Gracefully Turning Down Invitations

How do I turn down holiday party and dinner invitations with some tact and grace? There are just so many gatherings, and I'd like some time for me and my family. Plus, some of the people issuing the invitations are friends and family I don't care to spend time with. Is it rude to say I'm busy? What if they offer to change the date so that I can attend? I don't want to be rude. -- Stretch123


Dear Stretch123:

All you have to say is, "Thanks for the invitation. Unfortunately, I have other plans." You don't have to explain or apologize further. Your plans might be as elaborate and thrilling as watching your plants grow or watching paint dry. It really doesn't matter. What matters is the way you say it. If you sound like you are waffling, even for a second, then those people issuing the invitations have their hooks in you, and it's only a matter of time before they reel you in. So be strong. Learn to say it with absolute conviction and without any emotion in your voice whatsoever. Just like you might say, "It's raining outside." As silly as this might seem, it's well worth it to practice and actually record yourself. Then you can play the tape back to learn how you sound. Do you sound unsure? Apologetic? This precaution enables you to perfect your performance before the holiday curtain goes up.

When others press you to change your plans or they volunteer to change theirs to accommodate you, say, "You know, the truth is that I just cannot add one more thing to our holiday schedule. I'm sure you understand." This tactic has gotten me out of many an overscheduled time. It's a kind way to deliver the message, too, because it sort of de-personalizes the rejection. You aren't declining the invitation because it's from them; you're declining anything whatsoever on the basis of no available space and time. No one can argue with that.

During the holidays, I have no problem telling friends and family that, with so much activity, I sometimes feel that the true holiday message and spirit get blurred. That's why I make special efforts to be with my immediate family for some quality time, time to renew our relationships and our bonds. It's a time to enjoy each other and to reflect on the joyful meaning of the holidays. If you feel comfortable making such statements, by all means do so. It seems to me that, in our time-crunched, techno-blitzed era, somebody has to say, "Stop!"

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