Everything you need to know about cancelling appointments and responding to cancellations

January 7, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

In this post I’ll offer advice both on how to cancel an appointment and how to show that you respect your own time when people cancel on you. In this world of instant electronic gratification and RSVP’s with “Maybe” categories, etiquette sometimes slips by the wayside. This advice is designed to facilitate better use of your time and demonstrate that you care about the person you’re meeting with.


First of all, don’t cancel an appointment unless you really have to. Do you think of yourself as someone who sticks to their word…as someone who people can count on? Then don’t cancel on people unless you’re sick or out of town. And if you’re out of town, let them know the minute you find out about the trip. If you must cancel because you’ve got some “big client meeting,” then it had better be a week in advance or more.

If you must cancel, here’s how to do it:

  1. Apologize and make a comment about how you respect their time
  2. If you have a DAMN GOOD REASON (a funeral, you’re deathly ill, etc) mention it. Otherwise, don’t mention any reason at all. Don’t ever say that you have to do something more important like a big client meeting–that’s adding insult to injury
  3. If at all possible, suggest that you meet at their office or some place closer to them than the original appointment
  4. Offer possible dates for rescheduling in the same email; don’t let time go by before expressing that you want to get together

Here’s a skeleton message that’s both apologetic and to the point. It also will serve to minimize the amount of back and forth by being very clear about available dates:

Hi Mike,

Really sorry to do this, but I have to reschedule our appointment next Tuesday–I hope this doesn’t mess up your calendar. I still do want to get together–to make it easier, how about we plan to meet for lunch near you instead? I can do next Tuesday (1/15), Friday (1/17), or the following Tuesday (1/22). If any of those work, just let me know the time/place. If not, when would be convenient for you after the 22nd?
Looking forward to learning more about XYZ Widgets, and thanks for your understanding!

When People Cancel on You

Now, the flip side. Your time is as important as anyone else’s, and anyone who’s meeting with you needs to respect that time. If they don’t respect it, then your relationship is probably not heading in the right direction.

NOTE: There’s one exception. If you’re looking to win some serious business and they’re playing hard to get then that sucks…but you can’t be quite as demanding of your time. Personally, maybe 10% of my appointments are of that nature. 90% of my appointments are with people who I would consider my equals and/or who are trying to win over my company’s business. The rule of thumb though is that if you really want to meet with this person, then you can be more flexible–it’s sort of expected when you’re in sales, for better or worse.

So, assuming that it’s an equal relationship, here’s how I suggest that you respond to cancellations:

  1. Be understanding–especially if it’s the first time
  2. If you still want to meet with them, offer to reschedule (no point in wasting extra time in email back and forth–just get the appointment over with!)
  3. If the meeting was in their neighborhood and less than two weeks out then offer dates that you’re available near you and say so. The key is to subtly point out that you want to see them but that your time is valuable
  4. If the cancellation left you plenty of opportunity to find good use of your time (and it’s the first time), then no sweat–it’s just a few minutes of wasted time trying to reschedule. Throw out dates/times that work best in whatever location works for either party

Here’s a skeleton message in response to someone who canceled the day before a meeting that was far away:

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the head’s up about tomorrow’s meeting. It happens to the best of us. I’m not going to be in your area for a while time [OPTIONAL, be careful with this: (plus rescheduling appointments out there is kind of painful for me)]; when’s the next time you’re driving near College Park/Greenbelt/Laurel? I could do any day next week for lunch.

Warm regards,

I’ve written these letters in varying degrees of “I’m going to be diplomatic, but don’t mess with my time”–and it really works. I’m 20-40 minutes from the two major cities where I do most of my local work (Baltimore and DC), and I generally book my appointments back to back in one place. With this approach, I’ve had a remarkable number of appointments in College Park simply because they canceled and I called them on it.

Some related things to consider:

  • For actual paying appointments, you should have clauses in your contracts that allow you to be reimbursed 50% or 100% for cancellations within one or two days [we've only had one cancellation since this policy was put in place two years ago]
  • For rush jobs (regardless of location), you should charge 50-100% more (usually for day-of work) [we rarely invoke this policy, but we have it in case of clients that feel like they're taking advantage of us]
  • Whenever possible, send out confirmation emails multiple days in advance–this will ease the burden on your calendar when people inevitably cancel from time to time
  • I use AwayFind instead of giving out my cellphone number–so that cancellations reach my cellphone without revealing the number (yes, this is a shameless plug for our product)

I hope that this advice can go a long way toward both making cancellations more bearable, and to helping us all have our time better-respected.

You should really subscribe to Technotheory via Subcribe via email email or rss.

7 Responses to “Everything you need to know about cancelling appointments and responding to cancellations”

1 Trackbacks

  1. Technotheory.com – Ten reasons to turn off automatic email checking on your phone


  1. Elizabeth

    This is really helpful. Canceling is a situation in which it’s easy to look bad, so having guidelines takes the anxiety out of the communication and allows one to be more prompt and smooth about it.

  2. moses

    I agree this message is useful. Thanks for posting it.

  3. Nathan

    Jared: Great tips — I enjoy your good sense. Best, Nathan

  4. James

    Hi Jared, yes, people canceling appointments can be frustrating. I have just started a new English school and am working my butt off getting new appointments set up – most of which cancel. Why? My partner suggested when potential customers call to set up a demo lesson they are only half interested. They need to be sold again and make them motivated to come to the demo lesson. The sales process is only finished once the money is in the bank. What are some fantastic motivational phrases to say over the phone to get a customer to show up in person? Thanks!

  5. Jared Goralnick

    I know of no ‘fantastic’ phrases, but generally you want to help people respect your time by both being courteous to them and not so flexible as to appear you have all the time in the world. When something isn’t scarce or special, people won’t respect your time and won’t feel the need to follow through. I wish I had a particular phrase, but I think the only things that help people to follow through on commitments are warm connections (and thus they don’t want to disappoint a mutual friend) or some sort of respect/scarcity.

  6. James

    Hi Jared, thank you for your prompt reply, especially after the last post on here was over 4 years ago! I tend to agree with all of your comments and suggestions. Though I am still searching for that elusive silver bullet. Thank you

Impart Your Theoretically Interesting Wisdom

Your Comments