close to us and maybe even less willing to help us in the future. So it may be wiser to communicate that you don’t have enough money (presuming that’s true), as people are less likely to then question how much you value the relationship. Instead, you’ll be seen as honest and reliable, which generates more positive feelings and good will.

So here’s what I think I’ll do the next time I receive an invitation that I want to decline – tell the person that I’m a little tight on money right now and as a result won’t be able to attend.

The good thing is, if the person knows me, and knows how I dress, then the excuse will seem perfectly legitimate…

*image from raindance.org

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