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5 Situations When You Should Decline a Meeting Invitation

23 February, 2018

We’ve all been there before: sitting in a meeting and thinking to ourselves, “why am I here?”. When you’re under pressure at work, stressed about a deadline, or have daily tasks that need to be completed, spending unnecessary time in meetings that has no relevance or urgency to you is just plain wasteful. That’s why when meeting organizers are planning meetings, creating agendas, and sending out meeting invites, you should be able to analyze if that meeting will or won’t be worth your time. Here are the telltale signs that you can most likely ask to skip it:

1. You haven't been required to bring any materials or present anything in the meeting

While it may still be important to attend a meeting you do not directly have to participate in, you may want to ask if you can be updated later. Either with meeting notes, an email, or if the aspects that directly affect you and your own projects be addressed one-on-one or in a shorter stand-up meeting.

2. The meeting doesn't have a clear agenda or timeline

You shouldn’t be required to attend open ended meetings. Without a clear timeline or agenda that is followed, meetings tend to run long, and go off-topic. If your organizations cares about maximizing workplace productivity, make the case for why this one should be skipped.

3. The meeting doesn't have a goal or desired outcome

Meetings are ideally results-driven. If the goal is just to have a bunch of people in a room talking, chances are it’s not going to be very productive and it could be a big waste of your time. If there’s not a defined goal or outcome for the meeting, ask the organizer to either clarify this. Or reconsider if the meeting can be held at another time or later date when there should be a specified outcome for solving a problem, creating a status check-in, or other significant purpose. Otherwise, most of the time aimless meeting topics can be saved for emails. 

4. The organizer isn't actually present in the meeting

When a superior calls a meeting for staff but doesn’t intend to actually be in attendance themselves, this should be a red flag. Find out from other invitees if they understand the purpose, agenda and desired outcome of the meeting and perhaps decide together if this will be a fruitful and necessary meeting. Otherwise, ask your superior why they feel this meeting is important enough to have, but not important enough for them to be a part of. Meetings can really only be most effective when at least most attendees agree that it is something worth setting time aside for.

5. Attendees come unprepared or unfocused

This is why defining specific roles and requests in meeting invitations and meeting agendas is so important. When people come to meetings unprepared, or unsure of why the meeting is happening at all, the tone is set for the meeting to be unproductive. If not everyone who is a key stakeholder for the discussion is able to be present, suggest holding the meeting at another time. If a presentation that was supposed to take place is incomplete, or not thoroughly prepared, suggest that more time is needed to be properly organized and take it on another day. Meetings without the proper preparation and necessary focus are simply going to be a waste of yours - and everyone’s - time.

If you can consider the things that make for a great meeting, you can better identify the things that will make for a bad one. Don’t be afraid to ask to back out of a meeting, or cancel a meeting for your staff if it is apparent that the success of the meeting is in jeopardy. Meetings that hinder productivity can also cause resentment and dissatisfaction in the workplace, and no one likes a meeting that’s a waste of time.

Last but not least... To decline a meeting isn't rude, but rather demonstrates responsibility. Why? Because you clearly state that your time is valuable and should be spent on more important tasks. At the end of the day, this benefits your company (time is money...), as well as yourself in terms of less stress about unfinished work.

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