You have a lunch meeting in two hours with a colleague, and now you have to cancel on them at the last minute. What do you do?
I ran into this issue with a colleague of mine, Julie Krommenhoek, Senior Director of Global Sales Skyland Analytics. Krommenhoek and I had a lunch meeting set up earlier this summer and she had to cancel the day of our meeting. A last-minute work trip came up, and she had to be in a different city half a continent away.
I didn’t think anything of it until she texted me and said she was paying for our rescheduled lunch. That was surprising, so I asked why. She then told me she learned a few years ago at her previous job that that was the custom when you canceled on someone the day of the meeting. How could I say no to a free lunch at one of the best taco joints in Denver? Well, I couldn’t. So I didn’t, and we had a great time catching up and helping each other figure out a few work issues we had.
Calling someone to explain why you can’t meet them on the day of is never easy. There is always the fear of offending that person, potentially costing you their business. Krommenhoek buying me lunch is a great example of how to handle last-minute cancellations. Keep reading to learn more about the proper business etiquette when it comes to rescheduling with a client, friend or colleague.
Keep a Well-Organized Calendar
It’s easy to lose track of time during the busy workday. That is why it is so important to have a well-organized calendar. Online calendars allow you to add reminders weeks in advance, ensuring that you don’t overlook any appointments. You can even add an alert the minute before you are supposed to be shaking someone’s hand at the best coffee shop in town. Be sure to share it with others in your organization. They can also act as an alarm clock, reminding you of you when to leave the office to meet with someone.
Don’t Commit to a Meeting When You’re Stretched for Time
Now that you have a well-organized calendar, stick to it. You may think you have time to squeeze in a lunch date between meetings, but that isn’t always a good idea. Conversations can go longer than expected. Breaking off the conversation to explain you have another meeting breaks all business etiquette rules. You are better off scheduling a meeting further out on your calendar to accommodate those you have already committed to.
Try to Cancel in Advance
If at all possible, try to cancel your meeting a few days in advance. Send the person a well-written and thought out email or text that explains why you need to cancel. However, if something comes up on the day of the meeting, you are better off calling the person to ensure you get a hold of them in a timely manner. Nothing will make you feel worse than leaving your client stranded at a nearby coffee shop. In this digital age, news of you not showing up will spread quickly across the industry, damaging your reputation.
Give the Person a Genuine Reason
Using “I’m busy” as an excuse is a big no-no. Everyone is busy. Telling the other person that will make them feel as if their business doesn’t matter to you. Be open and tell the person why you are unable to make it. If you have been under the weather all week, say that. They will appreciate your honesty and be more understanding. Also, it gives them a sense of relief knowing that they weren’t the reason for rescheduling the meeting.
The only time when canceling at the last minute is forgivable is when it is completely out of your control. There are times when traffic is terrible, you’re ill, or some issue way beyond anything you could have ever imagined comes up. Make sure that the person understands how sorry you are about having to cancel.
Reschedule According to Their Calendar
When canceling a meeting, reschedule it according to the other person’s calendar. Again, use a digital calendar to share your availabilities to ensure that you’ll both be able to make the meeting next time. Bear in mind that you may have to adjust your schedule in order to accommodate them. Remember, you canceled on them. They should have priority over setting up the next appointment according to their schedule.
Apologize and Pay for Their Lunch
Getting canceled on at the last minute is something that you’ve probably experienced at some point in your career. You already know what an inconvenience it poses, so it’s best to be mindful of others. If someone cancels on you, and they didn’t already offer you a free lunch, don’t be afraid to ask for one. I had a lunch not too long ago with Scott Stang, Broker Associate for Porchlight Real Estate Group. He had to cancel because of an issue with one of his closings going sideways on him at the last minute. I sprang my new knowledge on him about free lunches during our rescheduled lunch, and being the gentleman he is, Stang offered to pay for our lunch.
Free lunch does exist. It comes with being polite and mindful of your business partners, friends and colleagues.
A version of this post originally appeared here.