Does a Simple “No” Do the Trick?


A thoughtful friend recently e-mailed me for my opinion on the subject of declining an invitation. She wrote:

“I think the polite way to decline is a simple, “Oh, I’m sorry. That date won’t work for me.” Maybe with your mother or your best friend, you elaborate, but in general, I think elaborating looks like excuse-making or groveling. I’m stunned to find that my way is seen as the impolite way and the polite way is, “Oh, I’m sorry. On the 16th, I’m going to a dinner gala with friends.” Or whatever – but that you should give an explanation to emphasize that you truly cannot. I feel pretty much the opposite and have been annoyed by people who seem like they have to let everyone know what is going on in their lives to “prove” that they cannot attend.”

Here’s my response:

Dear Thoughtful Friend,

I agree with you, yet know that I’m sometimes guilty of over explaining. The short answer is we should only have to politely decline. NO explanations. BUT…. you’re right. For some reason, many people (namely women) feel the need to explain why they can’t make it.

I have made an effort to decline without lengthy explanation -unless it is a group with whom I’m chatty and cordial. Then I might say something like “We’ll be at the beach that week.” I’m guessing it might be part of being friendly and open. Telling people where you’ll be or what you have going on is a form of personal disclosure, which fosters closeness.

You might also have noticed “over-explaining” – which does, as you mentioned, look like excuse making. Blah,blah, blah. I put that into an entirely different category than the “We’ll be at the beach that week” reply.

If on the receiving end of a “can’t make it,” you should not speculate “why” so-and-so can’t make it. It’s none of your business.

My wise readers, what do you think? Is a simple “I’m sorry I can’t make it” enough for you? Or do you consider it curt? Thanks for sharing your comments below!

Mind Your Manners,


  1. This is a pet peeve of mine, too,and I always try to politely decline with as little explanation as possible. Especially because the reason I can’t attend is sometimes “I don’t want to pay for a babysitter,” or “I need to prioritize time with my family above time with you that day.” I think those are both very valid reasons to decline, but they don’t sound very nice and some people might get offended that their event doesn’t rank high enough in importance to me! 🙂

    • Kelly

      Nicole, excellent point! Often our reasons for declining are personal. Whether it’s paying for a babysitter, wanting to spend down time on the couch after a busy week, or because we don’t want to be in the position of feeling the need to spend money on a product that a person is selling at their gathering – they are all OK! When we allow others to dictate how we spend our discretionary time, we remove control of our lives and our priorities. Your comment has reinforced the perspective that a lengthy explanation should not be necessary when RSVP’ing. (Hey – I’d just be happy if people RSVP’d! That’s a blog I need to re-publish!) Everyone has the same finite 24 hours and often it is a matter of choices. I would hope that people understand vs. becoming offended. Thank you Nicole!

  2. This is so timely! I received three evites this week. I have adopted a polite “no” policy- especially because many are to home parties that I am not interested in attending (I have a house full of candles, jewelry, etc), and I felt obligated to explain why I could not attend (along with the 80 other invitees). I now just respond “no”- and it is so freeing! Count me in for the polite “no, thank you!”

    • Kelly

      Thanks for your vote on the polite “no thank you!” Maria! I agree- it’s liberating to know we CAN say “no” sometimes….and politely 🙂

  3. A simple no with a reason why you can’t attend is good. I try to stick with one reason why I can’t attend since offering a gaggle of reasons is weak. One reason for why you can’t attend is strong.

    • Kelly

      So true Jill! It does seem that the more you “gaggle” the worse it seems. It might also make the host feel uncomfortable because they may sense you are making excuses or just plain uncomfortable with saying “no thank you.”

  4. We’ve been discussing this at my house recently. I vote for a speedy reply of “Thanks for including us. Unfortunately we can’t attend.”

    • Kelly

      Thanks Susie! Based on the comments here and on the Facebook page, it seems that most are in favor of the simple & generic reply. I love that you added “speedy” – especially if you know right away that you can/can’t attend.

  5. In my experience a simple, ” I am so sorry that day just doesn’t work for us, but thank you so much for thinking of us” is plenty appropriate and respectful.

    • Kelly

      Thanks for weighing in Chris! I like that you add “…thank you so much for thinking of us” to show that you truly appreciate the invitation.

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