The Art of Rescheduling Meetings

On occasion, we all have to reschedule business meetings. There are countless legitimate reasons to postpone or find a new date for a meeting, but the fact is, explanations don’t matter.

While that may sound surprising coming from an etiquette writer, hear me out. One of the principal philosophies of etiquette is to put others at ease. The idea is that it’s bad manners to make others feel uncomfortable or put them on the spot.

This is not to be confused with doormat behavior, so obviously if someone is being abusive or inappropriate, it’s not your job to make him or her feel comfortable. But, within the context of standard, appropriate interactions, especially in the business realm, we should strive to alleviate, not exacerbate, the mental, physical and emotional burden for coworkers, managers, customers and clients.

Which means when rescheduling meetings, there are a few strategies to keep in mind that will keep you in the good graces of the other party.

The easy-to-remember adage, “Never complain; never explain,” is attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, the British politician who served as prime minister from 1874 to 1880. Complaining is of course off-putting, ineffective and inefficient, and explaining is often seen as approval seeking behavior. These are attributes any self-respecting Victorian, such as Disraeli, would have wanted to avoid and —one would hope — traits also eschewed by modern individuals.

While there are of course times when there has been a miscommunication with someone you respect and/or love, necessitating an explanation, when it comes to rescheduling, less information is more.

If you must reschedule, simply call or email the other person and say or write, “Unfortunately, I have to reschedule our meeting for Tuesday. Please accept my sincere apology for the inconvenience.” By not offering an excuse or complaining that you are “crazy busy,” it’s left up to the other person to decide what might have come up and 99 percent of the time — unless you are the flaky sort — they will assume it was important and couldn’t be avoided.

The apology is important too, so don’t leave it out. Be certain to also let them know that they and the meeting are important to you; that you are looking forward to the rescheduled meeting; and why you are looking forward to it.

Keep in mind that while yes, we all have things that come up now and then, it’s imperative to avoid cancelling at the last minute. Unless there is a true emergency, reschedule as soon as you know there is a conflict. A few days in advance is the ideal amount of time. Once you get a day or a few hours out, the probability of offending the other person starts to rise. As always, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It’s possible that they declined something important in order to meet with you. Last-minute cancellations are a last resort.  

When coordinating the new date, it’s crucial that you offer specific dates and times. Don’t just say or write, “What works for you?” This places the burden on the other person. You are the one who cancelled, so it’s up to you to offer alternative dates and avoid the inevitable back-and-forth time suck. Suggest three dates and times for them to choose from and they will either pick one or offer up a new list.

Either way, it will be more efficient than you leaving things open ended. Be sure to include a sense of urgency, by using phrases like, “as soon as possible.”

There are times when rescheduling may come as a relief to everyone involved, but always assume that it’s an irritating inconvenience and act accordingly. Your time is valuable, but so is everyone else’s. Ensure that your contacts always know you respect them and their time.

Every interaction you have with a business contact impacts your working (or potential working) relationship, so the more positive than negative interpersonal communications you have, the more you strengthen the foundation of your bond.

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to