The Don't-Be-a-Schmuck Guide to Rescheduling

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Hi. Sorry. I know you came all this way, but I’m gonna have to reschedule this reading experience. You didn’t confirm, so I thought it wasn’t going to work for you. So, anyway, I’ll get in touch about another time, OK? Sorry, it’s just been really crazy the past few days. I’ve been sick, and I’m just, you know: “Aaah!”

Let’s analyze why that’s such a bad way to reschedule. 1. It happened too late. 2. It placed blame on the other party. 3. The rescheduling is left open-ended. 4. “It’s just been really crazy” is not a valid reason to postpone anything in business. 5. “I’ve been sick” is unnecessarily burdensome information. And 6. “Aaah!”? Aaah! No professional action is more revealing than the manner in which a person reschedules a meeting. It indicates how important the person thinks they are, how important they think the other person is and how efficient, considerate and dependable they are in business. The rescheduling request is both minefield and opportunity. But mainly: opportunity.

The mechanics of rescheduling

Earnest times call for earnest words. If you’re going to bump that lunch meeting, you need to show that the meeting is still important and that your professional bond remains intact. That means expressing four things: contrition, availability, deference and reassurance. “Use words like important or I need to change the schedule or Let’s get this rescheduled as soon as possible,” says Jeffrey Seglin, director of the communications program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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And then get down to the rescheduling.

But don’t just ask, “When’s good for you?” says Greg Avola, co-founder and CTO of Untapped, a website and app about bars and beer. “If you say, ‘When are you available?’ it puts the onus back on them.” And now you’re playing onus volleyball. “When’s good?” pops the onus over the net, and then the other person lobs it back with a “Not sure, crazy week.”

You canceled, so you offer new times. Give two or three. Be specific. “A mistake I see people make over email is not responding in a way that moves the conversation forward,” says productivity expert Maura Thomas, founder of “Don’t just say, ‘Tuesday’s good.’ Say, ‘How’s 1 p.m. Tuesday?’ Take the conversation to the next step.”

The power of deference

And let me reiterate: You need to reiterate. You just canceled a meeting, so you need to remind the other person just how important this meeting -- and they -- are to you. This is simple work. Say that you know the other person is busy, and that you don’t take their schedule lightly. Add a personal, complimentary note. Say why you’re looking forward to the meeting. Say what you think both sides will gain from having met.

It’s flattery, sure. It’s also compensation for the irritation of rescheduling. Maybe they’ll do it in return. Now you’re playing flattery volleyball.

The pointlessness of explanation

No excuses. Rarely, if ever, give a reason why you need to postpone. If you do, you’re just telling them where they are on your hierarchy of responsibilities. But when someone reads, “Unfortunately, I have to reschedule our meeting for tomorrow,” they imagine any number of scenarios -- from the mundane to traumatic. But, importantly, they can’t judge the situation.

Let them fill in the blanks. Don’t give an excuse. Preserve the leverage that discretion affords.

If you do it wrong, rescheduling weakens a business relationship through irritation and complication. If you do it right, you will irritate and complicate, but you will make the other feel like they matter more than they did when you first scheduled the meeting. You’ll turn a mundane scheduling matter into an occasion to prove sincerity, perseverance, respect and ownership of one very impressive onus.

Speaking of, I’d like to get next month’s column on your calendar. How’s a month from now for you?