What You Say When You Want To Decline An Invitation Because of a Previous Commitment
Thank you ever so much for your invitation to (describe invitation). I am grateful that you included me (us) among your guests for this special occasion.
If I (we) could make it, I (we) certainly would because it sounds like a lot of fun. Unfortunately we have a prior commitment that we must keep.
Do keep me (us) on your list, because I (we) look forward to seeing you again very soon. I appreciate your thinking of me (us).
Now for some advice about writing a note or letter for this kind of situation.
One. The individual who invited you may be very disappointed, and your decision may wound feelings. Some people have a great deal of trouble with rejection, feel slighted, and hold grudges. So you want to come across as wishing very much that you could accept. Your message must strike just the right note of sincere appreciation and regret.
Two. As a general rule—there are exceptions (you will be out of the country, for example)—don’t explain what your prior commitment is. The individual who invited you may think his/her invitation is more important than the one you chose. We advise you not to invite this kind of calculation. Do not explain. Do not elaborate.
Three. Sign off by sending best wishes, and reiterating how grateful you are.
To sum up letter-writing advice for expressing regrets: Keep it brief. Don’t elaborate. Make it sincere.
Want to know more about adroit ways to decline invitations? There’s an entire chapter on the subject in Time Tactics of Very Successful People
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