How to decline a Christmas invite … without losing friends

If you don't want to go, just make sure you "preserve relationships and other people’s dignity".

If you don't want to go, just make sure you "preserve relationships and other people’s dignity". Photo: Getty

As the party invites of the season roll in, there are those we can’t fit in. Others we regard with dread.

Declining a social invitation should be easy, right? Why, then, do so many of us suffer angst over it? How can we decline and still save face, our integrity and relationships?

Hidden drama beneath the social invitation

According to clinical social worker and relationships coach, Debbi Carberry, how we respond to a party invitation can be a psychological and social minefield.

“We think it’s just an event, but that’s a really simplistic way of looking at it. It’s about the dance of relationships,” she says. “Who are you to me; how important is this event to me; are there implications around this event for me; what my temperament is like.”

If someone gets annoyed with you, that can affect the relationship for the rest of your life, she reminds.

As a recurring life event, Christmas, like birthdays, activates memories and heightens anxieties.

“Along with the normal challenges of relationships, everybody brings their own values and beliefs and the stories they tell themselves about what it should be,” Ms Carberry explains.

Your refusal may feed into any number of beliefs people hold – from evidence of their low worth to the untrustworthiness of others.

Is our responsibility to ourselves or our friends?

However, our first responsibility is to ourselves and our own self-care, she says. “Be pragmatic rather than say yes to all of it and feel you’ve got nothing left in the tank by Christmas Day.”

Ask yourself if it’s something you really want to attend. It’s okay to say no.

Definitely don’t accept an invitation to anything where you’ll be abused, unhappy, stressed or have to compromise your integrity, she says.

Chances are, the host won’t miss you anyway. “We think we’re the centre of people’s universes and we’re not,” she reminds.

Ms Carberry recommends prioritising your immediate circle of closeness. There are some functions – like family and work events – we really can’t get out of without major damage, she says.

To avoid stress or reneging, avoid reacting spontaneously to every invite that comes your way.

She suggests responding with: “Hey, I’d really love to, can I get back to you about that.”

Say ‘no’ like a pro

The art of saying ‘no’ is about successfully managing damage control.

Keep it short and clear

Avoid detailed excuses, Ms Carberry says. Plus, research shows those on the receiving end of long-winded excuses tend to view them as deceit.

Suggest an alternative catch-up

If you keep declining an offer from someone who matters to you, locking in another time can be a good relationship-preserving strategy, she suggests.

Use a white lie if necessary

“When the truth is going to be so impactful, it will be negative, sometimes we have to find a kinder way of saying no that maybe isn’t true,” Ms Carberry says.

Be gracious and tactful

According to Anna Musson, etiquette expert from the The Good Manners Company, author, and social commenter on Channel 7’s Sunrise, treat your refusal the same as getting a Christmas present you don’t like.

Ms Musson’s formula for declining an invite should hit the sweet spot:

“How lovely. That sounds wonderful. Thank you so much for thinking of us. Unfortunately, we have something else on that night. Otherwise, we would love to have come and wishing you all the best for a brilliant night.”

“It’s about preserving relationships and other people’s dignity,” she says.

Decline in like

She suggests declining an invitation in the same manner to which you were invited, such as text, phone, etc.


RSVP the moment you receive the invitation, Ms Musson advises.

“It’s thoughtless and selfish to leave it until the last minute. The golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated holds firm.”

The host has to sort catering and manage a budget and may like to invite someone in your stead, Ms Musson says.

Not replying (ghosting) can be seen as the silent treatment or ostracism, according to US researchers. It can cost you.

Mean what you say

About 85 per cent of Australians surveyed by McCrindle Research in 2016 admitted to being only partially committed to an event, despite RSVPing yes.

According to Ms Musson, it’s very poor form.

“If you’re on the fence about something, it’s far better to decline than to say yes and then turn it into a no. Or worse, not turn up at all.”

While etiquette might be a dying art in an age of overblown entitlement, Ms Musson reminds us it’s important how we treat one another.

“Good manners are about putting the other person before yourself. This is the time of year to show that off.”

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