Right Time to Cancel a Plan

Is canceling at the last minute the new fashionably late? Etiquette experts have heard the rumors and noticed that norms are trending that way.

“During the pandemic, society experienced events of all sizes being frequently canceled and rescheduled, sometimes even several times,” says Courtney Opalko, an etiquette expert and coach who launched Courtney Opalko Etiquette, LLC in 2020. “We all had to learn to be flexible, but it also made it easier and more acceptable to cancel at the last minute due to illness, crowds or unfavorable logistics.” 

Jennifer Porter
, a Seattle-based etiquette expert, says the trend may have some well-intentioned roots.

Still, Porter doesn’t advise making last-minute cancelation a habitual form of self-care. What really qualifies as “a last-minute cancellation?” Etiquette experts discussed when it’s too late to bail on plans (and notable exceptions). 

Related: When Should You Select ‘Love’ vs. ‘Care’ on Facebook? What Communication Experts Want You To Know About Emoticon Etiquette

Is It Bad To Cancel Plans Last-Minute? 

Generally, it’s not good. “The problem with canceling at the last minute is that it minimizes the other party’s time and effort required to make the plan,” Porter says. “It can have adverse effects on relationships if done too often with the same person or group of friends or family.”

Professional relationships can also fray.

When we commit to a meeting or collaboration, it signifies a level of respect and dedication to the project or partnership,” says Lauren LaPointe, a corporate and personal etiquette consultant. “Frequent cancellations can convey a lack of reliability and commitment, which can erode trust and potentially harm our professional reputation.” https://32baaad605aefae8669a19a48504a7f6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html

How Late Is Too Late To Cancel Plans?

It depends. As a general rule of thumb, switch your RSVP to “no” as soon as you know your plans need to change. “Any cancellation, short of a true emergency, should be communicated as far in advance as possible,” Opalko says.

OK, but what’s the cut-off if you’re feeling too tired to go to happy hour or simply don’t feel like going anymore?

“If the cancellation is due to feeling overwhelmed, overscheduled or simply no longer being interested in the event, it’s important to give two to three days’ notice, if not more.”

LaPointe says the timeframe is similar for professional obligations.

“For significant events or commitments, such as…important business meetings, canceling within 48 to 72 hours in advance is advisable to minimize disruptions and show respect for the time and effort invested by others,” LaPointe says.https://32baaad605aefae8669a19a48504a7f6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html

Canceling happy hour or business meetings may cost you a relationship or money. However, pay-per-plate events like weddings, Sweet 16s and large retirement parties often require hosts to submit head counts and commit to payments in advance. So, when you blow it off at the last minute, you’re actually costing someone else money. This nuance is important.

“A formal event like a wedding requires more notice, with the minimum being at least one week prior to the event to account for catering and the final event deadline,”  Opalko says. 

Related: 10 Best Phrases for Reaching Out to Someone When It’s Been Too Long

Is It Ever OK To Cancel Plans Last-Minute?

Of course it is. There are exceptions to the above rule, including for pay-per-plate events like weddings or high-pressure business meetings.

“Life throws us curveballs on a daily basis, and no one is immune to this disruption,” Porter says.

LaPointe says some common and totally valid reasons to change plans at the last minute include:https://32baaad605aefae8669a19a48504a7f6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html

  • Physical or mental health emergencies
  • Childcare crisis
  • Natural disasters
  • Illnesses, hospitalizations or deaths of loved ones
  • Legal obligations
  • Travel disruptions, like canceled flights or car accidents 

3 Tips To Help You Avoid Canceling Plans 

1. Don’t say “yes” right away

We live in a fast-paced world that loves instant gratification, but Opalko says it’s best to take a beat before texting that you’re “so in” for dinner with a pal.

“It’s OK to take time before saying yes and committing to something,” Opalko says. “Graciously thank the person for the invitation and let them know you’ll confirm with them as soon as possible,”https://32baaad605aefae8669a19a48504a7f6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html

2. Check your calendar

Nix double-booking woes by keeping a digital or written calendar of your plans. Check it before agreeing to anything.

“Keeping an organized calendar really helps you know what you’ve got going on and when,” LaPointe says.

3. Do a gut-check

A commitment to self-care is great, but having an honest discussion with yourself can prevent mental health or exhaustion-related last-minute no-shows.

“It’s important to consider the tempo of your weekday, weekend, week, month or season of the year,” Porter says. “If you know that holidays are a busy time with work and family commitments, it will be important to carve out time for friends, but aim not to overtax your time, energy and budget by saying yes to every invitation that comes along.” 

Related: 12 Phrases To Use When Someone Is ‘Talking Down’ to You—and Why They Work, According to Psychologists

The 3-Step Guide To Canceling Last-Minute 

1. Pick up the phone

Text messaging offers a quick, low-confrontational way to bail, but Porter suggests sucking it up and calling.

“If you must cancel plans at the last minute, pick up the phone and make voice contact to apologize for the inconvenience and potential disappointment you may have caused by your actions,” Porter says. “If appropriate, text in advance to see if the person has a minute to talk.”https://32baaad605aefae8669a19a48504a7f6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html

2. Consider bearing gifts

Canceling plans last minute can feel a bit thoughtless. A sweet gesture can put a better taste in a person’s mouth, especially if you bailed on a wedding. 

“Consider either a handwritten card of thanks and apology or a gift of some kind, like flowers and food delivery,” Porter says.

3. Offer to reschedule 

If you value the relationship, offer to reschedule. Even if you can’t recreate a pal’s big 40th birthday bash, buying her lunch can give the two of you quality time together.

“Offering to reschedule or suggesting an alternative helps demonstrate your commitment to the relationship or the plan,” LaPointe says. “It shows your willingness to make amends. You might say something like, ‘I know this is disappointing, but can we reschedule our hiking trip for next weekend? I was really looking forward to it, and I still want to make it happen.'”

Next: 10 Best Phrases for Reaching Out to Someone When It’s Been Too Longhttps://prod-native.actionbutton.co/?isNativeEmbed=true&c4e5c407-ec0c-4ba5-b873-950132d51757https://32baaad605aefae8669a19a48504a7f6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html

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