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R.S.V.P. Why?

I was about to give a talk to a group of college sophomores,, and one of the businessmen attending the dinner as a guest asked, “Are you going to talk to them about RSVPing?” “Yes,” I answered, “it’s in there.”

RSVP—or répondez, s'il vous plaît, in French—basically translates as “please respond.” It often appears at the bottom of an invitation. Accompanying the letters will be specific information for how the recipient of the invitation is to answer, usually a phone number, mailing or email address.

The problem is that people receive invitations and don’t respond. The frustration that people who organize dinners and events feel toward those who don’t respond is palpable. I gave a talk to a meeting of women commercial real estate brokers in Los Angeles. Everything went swimmingly until the issue of RSVPing came up. Suddenly, a quiet crowd became agitated, and the conversation went on for the next thirty minutes as they voiced their frustration with people who don’t respond to both business and personal invitations.

When you receive an invitation the best thing to do is to answer it immediately.

“But wait,” you say. “That’s not possible. I don’t know if I can attend or not.” Frankly, that’s not an excuse. Contact the inviter. Let him or her know you have received the invitation, and you will give them an answer in the next day or two. Then, hold to your promise and get back with a definitive answer within the time frame. By contacting the inviter immediately, you have shown them respect by at least letting them know you have received the invitation and given them a time frame for your response. Compared to not contacting them at all, this is a very considerate thing to do.

Equally important as responding to an invitation is reading it carefully. Especially in business, be sure you know exactly who is invited. Is it to you alone, or does the invitation include your spouse or significant other? Is it an event to which children are also invited? One way to be sure is to ask when you respond to the invitation. “Joan, thanks for the invitation. I can make it. But I wasn’t sure. Could you tell me if spouses are included or not.” It would be embarrassing for your host, your significant other and for you to arrive at the event only to discover that no one else had brought their significant other.

Bottom line: If you receive an invitation, answer it right away. You’ll be appreciated for sure.

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