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 those meetings you know you shouldn’t be invited to.

Illustration: Ashley Siebels

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.

Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to provide much insight

Sara McCord, an editor and freelance writer, provides tips in The Muse for “when you don’t need to be there,” meaning, in a “last minute meeting.”  She prefaces her advice by saying that colleagues may invite you out of respect, even if it leaves you with “extra work on your end.”

“The best approach here is to both acknowledge their gesture and affirm you won’t be offended if the meeting goes on without you. It sounds like this: ‘Thanks so much for including me. From the agenda, it appears the meeting will be focused on product, so I don’t think I’ll be able to add anything to the discussion,'” she continues. “Another benefit of this response is that, if you’re wrong and the organizer wants you to contribute, he’ll be able to correct you—and you’ll know in advance so you won’t be caught off guard,” she writes.

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.

Jane Burnett|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at jburnett@theladders.com.