Today’s (and next week’s) installment of my Invitation to the Table series is a sneak peak at the Feast e-book (coming…eventually…to an e-reader merchant near you). For the next two weeks, we are going to talk about respect, because it’s not always just about whether you are invited or not. Sometimes, it’s how you’re invited that counts.
Today, I am going to discuss how to be respectful as the person doing the inviting.
The behaviors that constitute respect can differ from person to person. What I consider respectful of my time (i.e., give me adequate notice) might not be as important or even feasible with someone who likes to be more spontaneous. So even with the following guidelines, keep in mind that you might have to adjust your tactics for the individuals involved. Invitation should be as much – if not more – about the invitee as it is about the inviter.
Showing respect to your guests is threefold:
- Respecting their time
- Respecting their needs
- Respecting their decision
First, let’s talk about time. People are busy. We may not like that we are busy, but the fact remains that we are. So the first part of respect is trying not to stress the guests out any more than their life already does by waiting too late to invite them. You don’t have to give people six weeks notice to have them over for dinner, but three days might be nice. Having a party? Send out the original invitation a month in advance. You can send a reminder the week of the party if you think people might have forgotten, but respect their time enough to give them a chance to plan ahead if they need to do so.
Another aspect of respecting people’s time is fighting the urge to talk it to death. I know it’s tempting to post every detail of the planning process on Facebook and Instagram feeds. And people will click “like” and encourage you when you do this.
But I’m going to go ahead and say what a lot of them are thinking, even as they click – there are such things as too much information and too many questions.
I appreciate one or two reminders. I appreciate directions to the event and generally knowing what to expect and specifically knowing what I should bring. I do not appreciate (read: I despise) ten thousand pictures or “Aren’t you excited?!?!” queries or ten reminders (seriously – who is that forgetful? And if they are, do they not have a calendar in their phone that could remind them and save the rest of us the pain?). The extent to which you badger me about your party is inversely proportional to my ultimate desire to attend.
Next – what are their needs? This isn’t always an easy question to answer, because a party’s existence is probably a result of the planner’s own needs. You have something to celebrate. You are launching a new business, and the kickoff needs to build your clientele. You haven’t seen them in a while, and you miss them. There’s nothing wrong with any of these motivations.
But what about your guests?
Celebrating a birthday or new baby or new marriage are usually incentive enough for friends and family to attend, particularly since these events traditionally involve cake. But if you are having a destination wedding, maybe keep in mind that some of your guests may have to choose between attending your wedding and buying appropriate clothes to wear to it, and getting you that fancy blender on your registry. No matter what they decide, remember to be gracious.
If you are having them over for dinner, what would they like to eat? Are they allergic to anything? Do they have special dietary needs? Do they recognize pot pie as the abomination that it is and would have a hard time being nice about it if you inexplicably chose to serve it?
If you are launching a business, how will that business serve them? I have been a direct sales consultant and have attended enough direct sales launch parties to last a lifetime. Your friends may be excited for you, but unless you are prepared to be satisfied with their one-time attendance and a token purchase, you need to make it all about them. And the truth is that your friends who don’t cook probably will not ever host a Pampered Chef party. Accept this, and again – be gracious.
Last, listen to their answer (or lack thereof). Some people will RSVP with a “yes” right away. There are a myriad of other answers you may get, though. Learn to pay attention to them.
Most people will either not RSVP at all (I have feelings about this – tune in next week) or will RSVP “maybe.” Correct interpretation of these (non)replies can vary greatly. If it’s for dinner or something I obviously need a head count to plan for – I assume no if there’s no reply. I will follow up with the aforementioned reminders, but I will fight the urge to overdo it just to force an answer. For a casual party where one more (or one fewer) attendee won’t make much of a difference, I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing it, but I still don’t expect to see them at the party. That way, I am not disappointed if they don’t show up and pleasantly surprised if they do, making it easy for me to treat them respectfully either way.
Some people will RSVP with a “no.” Take this as a definite decline. Do not try to talk them into it. Do not harass them by demanding that they tell you why. Their true answer might be that they just don’t want to because that fills up the one free night they have that month, but they may feel obligated to make up an excuse because you have pressed them for a reason. Awkward.
These general concepts translate to other types of invitations as well. If you are inviting someone to share their voice or be part of a process, you still need to respect their time, their needs, and their decision.
Are you giving them ample time to prepare their thoughts and make their decision, or did you spring it on them? Giving people plenty of time to decide (not to mention arrange their own busy schedule, secure childcare, familiarize themselves with the event and other participants in the event, etc.) is imperative if you want them to know that they are on your first-choice guest list.
What’s in it for them? Pay attention to the impression you are making. Are they invited because you value what they have to say, or are they just invited to serve your agenda? If the former, what specific things are you doing to communicate that it’s their voice you want, even (or better yet – especially) if it is a dissenting one. If the latter, reconsider your priorities. People are not props, and it’s disrespectful to use them as such.
And finally, respect their decision. Your platform/event/blog series/committee might be enriched by their voice in a way that no one else could do it. You might think they are the perfect person to join. But you don’t get to make their life decisions. Just because the match seems perfect on your end, that doesn’t automatically mean that it works for them on their end. They may decline because they have a prior engagement. They may decline because they have said yes to so many other things, and they know how to set healthy boundaries for themselves. They may decline because they don’t think it’s a good match and they just don’t want to do it. Their reason is not your concern (or your business); their answer is. Hear it; believe it; respect it.
What are some ways you have been respected (or disrespected) by someone who extended you an invitation?
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