What do all team members – including leaders and managers – have in common? Well, for starters, meetings are integral to all team members’ work. At the same time, you don’t have to attend every meeting under the sun, especially if you have other obligations or more pressing work. But how can you say no to a meeting invite without being rude? Below is everything you should know about how to respectfully decline a meeting.
How to decline a meeting
Before you politely decline a meeting invitation, you should be 100% sure you know why the meeting is happening and why you’ve been invited. If you’re at all unsure about the meeting’s purpose or why it pertains to you, do some more digging. Maybe you’ll realize that you should attend the meeting. But if you still decide you should decline, here’s how to do so.
- Feel confident about your reason
- Figure out whether the meeting is necessary
- Suggest another time
- Say “no, but…”
- Stay polite, and be direct and clear
1 Feel confident about your reason for not attending
You don’t have to share your reasons for declining a meeting request beyond “I can’t attend,” but the meeting organizer might still ask. That’s why you should feel entirely confident about your choice to decline the meeting before doing so. This way, the meeting organizer understands you really want to be there but just can’t this one time.
2 Figure out whether the meeting is truly necessary
How often have you thought, “This meeting could’ve been an email?” We’ve been there, and we can say it’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s also one you can avoid if you figure out that the meeting you’re invited to could indeed be an email. (Yes, there is such a thing as too many meetings – an email will suffice sometimes.)
If you feel like the meeting in question could be an email, you can decline the invite and suggest moving the conversation to email. This way, you respect both your own time and the needs of the meeting organizer.
No agenda, no attenda
Ensure every necessary meeting is a good use of time by having a detailed, collaborative agenda using a tool like Fellow.
3 Suggest another time
Maybe you’re excited about a meeting invite but already have other obligations at the requested date and time. In that case, you can always suggest a different time and date for the meeting. You can simply ask for any date and time when you’re free, but you might want to go a step further.
Namely, see if you can load the meeting organizer’s schedule into your calendar and identify times when you’re both free. Then, point the organizer to a near-future date and time when you’re both free and suggest that you could meet then instead. This way, you show interest in the meeting organizer’s needs and respect for both your schedules. It might barely feel like declining a request!
4 Say “no, but…”
It’s one thing to tell someone no. It’s another thing to go beyond a simple decline and offer an alternative. Try replacing that “No, I can’t make this meeting” with an “Although I can’t make this meeting, could we try something else instead?”
That something else could be offering a different meeting time, offering your feedback on the meeting minutes afterward, or sending a teammate in your stead. No matter what, you’ll be respecting the organizer’s needs.
5 Stay polite, and be direct and clear
If you’re worried about how to decline a meeting without offending someone, it might be because you conflate “no” with pure negativity. In reality, a polite, direct, clear “no” is highly unlikely to land you in hot water.
An appropriate “no” involves firmly but kindly saying that you can’t attend and perhaps explaining why. It also entails sending a written response to the meeting organizer instead of just clicking a “Decline” button. The goal is to remain respectful and professional as you decline. After all, there might be a future occasion where you will want to meet with this person.
3 examples of how to decline a meeting
Still nervous about saying no to a meeting instead of accepting the invite? You might benefit from some templates. Below are three examples that get you out of the meeting while showing that you want to help the organizer achieve their goals.
1 A template for sending a coworker in your place
Hi [meeting organizer’s name],
Thanks for inviting me to this meeting. Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend, but I’d like to invite my colleague [colleague’s name] in my place. Would that work for you?
2 A template for finding a way to speak separately before the meeting
Hi [meeting organizer’s name],
Thanks for inviting me to this meeting. Although I won’t be available, I understand the importance of this meeting, and I’d like to speak with you about everything beforehand. When are you free for about [insert number that feels right to you] minutes?
(If you can see the organizer’s calendar, you can also say, “I see we’re both free for [number] minutes on [date] at [time]. Would that work?”)
3 A template for rescheduling the meeting so you can attend
Hi [meeting organizer’s name],
Thank you for inviting me to meet with you. Although I’m not available at the time you requested, I’d like to find a time that works for everyone. Would [date and time] work for you instead?
(If you can see the team’s calendar, you can replace the last sentence with, “I see that we’re available on [date] at [time]. Can we reschedule this meeting for then?”)
It’s okay to say no
Now that you know how to decline a meeting, one key thing bears repeating: It is absolutely okay to say no. Just because working as part of a team means you have certain responsibilities doesn’t mean you’re obligated to do everything. There will be times when you just can’t attend a meeting, and you can – and should – work to find an alternative.
The first time you have to say no, you can build your response from one of the above templates. They’re included here since they’re known to achieve two goals: Declining meetings and respecting meeting organizers. After your first time declining a meeting, you should feel more at ease the next time you decline – and every time thereafter.
How to have the meeting once it comes around
In some cases, declining a meeting is more akin to delaying it – eventually, you’ll wind up attending it. When that moment comes, you can use Fellow to prepare for the meeting, hold it, and follow up on it. Plus, if you’ve found that using templates to decline meetings has put you at ease, Fellow offers all kinds of additional meeting templates. You can decline meetings now knowing that, later on, you’ll have the best possible meetings.