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How to cancel meetings – without tripping yourself over

Cancelling meetings is something we’ve all had to do. In the hectic and unpredictable world we live in, rescheduling is an awkward necessity.

The situation starts to get tricky, though, when cancellations become personally embarrassing or even downright damaging.

So what is the worst that can happen? And what is the best way to avoid it?

Don’t over-egg your excuse

Brian Connors, managing director at All Search Professional Staffing in Atlanta, Georgia, recently received an electronic cancellation from a sales/management candidate who said they could not attend an interview because they and their child had been involved in a bad car accident.

However, the candidate came badly unstuck after sending Brian a picture supposedly taken of the accident itself. On closer inspection it became clear that the image had in fact been taken in India and could be accessed by googling ‘BMW car accident’. Brian said: “Our only remaining question for this future superstar of business is, just how you got from the streets of India to a hospital in Atlanta in three hours?”

Of course the accident may have really happened, but the fake photo made the job application a total write-off.

It’s a small world – so be careful

Business communities are villages – no matter how big your town or city.  

One business manager cancelled a meeting after receiving a last-minute invitation to hear a key industry figure addressing a local business conference. The manager’s excuse was that an unexpected situation had developed, requiring his presence. The problem was that the cancellation left the person he had been due to meet with some free time. This person had also wanted to attend the conference – and was now able to do so. Embarrassingly, the pair ended up coming face to face. 

Avoid giving too much information

Revealing too much detail in an effort to sound genuine can also prove counter-productive.

For example, the person you are cancelling on may not want to see you at all if you tell them you cannot make the meeting because a longstanding irritable bowel problem is playing up after you had a few too many beers and a vindaloo the night before. A sudden stomach upset is as much as they need – or want.

Play with a straight bat

If you cancel, you are at fault. Whether it’s with a junior colleague or an important contact – you are effectively telling them that something else is more important than they are. Your reason may be entirely valid – for example a family emergency, or illness.

Even so, your credibility could be at risk because the other person may not be totally convinced. So apologise immediately – if at all possible in person – and rearrange another meeting without delay.

Accepting responsibility underlines your integrity – and makes your excuse credible.

Make amends

Having let someone down, it’s important to build them back up.

For instance, if you are meeting for coffee, make sure it’s on you. Similarly, if you are going to lunch, pick up the bill. If the cancelled meeting had been scheduled for your office, offer to see the other person at theirs. Small courtesies can play a key role in making sure your relationships stay solid.