Q: Is there a polite way to decline a party invitation without giving offense? A: "Never complain, never explain," the adage goes. We don't need to...

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Q: Is there a polite way to decline a party invitation without giving offense?

A: “Never complain, never explain,” the adage goes.

We don’t need to explain why we choose to decline. There might be something else going on. You could be planning to watch your plants grow or your paint dry. Most of us have far too much on our plates — and too little time.

“I’m sorry, we have other plans” is enough, although you might consider, if it’s not too much of a stretch, adding something along the lines of: “I’m sure it will be a wonderful occasion” or “Perhaps some other time.”

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Suggest an alternative if you can — perhaps something less time-intensive. That might satisfy the need to catch up with the person without taking up a mealtime or a whole evening. Go for a walk together, or arrange a time when you can each pour some wine and talk on the telephone.

What’s key here is the value, if any, you place on the relationship. If the invitation comes from a person whose friendship you wish to cultivate, it may be prudent for you to issue the invitation for a subsequent get-together.

Regardless of your feelings about the other person, remember that an invitation is a compliment. Therefore, be gracious about it, and do not forget to thank the person who issued it.

Above all, don’t gossip about the “deadly” party you weaseled out of attending. Mean-spirited gossip is hardly the way to thank someone for going out of her way to invite you to a gathering.

Mary Mitchell is a Seattle-based corporate trainer and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Etiquette.” E-mail questions to Mary@themitchell.org. Sorry, no personal replies.