By Mamie Kanfer Stewart, founder and CEO of Meeteor.
When was the last time you replied "no" to a meeting invite at work? Have you ever even considered this as an option? Many clients I've worked with indiscriminately accept meeting invitations, especially when it comes from an authority figure. But then, they're frustrated to find out that the meeting wasn't the best use of their time.
My company has engaged with hundreds of individuals and teams who struggle with attending too many meetings. We've seen over-active meeting cultures, professionals who fear missing out on meetings, and companies concerned that if meetings become optional, no one will choose to attend them.
What's the result of all this? Muddied meeting cultures and a backlash against meetings, especially ineffective ones. Most employees attend an average of 62 meetings a month. That's over 15 meetings a week. It's time to critically examine how we approach meeting attendance.
As the founder and CEO of a company that helps other businesses hold more effective meetings, here are my best tips for employees to get out of a meeting:
1. It's OK to decline a meeting invitation.
Meetings shouldn't be a distraction from getting your "real" work done. Rather, they should improve how you and your team do individual and collaborative work. If they don't, it's your responsibility to question your participation given your other priorities.
2. Know what you're saying "no" to.
Before you can accurately assess whether or not you should attend a meeting, you need to know the objective of the meeting. If you're not sure why you've been invited or how you're expected to contribute, ask the meeting leader.
This also helps the leader recognize that they need to be thoughtful about inviting the right people to the conversation. Once you have enough information, consider the goal, your expected role, and the length of the meeting in the context of your work.
3. Think before you hit that "decline" button.
When you decline a meeting invite, you're still accountable for any outcomes of the meeting that pertain to you. But attending a meeting in person is only one way to engage with the meeting content and participants.
- For information-sharing meetings, such as standing staff meetings in which you don't contribute to the discussion, ask for the information to be shared with you via email or document. If you're feeling confident, you can suggest that the group replace the meeting entirely with written communication.
- In some cases, you may need to be informed of meeting outcomes even though you aren't part of the decision-making process. Here, ask to be notified after the meeting of the key decisions and actions that came out of it. Offer to follow up with the meeting leader to ensure you stay informed.
- Sometimes, there's a small portion of the agenda that is relevant to you, but not the entire hour-long meeting. In this instance, ask if you can attend just the part that's related to your work.
- Maybe you really do want to attend a meeting but other priorities take precedence, like an upcoming deadline or a competing meeting. Offer to review the meeting materials ahead of time, share your thoughts via email, or have a quick conversation with the team leader to get your thoughts in the room. Acknowledge that you'll accept any outcome of the meeting, including tasks assigned to you, and follow up to stay informed.
4. Saying "no" is hard, but you can do it.
Declining a meeting is not an easy practice to introduce, and the difficulty will vary from organization to organization. If saying no is foreign to your current culture, finding other ways to engage in the meeting content and stay informed can help broach the subject.
Knowing your priorities and how you or the team will benefit from spending time elsewhere will make your manager more likely to agree to your request. Always communicate with the meeting leader and your manager in advance of any meeting to ensure alignment.
Finally, accept that your manager may have an alternate understanding of your priorities or company policy, which may impact your ability to get out of the meeting at hand.
Mamie Kanfer Stewart is CEO and founder of Meeteor. Mamie is driven to help others optimize their time and talents to achieve their mission.