How to Back Out of a Commitment with Grace

Maxie and I recently had breakfast together (love it!) when she was in the city for a bit. We were both talking about how we struggle with how often we say yes to people. There were both things we had agreed to do that for one reason or another we couldn’t! Maxie’s advice is spot-on as always. Hopefully you don’t have to back out of something, but if you do…. this is the best way:
How to Back Out of a Commitment with Grace
Guest Post by Maxie McCoy
Who doesn’t love to say YES? It’s such a nice, pleasing, three-letter word. It feels really good to say yes. And it feels even better to see how much it pleases the other person, the one doing the asking. Yes means agreement, collaboration, and partnership — all great things!
But sometimes, yes can come at a major cost. It becomes an issue when we do it for the wrong reasons (check out the three reasons you should never say yes!). When we say yes to something because we don’t want to let someone down, or because we don’t want to have a tough conversation, we’re just asking for trouble. And for more anxiety and worry than it’s worth.
Do you remember the last time you said “yes” when you actually meant “no”? Me too. Because we all do it. But the trick is realizing that your sanity and well-being are dependent on backing out of something you initially committed to. It feels really crappy, but there’s always a way to do it with a level of grace that will leave both parties feeling fine. 
Here’s a few ways to honor yourself by backing out a commitment without burning a bridge:
Be Honest
I know this seems like a 2nd grade lesson from sunday school, but it couldn’t be more true. If you need to un-commit to something, the easiest way for them to understand is to be really open and honest on why. And be honest and open about how terrible you feel because you really wanted to see this through but couldn’t because of reason X, Y and Z. What will never work is a blanket lie or excuse. It will not make sense or add up to them. You will not be able to be as authentic in your communication. And as my mother always says, “You’ll never be able to remember your lies.” Ain’t nothin’ graceful about that!
Give Ample Lead Time
As soon as your realize that there’s something you need to get out of, communicate right then. Don’t spend weeks or days ignoring the gut feeling that this is just not going to work. Open the lines of communication often and early so that a solution can be put in place or so that the two of you can work through anything at hand. What will add to the problem is waiting until just hours before to back out. 
Don’t Screw Them
If there’s an agreement that absolutely requires your participation in order to be successful, or would have serious ramifications if you back out, don’t do it. If you would be leaving someone in the lurch or completely pulling one over on them, then there’s just no grace to be found in that. What you can do is figure out a solution for them, before you ever back out, so that no time or success was lost by you not being a part of it.

Send Something Thoughtful
There’s no apology more sincere than something thoughtful. Whether that’s a cute “I suck” card sent to their house, or a couple cupcakes you picked up just for them, the little things will make a big difference in your relationship, whether personal or professional. Take the time to channel your inner lovely and do something thoughtful as a “thank you for understanding.” It will go a long way in leaving both parties feeling better.
Honoring our own time and needs is a journey. It’s not easy to say no. And it’s definitely not easy to back out of something. But the more we learn how to limit our yes’s, the less we’ll have to navigate the tough skill of backing out with grace.

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Audrey Lin

I aspire to do everything I do with style, class, and grace. Recently I did a bunch of a cappella auditions for college (it's my freshman year, eek!! :D), got in my favorite one and a few others, and then had to deal with declining the other invitations. I remember worrying about how to break the news in a gracious way, wanting so bad to postpone my letter, but realized that the people I was writing to are grown up people who wouldn't take a declined invitation personally. In fact, my postponement would only inconvenience them, even more so than a declined invite… (or backing out of a commitment) -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's


Carly, this was a great post! I feel the exact same way as you do. I came across a quote that I think you would like: "saying yes to happiness means learning to say no to things and people that stress you out." I believe that quote fits your post perfectly! Love you blog and would love if you checked mine out


I love this! I'm so guilty of always saying yes to too many things. I always love your advice Maxie–missed ya last week, glad to see your back!


This is one of my favorite posts you've written. Sometimes folks, myself included, take in so much over the course of a day, it feels like the common sense just falls out once in a while. It's nice to be reminded that our courtesies make a big difference.