Illustration: Ashley Siebels
How To

3 ways to decline a meeting you know you don’t need to attend

If you feel a pang of anxiousness when a dreaded meeting invitation lands in your email inbox, you’re not alone. Here’s how to manage requests for meetings that you know you don’t need to attend.

Be sure to come up with solutions

Jayson DeMers, Founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, writes about “unnecessary meetings” in Inc. that you should “voice alternatives, not objections” when you get invited to a meeting you didn’t know about previously.

He writes that when you let the person who came up with the meeting know your thoughts, you should “frame your opinions in the context of alternative options, rather than flat-out objections. Rather than criticizing the point of the meeting or complaining, you’ll be helping the organizer find more meaningful ways to spend your collective time.”

DeMers continues, writing that instead of “saying ‘I don’t need to be in this meeting,’ you can say, ‘I think it might be more productive if I work on completing X Project this afternoon instead.’ Or instead of saying ‘this meeting isn’t necessary,’ you can say, ‘I think a detailed email update might be sufficient.’ ”

Don’t just say “yes” all the time

Alison Green, author of the Ask a Manager blog, writes on Quickbase that you should “start critically evaluating” all requests to meet.

“There’s something about a meeting invite that seems to compel people to accept – even if the items being discussed at the meeting are much lower priorities than the work you would otherwise be spending that time on. Instead of continuing to fall into that trap, ask yourself this about every meeting invitation you receive: ‘Is this the best way I could be spending that time, relative to the other priorities on my plate?’ If the answer is no, consider declining or at least pushing for a shorter meeting time.”

Here’s one of the responses Green recommends:

“ ‘I’d love to attend, but I’m swamped this week with X and Y. Can you move forward without me? If not, maybe we can schedule it later on this month.’ (Much of the time when you say this, the person will find a way to move forward without you),” she writes.

Strategically gather all the details

Dorie Clark, an author, professional speaker, marketing strategist and instructor of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, writes about this topic in the Harvard Business Review.

One of her featured tips is to “make it more difficult for the meeting requesters. It’s easy for someone to invite you to a meeting — too easy. One of my executive coaching clients, a media company CEO, was constantly being pulled into unnecessary meetings. The reason? It was part of her company culture for everyone to share their calendars publicly, so people knew when she was available and would simply put in direct requests to her assistant for her to attend, “Clark writes. “After I advised her to ‘unpublish’ her calendar, have her assistant enforce a more rigorous vetting process, and funnel her meeting availability onto particular days, her schedule freed up dramatically.”

Clark also writes about how her client would ask meeting organizers questions about why she should be in attendance and “what decision needs to be made,” among others.

Whether or not you’ll be able to skip out on the meeting in question depends on the nature of both your workplace and the circumstances, but these methods might just work out in your favor.

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