Employee at desk look at meeting request- Hays careers advice

I find that, in general, people are not protective enough of their time—especially when it comes to meetings. I once had a client who spent over 20 hours a week in meetings, so much of his time that he felt he couldn’t pursue the work and life goals he had set for himself to achieve. He wasn’t moving forward because he was simply too busy to actually do so. So I asked him to cut his time in meetings by half. It wasn’t an easy process, but it worked.

The bottom line is that the most effective and successful people tend to understand that there is a cost associated with every meeting invite they accept – and that cost is missing out on something else. So, rather than double booking meetings, not preparing adequately, being late, or doing other work during the meeting, you really should think about declining.



Three things to consider before declining a meeting

Next time you receive a meeting invite; don’t just hit “accept” automatically. As my colleague, Dr. Liane Davey puts it “When you receive a meeting invitation, it’s important to think about whether or not it’s a good use of your time” Here are a few things she recommends you think about:

  1. First, consider whether the meeting is set up for success. Is the topic timely? Are the right people invited to ensure you can make the required decisions?
  2. Ask yourself whether you’re the right person to attend. Are you the right person from your team? Does the issue need someone more senior? Is it an opportunity to delegate to someone more junior? Is there unique value you can add above and beyond the others who will be in attendance?
  3. Finally, even if it’s an important meeting and you can add value to the discussion, it might not be the most important thing for you to be doing at this particular time. Think hard about the opportunity cost of attending the meeting and make a call based on what’s most important for you to pay attention to. If you have something to contribute but can’t afford to attend, ask to contribute in advance or to attend for only parts of the meeting.

If you decide not to go to the meeting, be forthcoming with your reason for declining the invite, and remember that, as a supportive team member, you still have certain responsibilities you need to fulfil:

  • To coordinate for someone who is attending represent you and fill you in later on what happens
  • To give the meeting delegates permission to assign you work
  • To align with and commit to the decisions made during the meeting

How to politely decline a meeting invite

This is about considering the invitation and then declining after reflection. And it’s about being candid with those inviting you and even allowing them an opportunity to change your mind. Saying no is not necessarily the end of a conversation.

Politely declining an invitation to meet might sound like this:

  • Thank you for the invitation. I’m going to decline on this occasion, but I do appreciate being invited.
  • Given my other commitments for the next two weeks, I’d prefer to not take this on. Will this be okay with you?
  • Thanks for asking, however, I already have commitments outside of work
  • Okay, I’d like to be supportive of the team. And I have a conflict for Thursday. Is there another way I can help?

I think you’ll find that if you hold yourself responsible for the meeting being effective without your presence, people will respect your decision not to attend. That said, if you make not attending a pattern, you risk losing the respect of your employees or co-workers, so be thoughtful about when you choose not to attend.

The goal is to adopt a perspective that you have some choice over which meetings you attend and how long you spend in each meeting.

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Paul Axtell is an author, speaker, and corporate trainer. He is the author of two award-winning books: Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids and Meetings Matter. He has developed a training series, Being Remarkable, which is designed to be led by managers or HR specialists.