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Professional Time Management: Strategies for Politely Declining Meetings

Published: Mar 06, 2024

 Workplace Issues       
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In the professional world, meetings are a fact of life. With hybrid and remote roles becoming more prominent in recent years, meetings are more commonplace and team leaders may schedule meetings as a means of catching up with their team. In any case, meetings can sometimes get in the way of important tasks, or they may conflict with other commitments. Here’s how to respectfully decline a meeting invite.

Make Sure You Can’t Attend

When you receive a meeting invite, the first thing you should do is determine whether you’re able to attend. Do you have another meeting scheduled for the same date and time? Is there an important deadline that conflicts with the date and time of the meeting? In certain cases, you may receive a meeting invite in error, or your role and expertise may not be relevant to the subject of the meeting. Here, you should confirm whether the meeting organizer intended to include you on the invite.

Depending on the subject of the meeting or who the meeting organizer is, you may also want to consider whether the reason you can’t attend is sufficient. For example, if you receive a meeting invite from your boss and the subject line reads “Emergency Team Meeting,” it’s probably a safe bet that your attendance is required. The bottom line is, if you’re thinking of declining a meeting, you must first ensure that you absolutely can’t go or that it’s appropriate for you to decline in the first place.

Is the Meeting Necessary?

You may also consider whether the meeting is necessary. It’s very possible that a coworker set up a meeting hastily, without first considering if it was worth pulling people away from their work. In another scenario, a recurring meeting was set up in the past, and hasn’t been removed from the schedule even though the purpose of the meeting was previously fulfilled. If you feel that a meeting is unnecessary or that its subject can be covered through email or a messaging platform, contact the meeting organizer and ask for more information.

Propose Alternatives

In the event you absolutely can’t make the meeting, but the topic is important or relevant to your role, you could suggest an alternative time. In many cases, companies use some form of a shared calendar system, so you should be able to check the organizer’s schedule before you respond to the meeting invite. If you’re able to do so, identify a time when you can both meet. Here’s an example of an email proposing an alternative meeting time to help get you started:

[Name of Recipient],

I received your meeting invite and I’m looking forward to discussing [Topic of Meeting]; however, I am unable to attend on [Date and time of meeting invite]. Would you be able to meet on [Provide a few alternative dates and times] instead? Please let me know if any of those times work for you, or if there is a better time for us to meet.

Thank you for your understanding, I look forward to meeting with you.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

[Title]

[Contact Information]

You may also offer to review the meeting minutes and provide feedback. Meeting minutes are written documentation of the key items that were covered in the meeting. If you decide to go this route, make sure you extend the offer in a timely fashion so the meeting organizer can arrange for someone to take notes if they hadn’t already planned to do so.

Another alternative would be to have a coworker attend the meeting in your stead and report back to you. Of course, this will only work if you can find someone who is available at the designated time, willing to attend the meeting, and who fully understands the topic that’s being covered. You will also have to check with the meeting organizer and confirm whether they’ll allow someone else to attend the meeting. If you find a coworker who agrees to help you out, make sure you remember to return the favor.

These alternatives are useful because you’re not necessarily saying “no” to the request. Instead, you’re demonstrating your interest in the content of the meeting and your attention to the issue at hand—the meeting organizer will appreciate this, even if you’re unable to attend.

Be Polite and Direct

If you’re set on declining the meeting invite, ensure that you maintain a high level of professionalism in your response. The goal here is to be polite, but direct. If you come off as wishy-washy, the meeting organizer might not fully grasp your intentions, leading to further confusion. On the other hand, you can’t just click “decline” and go on with your day, as situations like these require a bit of finesse. Here is an example email for you to work off of:

[Name of Recipient],

I hope all is well. Unfortunately, I will not be able to make the meeting on [Date and time of meeting invite] due to [mention scheduling conflict or prior commitments]. If there are any follow-up materials or actions regarding [Topic of Meeting] that you believe I can address remotely, please do not hesitate to share them.

Thank you for considering my participation in the meeting, and I look forward to speaking with you again soon.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

[Title]

[Contact Information]

Respond Promptly

Regardless of how you decide to proceed, it’s important that you answer the meeting request as soon as possible. The reason for this is that you want to give the coworker who requested the meeting plenty of time to make adjustments to the invite or reschedule the meeting if necessary. The longer you wait to reply to the invite, the more of an inconvenience it will be for the organizer. This could potentially paint you in a negative light, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid.

Keep in mind that you can’t just go declining every meeting invite you receive. Think of these strategies as a last resort, and only use them if you’re absolutely sure you cannot attend a meeting. Remember, it would be to your advantage to show your face and express your opinions from time to time, especially if you’re currently in a hybrid or remote role.

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