How To Reject A Meeting Request

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:

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…

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 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…

Realizing he was talking about working meetings but the question had been about informal “coffee” meetings, Joe added:

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…

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…

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…

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…

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.


The Hollywood Rule: 5 Reasons To Always Accept A Drink During A Meeting

The company I worked for my first year after college was producing a commercial, and my boss sent me and a coworker to meet the head of the production company we’d hired to film it. The man was, according to the online bio I read before the meeting, a “former Hollywood guy”… whatever that means.

When we got to his office — a nondescript building in a small industrial park — he invited us into his conference room and asked if we’d like a drink. As I took my seat, I politely declined the drink.

He sat down across from us, leaned back in his chair, shook his head in mock-disapproval, and said, “Clearly neither of you two know the Hollywood Rule.”

“The Hollywood Rule?” my co-worker asked. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“The Hollywood Rule,” the production head explained, “is to always accept a drink when someone offers one at the start of a meeting.”

If I could travel back in time to that moment, I would have asked him why. But, at that moment, it didn’t occur to me. Instead, I’m pretty sure I meekly asked for a water, and then we continued with our meeting. As a result, I’ve spent the next 15 years wondering why, in Hollywood, you’re always supposed to accept a drink when offered one during a meeting.

Even though I don’t know why I’m supposed to, ever since leaning the Hollywood Rule, when someone offers me a drink in a meeting, I always accept it. Plus, when I meet with someone and offer a drink, I get a little annoyed if they don’t accept it. I think it’s a useful piece of advice, so I’ve come up with my own reasons why.

Reason #1: Demonstrate Absolute Comfort

Maybe you’re meeting with a powerful investor. Maybe you’re meeting with a potential customer who, if you win the deal, could propel your business to massive success. No matter how important the meeting is, or how nervous you are, by accepting a drink you’re demonstrating absolute comfort in your environment. Why? Because people who turn down drinks are people who don’t want to feel like they’re imposing or causing trouble. But people who close big deals are people who never worry about imposing.

Reason #2: Get Used To Your Environment

Thanks to millions of years of evolution, when entering new environments, humans are naturally focused on their surroundings. Sure, this comes from having to worry about things like saber toothed tigers unexpectedly leaping out at you, and you’re not likely to encounter many of them in a conference room, but instincts are difficult habits to kick. As a result, when entering a new space ahead of a meeting, some part of your mental energy will be tuned to your surroundings.

By accepting a drink at the beginning of a meeting, you’re giving yourself a few minutes to acclimate to a new environment. During that time, your hunter-gatherer subconscious can do its thing, which means it’ll stay out of your way once the meeting starts.

Reason #3: Cool Down

Even low-pressure meetings require some level of additional effort beyond what you expend staring at a computer screen. That additional effort leads to things like breathlessness, an inability to focus, and, in some cases, sweat. Lots and lots of sweat.

An easy way to avoid being the kind of person who sweats through your shirt during a meeting is to accept a cold beverage. You probably won’t realize how much it’s helping you stay cool, but maybe you’ll notice the lack of pit stains.

Reason #4: Make Your Host Feel Good

While you might think you’re creating extra work, accepting a drink is actually an easy way to make your host feel good for doing something nice. Making your host feel good will put that person in a more receptive state of mind, which may come in handy if you need to make any kind of “ask” during your meeting.

Reason #5: Establish Control

Conversations are about control. Do you like to be the driver of your conversations, actively pushing them in the directions you want them to go? Or do you tend to be a passenger in your conversations, going wherever other people want to take them?

Being passive during conversations isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there are plenty of scenarios where you should let the other person lead. However, if you need to control a conversation, accepting a drink is a good way of doing so because it immediately makes you the beneficiary of the other person’s effort.

If you want to establish even more control, request a drink before you’re even offered one. A simple “Could I trouble you for a glass of water?” as you’re walking in the door is a polite way of taking charge at the beginning of a meeting.

