How To Turn Down a Meeting Without Offending

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How To Turn Down a Meeting Without Offending

In a sea of work WhatsApp chatter and overcrowded inboxes, a scheduled 121 meeting can be a valuable resource– if you have things to discuss.

Sometimes, though, a 121 is more of a waste of time than a productive use of it. Perhaps it feels more social than useful. Or possibly, this meeting ranks 229th on the list of things you want to get done today, in between cleaning the crumbs out of your keyboard and “miscellaneous thinking time.”

If you think the colleague wants face time for its own sake instead of anything specific, you ‘d be much better off cutting it from your calendar. Here’s how to do it tactfully, without giving the impression that you don’t think they deserve your time.

Ask for more information
It can be irritating when a meeting invite lands unceremoniously in your inbox without any context.
The red flag that a meeting is a time-waster is if the invitee doesn’t give meeting notes in advance. An agenda is all that’s needed to indicate this is a worthwhile meeting to have.

Still, instantly clicking no can make you appear dismissive. You can show tentative interest with straightforward questions like, “Is there an agenda for this?” or, “So I’m prepared, can you let me know what we’ll be covering?” By doing this, if and when you do eventually turn the meeting down, the asker will know you gave some consideration.

If projects are moving along and due dates are being met, in some cases a simple email update will be sufficient. Ask if the meeting can be dealt with online.
Even if there is an agenda, you may be able to resolve everything immediately without subjecting yourself to a sit-down.
However, the main thing you want to avoid when refusing a meeting is to make it look like you don’t care about the needs of the other person. Instead, frame your suggestion as the more efficient alternative for both of you or for the group in general. Addressing things over email or messenger helps to create a paper trail to keep everybody accountable, and the right people can be looped into the task.
When you’re responding, it helps to highlight these advantages with a line like, “It ‘d be great to get some other ideas on this. Can we do this over email so I can keep track?”
Just make sure you follow through on what you’re proposing so down the line you’re able to show the effectiveness of that method, and it might catch on and leave you with more miscellaneous thinking time.

Don’t say yes to a meeting you know will never happen.
If you truly don’t have time for this meeting, be clear about it. Follow up your no with a promise to cover the meeting items on email or messenger, either now or at a later point when you have more time to spare, so it doesn’t look like you’re just shutting down the conversation.
If the person asking for the meeting persists in wanting face time, it might be worth (nicely) passing the person to another colleague who has more time and could serve as an advancement opportunity for a direct report.

You can say something like, “I’m overloaded, however, Colin should have time this week– why don’t you contact him to get something in the calendar?” (Obviously, clear this with Colin first.).
Or just say yes.
Remember that in the work environment, wastes of time are subjective. If you’re the one with the power to cancel the meeting, think about the preciousness of your time versus the potential of the meeting for the other person.

Somebody wants your ideas, your views, and even just a few minutes to get to know you– and if you think of it from this perspective, it’s quite flattering, even if it’s a bit annoying. You’re considered someone worth sitting down with and going through with the meeting is a way to enhance that perception of you. Meetings aren’t always the best use of your time at that moment, but it might pay dividends: What benefits your colleague now may benefit you in the long run.