So when I check my phone and find a text inviting me out, next comes the anxiety and indecision. How do I say no without being rude?
How can I politely decline this invitation to hang out?
In many ways it’s an art form, being able to decline that invitation gracefully.
Fortunately, with a little forethought, consideration, and expertise, it’s quite easy to do.
In this article, I’ll teach you how to politely decline an invitation to hang out, whether it’s a casual invitation or a formal one.
It’s important to understand who’s inviting you to what, as the type of offer will change how you respond.
With that in mind, let’s get started.
What to say
Every friend group is different, as is every invitation. If you’re looking for a catch-all phrase that you can copy and paste into your text bar, this article won’t give it to you.
What I can do is teach you how to consider the factors, variables, and circumstances to craft a versatile, honest, and polite response in any kind of scenario when you just don’t feel like going out.
As I mentioned, your response will greatly depend on who’s asking you.
Let’s talk about casual invitations first.
There’s no reason to feel guilty for saying no to an invitation to hang out. You don’t immediately owe someone a “yes” just because you know them or just because they asked you.
In most cases, it’s a low-pressure scenario. In other words, your relationship with this person doesn’t hinge on whether or not you say “yes”.
So don’t let guilt or fear of disappointing that person inhibit you when trying to be straightforward.
Because let’s face it: I won’t exactly want to hang out with you if you’re not going to have a good time. If you don’t want to be out, you won’t be any fun to be around.
In that case, then, it’s safe to say that it’s almost always a better idea to decline an invitation than to accept one when you don’t want to.
Keep that in mind as we go through a few different scenarios.
1) Close friends
Close friends are the people that you can probably be the most honest with and who will understand your reasons best.
With that being said, your response will reflect that kind of relationship.
Be straightforward with them but be thoughtful of their feelings, too. They also have needs and benefit from having a relationship with you.
It’s that give and take that creates a healthy and close friendship.
If it seems tactful, tell them straight up that you don’t feel like socializing. A good friend will understand. Of course, that’s not always the best idea.
Here are a few platforms for responses that you can use as a jumping board for your own conversations:
“I honestly haven’t had much time for myself lately and I’m feeling pretty worn down. I don’t think I can make it. Thank you so much for the invitation.”
“Most weeknights I’m too exhausted to be any fun, but let’s do something soon, it’s been too long.”
“That sounds like fun, Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it (on that date). Thanks for thinking of me!”
The key is to be genuine and kind. It’s always good to acknowledge the fact that they thought about you in the first place and that they enjoy spending time with you enough to crave your company.
That’s what good friends are for. But remember, too, that a healthy relationship is based upon the ability to set and respect boundaries with each other.
In other words, if your friend can’t handle a polite refusal to hang out, even if they know it’s for your own mental health, they might not be the most healthy for you.
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2) Work friends
Your response to hanging out with work friends might be slightly different than the one for your close friends (unless they’re one and the same, of course.)
Oftentimes, I enjoy the company of my work friends while I’m at work, on lunch, or the occasional casual outing with them.
However, I find I need space from them a lot more than my closer friends.
Part of the reason has to do with their tendency to complain and discuss work while hanging out. That just tires me out, as I like to leave work at work as much as I can.
You might feel the same.
In a less intimate relationship — like that with coworkers — you have the license to be more vague if you see fit. Of course, that’s no excuse to be less polite.
Here are some good outlines to help you create your own:
“Hey thanks for the invite, that sounds really fun. Unfortunately, I’ve got other obligations tonight.”
“That’s a tempting offer, but lately my routine has completely fallen to the wayside. I should stay home this time. Thanks for thinking of me!”
“That’s very thoughtful of you, but (said activity) just isn’t my speed, sorry!”
Don’t be afraid to say no.
If you know that you’ll likely never want to go, make it clear that you’re not interested in the activity, whatever it may be. Especially if it’s something that happens every week (as is often the case with coworkers.)
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Similar to coworkers, acquaintances aren’t going to be as close to you, which gives you the license to be more vague.
There’s always a need to be polite but there’s no need to sacrifice your own personal boundaries, mental health, or energy for people you aren’t really even that close to.
Many of the previous response examples will fit well into these instances but here’s another example of how you could politely decline an invitation to hang out with an acquaintance.
“That sounds nice, honestly, but I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I promised myself I’d try to get a better schedule going, so I need to sit this one out. Thank you!”
The biggest key is to be clear about why you can’t hang out.
You can be as concise as you need and if you don’t want them to know your personal life, you can say something even more vague.
Saying no isn’t a crime, so there’s no need to come off as defensive. As long as you acknowledge their attempt to connect with you, it’s going to go a long way when it comes to politeness.
4) New friends and people you’ve just met
For new friends and people that you’ve just met, it’s a little different because you may actually want to get to know them better and hang out, but the timing just isn’t right.
Don’t be afraid to be honest but you could plan to set something else up at the same time.
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For instance, here are a few examples to make your own:
“Honestly, I’ve been going out a lot lately, and I just need a night to myself, thanks for the thought! Maybe we can reconnect next week?”
“I’m really excited to hang out with you but (I’ve got some personal things to take care of / I’m busy that night / it’s a work night). Can we reschedule and do something soon?”
“I’m sorry I’ve been unavailable the past few times you’ve asked me out. I do want to connect, but I’ve been trying a lot harder to make time for myself and find a baseline. Let’s please do something soon!”
