how to cancel a lunch with someone who repeatedly reschedules

A reader writes:

A couple of weeks ago, I met an executive who I thought was great, and I was interested in learning more about her and possibly forming a mentoring relationship since I am young and just started working after graduating in the spring.

I approached her after hearing her speak and asked a couple of questions. Later that day, I emailed her and thanked her for answering my questions and also asked if we could ever have lunch or coffee sometime, as I was interested in learning from her. She sounded like she was happy to do so and we scheduled a meeting.

Since then, she has rescheduled our meeting about 4 times. Honestly, I am no longer interested in meeting with her. One of her pieces of advice she gave in her speech was to honor appointments in the workplace, which seems ironic since she keeps rescheduling. I understand she is busy, but it seems like she is too busy for me. I really want to learn from an older more experienced woman in a male-dominated environment, but I feel she is not the one.

How do I cancel our appointment all together? Should I keep being patient until we eventually meet? I feel awkward because she keeps rescheduling and I want to be polite about this. Don’t get me wrong, I am still actively networking, not just waiting on her.

This would annoy me too. Rescheduling once? Sure; she’s doing you a favor, after all. Even twice, if she’s apologetic. But four times? At that point, she’s being inconsiderate to you; you’re presumably planning around the commitments she’s making to you.

In order to get out of this, I would say this: “It sounds like your schedule is really busy right now, so I’ll reach out to you later this fall and see if we can find a better time.”

Anyone want to argue for being patient and continuing to pursue the lunch?

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Sophie*

    I would pursue the lunch only if you wanted to get a job in her department, although this could be a sign that she’s not that great to work for. Not sure. I would definitely say what Alison suggested – maybe she will be more available in the fall. I work at a university, and it gets CRAZY right before a semester starts, so I could see someone in an upper level position needing to reschedule a lot.

    1. Sophie*

      I need to be a better reader. I misread the OP’s question as if the executive worked at a university. My mistake!

  2. AnotherAlison*

    While I agree 4 reschedules is a little ridiculous and Alison’s suggestion is great, I wanted to point out that in the future the OP should be clear about what she wants from a possible mentor, assuming she originally wasn’t with this one. If it’s a vague “we should have coffee” thing, the other woman might not have seen it as worth her time. I’ve had people want to have lunch with me, and I don’t know if they are happy just to chat about opportunities in the industry, or if they want me to give them a job (which I almost never can help with).

  3. some1*

    If she’s an exec I could see that something came up/a fire had to be put out & she really had to cancel. And, yes, I can see this happening four times. That being said, I would expect that she would apologize profusely and explain that it was beyond her control.

  4. Jamie*

    Alison’s advice is perfect – just make sure you say it without sarcasm and be friendly and polite.

    You’re doing her a favor letting her off the hook, because she sounds like she’s swamped and attempting to honor a commitment for which she just doesn’t have the time.

    When your paths cross again you want her to remember you as the lovely person who graciously let her out of a commitment and not as the snarky person who was all pissy about being their favor not being a priority.

      1. Andie*


        This happened to me as well. Same thing meetings and potential phone calls kept getting cancelled and rescheduled. I finally let the person off the hook. I pretty much said the same thing Allison said and thanked them for the willingness to meet. I added, “the next time I am in your area I will contact you to see if you have some time to meet for cofee.” That way I put the ball back in my court and she did not feel obligated to schedule another appointment.

    1. Anonymous*

      My thoughts exactly. I wouldn’t write her off completely and forever because shit definitely happens and she may just be having a difficult, hectic time right now. Tell her you appreciate that she’s trying so hard to see you but that she shouldn’t feel obligated to fit you in right now if it’s not a good time, and you’ll reach out again in the future and see how her schedule is then.

  5. Grace*

    I’m not saying that executives are or should be out-of-bounds for recent graduates trying to network, but the OP shouldn’t be surprised that this person keeps rescheduling. I think she’ll find a lot more success reaching out to people in her field who have, say, five to 10 years of experience rather than trying to pin down someone who’s at the executive level.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I’ve seen this too. Everyone wants to be mentored by the VP. No one wants to be mentored by the senior technical person or the first line manager. The latter are much more willing, and able to give interim steps to new grads.

      1. Anonymous*

        Not to mention the fact that the latter is also more likely to have appropriate job openings in the future!

  6. Anonymous*

    The OP’s response might also depend on how the exec is rescheduling. If she is offering a specific time to reschedule, I would take her up on it for as long as she is offering specific times. I would take that as a sign that she clearly intends to fulfill the commitment, and if you are patient, you may have the opportunity to learn a lot. On the other hand, if she is instead asking you to send her times that you are available, you might just not respond and let it drop.

    I’m actually not a fan of saying “this seems like a busy time for you” since there is a risk that it could be perceived as snarky. Better to just fall off the radar of someone that busy than send something that can be misinterpreted. But others might disagree with me.

