How to reject a meeting request
A couple weeks ago, I had multiple meetings where, going into the meeting, I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t be able to help the entrepreneurs in the ways they’d hoped, but they were persistent, so I agreed to the meetings.
Unfortunately, I was right.
After lots of wasted hours — specifically the wasted hours of precious entrepreneur time for the people meeting with me — I received yet another request from someone I knew I wouldn’t be able to help. In frustration, I posted the following Tweet:
Two meetings this week where I knew I couldn’t help the entrepreneurs in the ways they hoped, but they were determined to meet.
I love when entrepreneurs are persistent, but I don’t want to waste their time.
Any advice on how to reject meetings without seeming like a jerk?
— Aaron Dinin (@AaronDinin) July 18, 2019
Usually when I ask the Twitter masses a question, all I get is silence, but this particular question spurred an interesting mix of comments. I’ve shared some responses below and my thoughts on them. At the end, I’ll share how I responded to the request that spurred my tweet.
James Avery tries to improve efficiency…
I offer a call – a call is much less investment of time and I can do them on my commute home. I have also started asking more people to just come to my office instead of coffee or lunch, less time wasted on other things. I would never turn someone away outright.
— James Avery (@averyj) July 18, 2019
Offering a call seems like a good in-between response. It’s less of a time commitment, while not an outright rejection. Still, I wonder about the value. Even if the call only takes 30 minutes, aren’t I knowingly wasting 30 minutes of that entrepreneur’s time?
Either way, I’m definitely going to use Jame’s suggestion about asking more people to come to my office. That’s a smart optimization.
Bryan Guido Hassin likes paying the karma gods…
I generally take the meetings anyway. Often I can’t be helpful so I try to cut to the chase and make that clear early in the discussion. Sometimes I’m surprised and it turns out that I can be helpful, even if not in the intended way. Either way it builds good will and karma.
— Bryan Guido Hassin (@guido23) July 18, 2019
I agree that sometimes you might not realize the ways in which a meeting can be valuable. At the same time, after a career of meetings, I feel like it’s possible to make an educated and usually-accurate guess. Still, it’s hard to argue with the importance of pleasing the karma gods. Definitely don’t want to piss them off.
Joe Procopio focused on work meetings…
They’re a necessary evil. Less is more. Keep them rare, short, only people who need to be in the room. Agenda is a must, no filler, only talk about those items where decisions need to be made. Recurring only when absolutely necessary.
— Joe Procopio (@jproco) July 18, 2019
Realizing he was talking about working meetings but the question had been about informal “coffee” meetings, Joe added:
I assumed you were talking about working meetings but then I thought – meh, 90% of what I said still applies. 🙂
— Joe Procopio (@jproco) July 18, 2019
At first I wasn’t sure I agreed with Joe that working meetings and informal “let’s connect” meetings have much overlap. However, after thinking about it a bit, he has an interesting port. Specifically, plenty of the optimizations that get applied to working/office meetings could be applied to informal meetings. In fact, here’s a relevant suggestion from one of my Duke colleagues…
Steve McClelland suggested adding a helpful barrier…
If you don’t feel you can reject them outright – I’d give them an “assignment” to do and share before you meet. Putting some level of work into something to review will improve the meeting if the work is done. If it isn’t done…no meeting.
— Steven McClelland (@schwavschwa) July 18, 2019
What if I the “assignment” Steve suggests is to request an agenda ahead of time? Not only would this create a barrier to push away less serious meeting requests, it would also help organize meetings, as per Joe’s suggestion, which is something I do for working meetings.
If nothing else, requesting an agenda would probably encourage the people scheduling a meeting to think through what they want to say and what they want to ask for in ways most of them aren’t currently doing.
Dana Publicover encouraged me to give a referral…
Referral to someone who can?
— Dana Publicover (@danapubs) July 18, 2019
On one hand, I agree in the value of referrals and try to give them whenever possible. On the other hand, I worry about referring people I don’t know well because, like it or not, a bad referral can reflect poorly on me. That might seem a bit selfish, but most of us know people who keep sending us bad referrals, and it impacts the way all of their referrals get treated.
Malcolm Gill brought the optimism…
Continue to see them. You never know what can happen. #AnythingIsPossible
— Malcolm Gill (@MalcolmGill) July 18, 2019
And he’s right. You never know what can happen. That’s certainly part of the anxiety I have when deciding whether or not to turn down a meeting.
Also worth noting… you never know what can happen when you play the lottery, but I still don’t buy tickets.
And Will Hardison had perhaps the most actionable advice…
Just write back with “unsubscribe”
— Will Hardison (@willhardison) July 18, 2019
In my world, we call that #MarketerHumor… =)
So here’s what I did…
As you read, everyone has their own way of handling meeting requests with questionable value. Some people take the meetings while trying to optimize for efficiency, some attempt to add better vetting up front, and other people believe meetings are a core part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and are never truly a waste of time.
As for me, I still don’t know the best strategy for rejecting a meeting request. I guess I’ll have to experiment and report back.
For my first experiment, I replied to the entrepreneur who triggered my tweet by explaining why I believed I wouldn’t be a helpful person for him to meet and that I valued his time too much to waste it. To his credit, he wrote a kind response thanking me for my honesty, so I guess that’s one data point in support of an honest, candid rejection email.
How about you? How do you turn down meeting requests? Reply in the comments below or tweet @AaronDinin.