That last one is good if you’ve already declined an invitation before. It can be tailored to work in any of these scenarios, as well, not just when it comes to new friends or people you’ve just met.
Just remember, if you’re clear about the fact that the reason you’re declining has nothing to do with the person, they are unlikely to take any offense to it, or really acknowledge it at all.
Often, when I invite someone out, it’s off-handed. In other words, it’s crossed my mind that you might want to do something, so I toss the idea out there. If you say no, it’s really no big deal at all.
But what about formal invitations? Those can often be quite a bit more stressful to say no to, as there’s often a certain sense of obligation. More so, at least than, from your friends.
5) Meetings and conferences
While we do what we can to make these kinds of formal events, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. There’s a lot more fear and stress behind declining an invitation to attend something so formal.
However, following a similar platform by being clear and polite, declining this type of invitation is no harder than the rest.
Here are a couple of examples to give you an idea of the appropriate phrasing:
“I can’t make the (meeting/conference) at that time, unfortunately. I have (previous obligation, etc.) that I need to be present for. I apologize for the inconvenience. Let’s connect later this week for sure.”
“My apologies, but this week is already booked up, so I can’t make the (conference/meeting) scheduled. I hope this doesn’t cause any issues, and I look forward to connecting with you soon.”
Matching the formality of the invitation is the primary key. There’s no need to divulge your personal life in an effort to defend yourself and why you can’t attend.
If you can’t attend, you can’t attend and that’s your right to do. If you need to be even more vague, feel free to do it.
To reiterate, the most important thing to do is to match the level of formality.
6) Dinners, weddings, events
Most weddings will have an “RSVP by” date. If you can’t attend, it might be a good idea to err on the side of politeness and let the bride and groom know that you won’t make it, instead of just failing to RSVP.
This can be especially kind if you’re close to the bride and groom. Giving a reason is optional, of course, depending on your comfort and desire for privacy.
As long as you’re straightforward, thankful, and polite, they’ll understand.
For an event or a dinner, the same principles of politeness apply. With a personal invitation that is more formal, your absence is more likely to be noted, hence the need for a little extra mindfulness.
Here are a couple of ways to do that:
“While this dinner sounds fantastic, I regret to say that I won’t be able to make it. I have some pressing family obligations to attend to. Thank you so much for the invitation, please let me know how it goes.”
“I wish I wasn’t busy with (other sort of obligation) on this night, because I would love to attend (said event). Please let me know when the next event is, hopefully, I’ll be able to make it!”
To reiterate, the key is to acknowledge the kindness behind inviting you, match the formality of the invitation, and be genuine.
Make these outlines your own, they are by no means a “one size fits all” solution.
Setting healthy boundaries
One of the most important aspects of living a healthy life is establishing (and keeping) healthy boundaries.
There’s a lot of different ways to do this — for example, here are 5 steps that work really well — but let’s focus on some ways to do this when it comes to accepting or declining invitations.
Your money, your time, and your energy are three of the most relevant resources that you use when committing to an invitation to do something with someone.
It’s important to understand just how much of each of these things you can handle sharing with people.
Without a clear boundary on how much you can give, you might find yourself overtaxed, stressed, and at your wit’s end. Even the smallest of obligations or events will have you feeling overwhelmed and ready to give up.
That’s why it’s so important to set boundaries, because then, almost paradoxically, you’ll be able to give the people you care about even more.
Like the old phrase, quality over quantity.
When you love and care for yourself, you’ll be far more capable of loving and caring for other people around you.
This holds true when it comes to accepting invitations to hang out. If you genuinely feel unable to meet up, then don’t be afraid to say no.
It could be that you’re giving more importance to your attendance than is actually the case. Your friend might not even give it a second thought if you weren’t there.
So why waste so much energy feeling guilty and stressed about saying no?
It’s important to remember that healthy relationships are built on give and take.
You having the ability to ask for what you want will translate the same for the other person, and you’ll both be better for it.
A word on canceling last minute
It’s all too often a tempting option. You get invited to hang out, and you say “I’ll get back to you”.
Then, you put it off, procrastinating. Knowing that you won’t follow through but you avoid telling them no. Then it comes time to actually hang out and you have to cancel.
Or, along a similar vein, you tell them that you’d love to go, and then cancel a day before, or even the day of.
I’ve had a number of friends over the years who’ve made it a habit of canceling last minute and it really gets old — and fast.
So while it’s tempting to just put off saying no — speaking from experience I’d much rather have someone tell me no straight up than have someone flake on me last minute.
Here’s another thing to consider:
If your friends cancel on you or tell you no, there’s no reason to be too upset about it.
In the same way that you enjoy being able to tell your friends that you aren’t up for hanging out, they also enjoy being able to do the same.
If they are always canceling on you, always flaking, and making it difficult for you to actually spend time with them, it’s likely that they aren’t the best kind of friend to be around.
A healthy friendship is a two-way street, no matter what.
Politely declining an invitation to hang out is an artform. It may not always be easy but there’s a simple method to crafting a polite, kind, and self-respecting response.
And don’t forget, it doesn’t have to be overly stressful.
You’re not going to be cross-examined on the stand to defend yourself. It’s okay to say no, and your friends will understand completely.
Whether it’s an informal invitation from close friends, coworkers, or a formal invitation, just remember to be genuine, be clear and upfront, and be yourself.
Your relationships and your personal health will thrive for it.