Decline a Meeting Invitation Without Burning Bridges

There it is in your inbox: an invite to a meeting you really don’t want to attend. Maybe it’s shoe-horned into one of the few remaining open spaces in your calendar. Or maybe it’s for a time that’s already booked, and now you’re left to decide whom to turn down. Whatever the reason, sometimes you need to decline a meeting invite.

If the value of the meeting isn’t clear from the invitation, reply back with a few open-ended questions before making your decision: “Could you please provide some additional information on the agenda?”, “What stage of decision making are we at on this topic?”, “How should I prepare for the discussion?”

If it’s clear that the meeting is worthwhile, your next question is whether or not you’re the right person to attend. If you’re questioning why you were invited, reach out to the meeting organizer before responding: “What are you looking for me to contribute at this meeting?”, “Who else will be there from my department?”, “Who will I be representing?”

Finally, if you believe the meeting will be valuable and that you would make a contribution to the discussions, you need to decide whether or not the meeting is a priority for you right now. How central is the meeting topic to your role? Where does the issue fit relative to your other immediate demands? How unique is your contribution and could your seat be better filled by someone else?

Regardless of which option you choose, you’re trying to do three things. First, model deliberateness about the use of time. Second, share your rationale so that the meeting organizer has some context for why you’re not participating. Third, make an effort to meet the organizer’s needs, even if it’s not in the way they had originally envisioned.

Summing-up: It might be a bit of a culture shock at first, but all the overwhelmed people with 35 hours a week of meetings will quickly admire your discipline. Just remember, you need to afford the same courtesy to the people who decline the invites you send!

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