  7. Jennifer*

    Yeah, I think she needs to write this woman off. If she’s Too Busy, it’s not worth trying to squeeze into her schedule. I think I’d say something along the lines of “Look, you sound extremely busy and I feel bad making demands on your time under those circumstances, so why don’t we let this go. I appreciate your trying to schedule time for me, but let’s just not worry about this for now. If you ever find yourself having more free time, let me know, but it was nice meeting you.” Don’t pretend that she’ll have free time in the fall, really, but politely bow out.

    1. some1*

      I think starting an email with “Look” can come off unintentionally overly snarky in an email. The woman is an executive in her industry and I don’t think it’s a bad idea for her to err on the deferential side.

      1. AB*

        Oh! Since English is not my first language, I wasn’t sure it was just a pet peeve of mine, but if I receive an email starting with “Look, …”, I’m already annoyed :-).

        1. Jamie*

          I hear “look” and I think “Look at that duck – Look at it!” from the giraffe pointing to the duck picture one of the fabulous commenters posted under Alison’s monkey pic entry.

          Which is still my wallpaper – btw – and still makes me grin every time I see it.

          So I’m in favor of a sentence starting with “look” but I may have a very specific tendency :)

      2. Anonymous*

        I totally agree but I think the commenter is just giving a summary of what to say, not how to say it word for word.

  8. Cara Carroll*

    Seeing as the meeting was your idea in the first place I don’t see why you need to “get out of it.” I agree with just dropping it altogether. Or sending the email AAM suggested. Just pretend you want to reschedule but never do it.

  9. moe*

    Executives have insane schedules and regular emergencies. I wouldn’t read into it. I’d be inclined instead to ask if something like an after-work glass of wine, or coffee instead of lunch, might be better for her schedule, and just continue being flexible.

    I used to admin for an upper management guy who really did love mentoring relationships, but the reality was simply that a supply chain problem or C-level exec’s phone call at the last minute had to trump everything else.

    If she’s still trying to reschedule, I’d go along with it at least one or two more times. It would be a bizarre game for her to agree, reschedule, and then try to blow you off. She’s probably just that busy.

  10. Jubilance*

    In my current position & company I’ve had the opportunity to meet lots of executives within my company. I have yet to ever have an executive reschedule on me, much less reschedule 4 times. Clearly the executive in this situation doesn’t value meeting with the OP, so the OP should send a note like AAM suggested & then follow up later. Try to avoid end of the month or end of the quarter – those times are very busy for some roles & she may not have the time.

  11. KT*

    Maybe she could refer you to someone else in her office? You could ask very politely and see what she says. I doubt she is trying to blow you off; executives are busy and it would be irresponsible of her to put a social lunch ahead of an urgent work matter.

    One of the VPs I work for was approached by a recent grad looking for a mentor. He suggested she meet with me instead because (1) he is way too busy and (2) I’ve been in the industry for five years and he’s been in it for twenty. He knew how much more relevant my career path would be for a recent grad. Plus the VP isnt involved in lower level hiring, whereas I am.

  12. Emily*

    Before writing this person off entirely, why don’t you try to shift the relationship from face-to-face engagements to email communication? If you have a specific question or a topic that you’d hoped to discuss over lunch, you could let your would-be mentor know that you understand that she might be too busy to get together (“at this time of the year,” or something), but you’d still love to hear her thoughts on X, and if email is more convenient for her, that works for you, too.

    There are definitely times when I’m too busy to get lunch (though, I probably wouldn’t bother scheduling it if I knew I’d wind up rescheduling or canceling), but I’ve asked students or younger people in my industry to email me their thoughts and questions instead of meeting for lunch or coffee to discuss them. It’s much less taxing to spend time, at my convenience, composing a written response than it is to meet up, engage in pleasantries, etc., while I watch the clock. I find that I’m able to give much more thoughtful and thorough answers that way. It’s possible to get to know each other a little better through a few emails and develop the foundation of a relationship that could eventually lead to lunch or coffee. And even if you don’t wind up spending time together face-to-face, you might find that you are still interested in this person’s mentorship, just in a slightly different format.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      God, yes. I will rarely meet with people I don’t know because I’m an aspiring hermit (and in my old job, because I was working insane hours), but I will glad answer questions over email.

    2. Ivy*

      This is great advice. Thanks Emily! I will keep it in my mind if I come across a similar situation as OP.

  13. Candice*

    I think I’d just let her know next time she needs to reschedule that I need to check my calendar and get back with her. Follow up in a few months to see if the situation has changed. Maybe she’s had some personal issues pop up. But don’t take it to heart and don’t go out of your way to meet with her beyond that, because you’re right, there are other people who can mentor you who will make time to meet with you.

  14. Stephanie*

    Here is the view from a real life busy executive, which seems to be missing here. YOU ARE ASKING HER TO USE TIME, HER MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE, TO DO SOMETHING FOR YOU THAT BENEFITS YOU NOT HER. Therefore you are a very low priority and that is why you keep getting reshuffled. If she didn’t do that, she wouldn’t be doing her job. My job is to ensure that things happen to in turn ensure the company is profitable. If I don’t do that, I get replaced. Simple as that. Consider offering something of benefit to her. If you can’t do that, then you are asking the wrong person, she is too busy. Again, simple as that. No commentary on you or her.

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