And, for those times where you want everyone in the room to know you’re the “alpha,” request a drink the other person surely won’t have:

        Person You’re Meeting: “Before we get started, would you like something to drink?”

        You: “As a matter of fact, I’d love a Mountain Dew Code Red if you’ve got one.”

        Person You’re Meeting: “Umm… I don’t think we have that.”

        You: “Then let’s just get down to business. So… what can I do for you?”


5 Tips On How To Ask For An Introduction

Having survived as a founder in the tech startup world for a decade, I’ve met lots of fellow “industry folk.” Being a dutiful founder, I’ve connected with most of them on LinkedIn. As a result, while I’m by no means a tech industry goliath, on LinkedIn I show up as a second degree connection to some of the industry’s biggest names. Because of this, I get lots of intro requests.

Since the people in my network have made hundreds of intros on my behalf over the years, I try to “pay it forward” and provide requested intros whenever possible. However, as the volume of intro requests increases while the number of hours in my day stays constant, I wanted to write a post explaining the best way to ask for an intro if you want to increase the odds of actually getting one — especially a good one — from me or from anyone in your network.

1. Only ask for intros from people who know you well

In my mind, this one seems obvious. And yet, I get a surprising number of intro requests from people I hardly remember meeting. What those people don’t understand is that an introduction reflects on the person making the intro. Since I want to maintain good relationships with my connections, I prefer to introduce them to people I know, respect, and trust not to embarrass me.

When I don’t know much about the person requesting an intro, I’ll feel uncomfortable making it, and one of three things will happen: 1) I’ll make an intro that includes caveats about how I don’t know you well, which could reflect poorly on you; 2) I’ll turn down your request; or, most likely, 3) I’ll ignore you and hope you go away.

If you don’t want these things to happen when you request an intro, always establish a strong relationship with a person before attempting to leverage his or her connections.

2. Ask for introductions to specific people

Every few weeks I get an email asking: “Can you introduce me to anyone who does X?” While I probably do know someone who “does X,” I probably can’t remember that person off the top of my head, so granting your request means I’ll have to do extra work in order to figure out who I can connect you with.

When I reply to this kind of request with a “let me think about that” response and never follow-up, it’s not because I don’t want to help. It’s because you’ve actually asked me to do two things: introduce you and figure out who to introduce you to.

By doubling the amount of work you’re asking someone to do on your behalf, you’re halving the chance of the person actually doing it. Instead, do your research ahead of time to figure out who in your contact’s network you want to speak with, and then ask for an introduction to a specific person.

3. Ask for one introduction at a time

The record for number of introductions someone has asked me for in a single email is 13. Guess how many he got.

In the same way introductions are valuable to you, they represent a cost for the people making them. When you ask for multiple introductions, you’re raising the cost, and, like anything in life, at some point the costs get too high.

4. Send a “forwardable” email

Requesting an introduction from someone is like asking that person to do extra work on your behalf. While your strongest connections will usually be willing to do as much work as you need, you can get intros from not-quite-as-strong connections simply by making the task easier.

To streamline an intro request, write a concise email that the person making the intro on your behalf can share with minimal edits, and let him or her know the message can be forwarded. In addition to increasing the likelihood of getting an intro, “forwardable” emails also allow you to control the message that gets sent, which will help facilitate future conversations with the person you’re getting introduced to.

5. Make your connection feel comfortable saying “no”

When I ask for intros, I try to include a line in my email saying something like: “If you’re not particularly close with [Person’s Name] or don’t feel comfortable sharing her info, I understand.”

It might seem counterintuitive, but including this kind of “escape path” actually makes people more likely to make introductions because they don’t feel as much pressure, particularly in situations where they don’t have a strong connection with the person you’re trying to reach.

In addition, telling your connections you understand if they can’t make an introduction shows you’re mature enough to understand the significance of your request. You’re not just asking for a quick email. You’re asking your contacts to link their reputations to yours with contacts and relationships they’ve work hard to cultivate. If you don’t think that’s a significant “ask,” you might need to reevaluate the quality of your own network.