How to Get Out of Useless Meetings

useless meetings
24 Feb, 2022

IMPACT

How to Get Out of Useless Meetings

useless meetings
February 2022

The virtual and hybrid worlds offer challenges we hadn’t anticipated, and one is a near-constant demand to be in meetings. These meetings, moreover, are not just with colleagues in the next cube and down the hall, but absolutely anywhere in the world. And at any moment in the day or night. (Thank you, Zoom.)

How can we worm our way out of the ones we don’t want to attend? The answer is through the exercise of good manners, which the late P.J. O’Rourke defined as “a combination of intelligence, education, taste and style mixed together so that you don’t need any of those things.”

For starters, here’s how to determine whether a meeting is going to be a complete waste of time, according to Corey duBrowa, Google’s VP of global communications:

  1. No agenda is offered. “If you can’t tell from the agenda how you will be contributing to a decision or discussion — it’s time to decline.”
  2. It’s a meeting that is happening for no better reason than it has always happened.
  3. There’s nobody else like you in the meeting. (If so, it might be that “your time is [being] wasted in a token effort at diversity and inclusion. If there’s a chance you are being added to the conversation just to check a box, it might be the right move to decline the meeting completely.”)

Okay, once you figure out your time is going to be wasted, here are some ways to politely wriggle out of the obligation, according to Ted Kitterman, writing in PR Daily.

  1. Ask for the meeting’s objective. If the convener can’t tell you, gently inform them you don’t want to be a “value-add.”
  2. Ask who else will be there. The guest list might indicate that you don’t need to be there, too.
  3. Recommend a replacement. (Put differently, throw somebody else under the bus.)
  4. Offer to follow up later. (Odds are, you won’t be asked to.)
  5. Address the agenda in a different form, through email, maybe.
  6. Suddenly get double-booked. The convener need not know anything about the “other” meeting.
  7. Suggest a new protocol for workplace meetings. That way, you change the whole nature of the conversation and, without giving offense, you put the convener on the defensive.

Finally, “if you find yourself in a meeting that is going south in a hurry — don’t hesitate to hit the ‘leave’ button. Your colleagues will survive without you.”

Let’s give O’Rourke the last word: “Once you have a good job and lots of money and power, good manners will follow as a matter of course. You will be able to act as rudely as you want and still contribute to making the world a more courteous place because of how polite and nice everybody will be to you.”

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