A business-etiquette expert explains how to decline an invitation to a professional event — without seeming incredibly rude.
If you participated in every networking event, coffee meeting, and presentation you were invited to, you'd never have to feel bad about seeming antisocial.
You'd also probably go nuts.
In the interest of maintaining your sanity, it helps to learn how to selectively weed through the invitations you receive and politely say "no" — not "maybe," not "I'll get back to you (but secretly I won't)" — to the less appealing ones.
According to Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, an etiquette and civility expert and the author of "Don't Burp in the Boardroom," it's all about "owning your no." That is, not giving into pleading and not feeling the need to make up legitimate-sounding excuses.
If you're caught off-guard by an invitation — on the phone or in person — Randall said you can offer something as straightforward as: "It sounds great, but I think I'll pass this time."
And if you're dealing with a person who's particularly sensitive or who doesn't like to take "no" for an answer, Randall said you can sweeten your refusal with something like: "It's so nice of you to think of me."
For people who don't seem like they're going to crumble to pieces if you decline, you can go with something that sounds a little harsh, but that definitely gets your point across: "I'm not interested; thanks. Keep me in mind for the next event."
The important thing to remember is to keep it short and simple. Here's Randall again:
"The less dramatic [we are] when we decline an invitation, the better. We tend to get wrapped up in it because we don't want to hurt their feelings: What are they going to say? And that's when we end up either saying 'yes,' or digging ourselves deeper and making more and more excuses."