Decline pointless meetings

25th April 2023

Is there anything more depressing than sitting through an hour of tedious, irrelevant nonsense in a meeting you don’t need to attend?!

If you hate this as much as I do, here’s how to politely decline the next one:

  1. When you receive the invite, contact the owner and say: "Thanks for your invite. To help me prepare for your meeting, please can I ask two quick questions?"
  2. Clearly they will say "yes" to that!
  3. Ask question 1: "What outcomes do you want to achieve after this meeting?"
  4. Their answer will either be a clear outcome or a vague one. If it’s vague, ask for more details. Once you have clarity…
  5. … Question 2: "And how do you want me to contribute to achieving that outcome?"
  6. They’ll either say you can contribute, you can’t, they aren’t sure, or you can contribute to only some of it
  7. Depending how they respond, use the right phrase, to decline the meeting (see below)

(Quick point this looks a long list. But basically you’re only asking two things – outcome and contribute)

Your response to their response in Step 6 above will be something like:

  1. If you can contribute and are needed for the full meeting – say “Thanks – see you there!” This has been a useful call for you. Because you’re now clearer on your role in their meeting. This means you’ll be more valuable in it. It also makes your prep quicker and better
  2. If you can’t contribute at all – say "I’m glad I checked. It sounds like I can’t contribute. So I’ll decline your invitation – I don’t want to dilute your meeting"
  3. If they say they don’t know if you can contribute – you can choose to go or not. If it’s not, use a similar phrase to the previous point
  4. If they say you can only contribute to some of it – say "Since I can only contribute to agenda items 3 and 6, and I’m short of time that day, please can you move those two agenda items to the start of the meeting. I’ll attend for those two, and then I’ll have to duck out. OK?"

And two final, critical points:

  1. You don’t have to attend every meeting you’re invited to. It’s an invite; not a court summons. So the above is perfectly acceptable. However…
  2. …if you get invited by your boss’s boss’s boss – you might just want to go anyway!

Action Point

Look at the next few meetings in your calendar. Do you know exactly what the desired outcome is, how you’ll contribute to achieving it?

If so, great.

If not, consider contacting the owner and using this Tip. You might be able to free-up some time. Always good!

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