We’ve all been there: You made plans with friends but as the day approaches, you’re exhausted and would vastly prefer to curl up on the couch and stream the night away.
You know you’re going to cancel (though hopefully sooner rather than later!) but how do you handle it? Do you:
A) Make up an excuse and hope your friends don’t know a lie when they hear one?
B) Confess that you’re socially depleted and need a raincheck?
New research from Michigan State University suggests that if you want to stay in good standing with friends, your best bet is honesty.
“We found that most people didn’t mind if you needed to cancel — they don’t feel particularly bad, and they understand that things come up,” said William Chopik, associate professor in MSU’s department of psychology and lead author of the study.
There’s no need to be overwrought and overly apologetic in explaining, either.
“In general, people just want advanced notice and a simple text or call will do,” Chopik told HuffPost.
More than 1,100 people weighed in for the first large study to delve into the societal norms that exist around canceling plans, according to Chopik.
They answered questions about how they’d prefer to be canceled on, the negative emotions they feel when someone flakes on them, and their criteria for “good” and “bad” reasons for canceling plans.
Eighty percent of respondents said that canceling plans would not affect their friendship ― most people reported low levels of distress when they were bailed on, though higher if it was a close friend doing it. That said, most respondents said they’d be peeved if they learned that the reason provided was a lie.
Participants preferred to receive a “moderate” amount of notice when being canceled on. They found it annoying if they were given very little notice (i.e., the day of, the morning of, or just minutes before).
There was also some consensus on the do’s and don’ts of canceling plans, Chopik said.
“There are definitely ways to not go about it, such as telling them that you have a better offer: This other friend is more fun, for instance, or giving a reason that turns out to not be true,” he said. (In other words, you’re in double trouble if you claim COVID for the third time, then your friend sees you hanging out with another friend on your Instagram story. How rude.)
Chopik said one of the more surprising findings was the myriad of legitimate reasons people gave their friends for canceling plans.
“Some were obvious ― reasons around health, family and work emergencies were perfectly reasonable,” he said. “But there were also a few more surprising findings, like canceling plans for emotional or physical reasons beyond these, like feeling exhausted or just needing to take a nap.” (Been there!)
Respondents also spontaneously brought up a few reasons that should categorically not be used as an excuse to bail. “People would occasionally bring up excuses that they considered a result of ‘bad planning,’” Chopik said. “That includes the fact that you overslept or are recovering from a bad hangover from drinking too much and bailing on them.”
“It was a minority of people, but some definitely found those cancellations annoying,” he added.
Overall, the professor said that honesty is almost always the best policy.
“Unless your reason for canceling is particularly loathsome and would hurt your friends’ feelings, honesty and doing so in advance as a courtesy is a smart move,” he said.