Don’t invite us if you don’t want us to come

We’re sincere in our invitations to others to a discussion, dinner or party. We mean and do what we say and wish others would, too.

door with brick wall behind it

A while ago Dave and I received an invitation to what promised to be a wonderful event. The beautiful invitation was formal and formally delivered. We accepted with pleasure and made all of the arrangements to clear our schedules to attend. When we arrived, we went directly to our hosts to extend our thanks for the invitation. Upon seeing us the husband said spontaneously, “We didn’t think that you would come.” Caught flat-footed by that greeting, no answer was appropriate beyond what we said, “Don’t invite us if you don’t want us to come.”

Making a special effort

On one level it was a funny exchange, and we all laughed and carried on. Yes, the event was out of town, and quite likely our hosts expected that it would be both expensive and inconvenient for us and other out-of-towners to attend. In spite of the fact that we had confirmed our attendance and they should have expected us, they seemed genuinely surprised to see us. It was clear that they had not properly assessed the likelihood that we would make a special effort to attend. In fact, they told us that no one else from out of town was attending, making our attendance that much more of an anomaly. To us, it was one thing to think that it was amazing that we would make the effort and spend the money to attend, but it was quite another to say it out loud.

Left us wondering

On another level, it left us wondering about the purpose of the invitation in the first place. Why invite people to a special event if you think that it is likely or highly unlikely that they will attend? What is to be gained from extending the invitation in these circumstances? Is it enough to invite a person whom you do not expect to attend? Does it give them a sense that you regard them well and that is what matters, not their attendance?

This experience highlighted something that we have wondered about in our dealings with people, namely, their sincerity. It seems that some people are less than genuine or sincere in their behavior and while their words are polite and proper, their motives are not. While this situation was innocent enough, the unfortunate comment from our host left us questioning if we were truly welcome at the event – the one that we had gone to some lengths and expense to attend.

Our commitment

We committed to ourselves to never say anything like this to anyone attending any of our events knowing how awkward hearing these comments had made us feel. We also committed to being deliberate in our actions to invite people to a discussion, dinner or a party. If people get an invitation from us, it means that we will be delighted if they attend. No need to attempt to decode what our invitation means – it means what it says.

We ended up having a wonderful time. It was all that the invitation promised it to be. We met interesting people, had engaging conversation and enjoyed the food and entertainment. But we have never stopped questioning whether we were truly welcome at the event or we were just someone from away to add to an invitation list.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.