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Advice / Job Search / Networking

3 Steps to Responding to Someone Who Just Canceled on You at the Last Minute

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I tend to take my commitments pretty seriously. When I say I’m going to be somewhere, I’m there. It could be a running date, a coffee meeting with someone in my network, or just drinks with friends.

My infrequent canceling’s due in large part to the fact that I try not to over-commit. It used to be fun to fill my calendar weeks in advance—that is, until the actual jam-packed week arrived, at which point, I would look at each day with impending dread as I stressed being over-tired, spent, and terrible company. Planning was fun, following through wasn’t. And so I learned to dial back.

My disinclination to cancel on people made it so that when I was canceled on, I saw red. What rude and inconsiderate person bails the day of?

That, I discovered, was the wrong way to look at it, and I’m proud to say I’ve taken a more understanding approach to this inevitable behavior due to, well, life, and now when I get that text, email, or call, I deal with it much more rationally.

With that said, while I may not be seething or sending sharp replies, I do make an effort to express my disappointment and make note that my time is valuable. The next time someone bails on you, don’t lose your cool or refuse to reschedule.

1. Consider What Might Be

We all should do this more often. The next time a co-worker’s short with you or you receive a snappy response to an email, or your mentor lets you know five minutes before you’re supposed to meet that he can’t make it, assume that there’s a good reason.

You might never get to hear the whole story or even half of it—depending on how well you know the person, you might have very little idea as to what’s going on in his life. It’s possible he’s fighting with his fiancé, dealing with an angry boss, or trying to fix a major work mistake. There are a lot of reasons you may not be aware of for the last-second bail, all of which have nothing to do with you. Speaking of things having nothing to do with you…

2. Don’t Take it Personally

This is some of the best advice I’ve gotten in my career. It sounds so simple, but I promise you, it’s full of meaning and significance. It sucks to get blown off when you were genuinely looking forward to seeing someone (it hurts a lot less when you’re secretly happy for the out), but if you understand that it’s not about you personally, it’s about whatever else this other person has going on, the news will probably sit a lot better with you.

If you must, you may even allow for a brief smug thought: “It’s so nice to be an organized person. I honestly don’t know how I’d deal if I couldn’t even keep my calendar straight,” before moving on and remembering that you may not have the full story.

3. Let it Go

But not before clearly stating that you understand but wish you could’ve been informed sooner so that you’d been given a chance to make alternate plans. By letting it go, you’re also leaving the ball in the other person’s court.

Assuming that the last-minute cancel was due to good reason, and it’s not a personal attack against you, rest assured the person will attempt to make a plan for a later date. Leave it to her to do so, and when she does, let her know that you’ll confirm with her a day in advance so you’re not left hanging again. That way, you’re making it abundantly clear that only the most urgent need should allow her to feel OK bailing on you—a second time. Your time is valuable; don’t be afraid to say so.

When you put all of this together, it looks like this:

Hi [Name of Person],

I’m sorry to hear that you won’t be able to make it tonight. I was really looking forward to getting together. I’ve got so much going on these days that it would’ve been helpful had you reached out sooner, but I understand these things happen. Hope we can reschedule this!

Talk soon,
[Your Name]

No one wants to feel unimportant and like his time is inconsequential, but there’s so little point in getting worked up when someone calls off a meeting hours before you’re slated to get together. Where does the annoyance get you? Even if you pride yourself on making every single date you set, odds are in your favor that one day you’re going to need to reschedule at the last minute, and you’re going to feel much better about doing so if you’ve reacted well on the receiving end.

Plus, a free night when you were expecting to be occupied is actually pretty awesome. Silver linings, friends. In this busy, stressful world, we need ’em.