It’s Monday morning, you’re walking down the hall, and your manager says, “Maria, can you make the 10 a.m. meeting?” You have a ton of work to do, but you are caught off-guard. You want to say “No,” but that might make your manager unhappy. You nod, and sheepishly confirm that you will attend the recently-called meeting.
A few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation in which a manager asked an employee if she could volunteer to assist with a training program. Her response, “Do you really need me there? I have a pressing deadline.” He responded, “I have a few volunteers, but I might need you. Let me get back with you.” This employee had the right answer. She stated her willingness to help, but she had other work on her plate that needed attention.
#1: Ask if your presence is needed.
The fact is that there are too many meetings. It appears that managers feel they must have meetings for the sake of having meetings. I’ve even attended some meetings whose the sole purpose was scheduling other meetings. In other words, let’s have a meeting to schedule more meetings!
When contacted to attend a meeting, I will ask the manager to determine if my presence is needed. In other words, I want to know if I can be a meaningful participant. If I do not feel that my attendance is needed, I will ask to be excused.
Here is one approach:
“John, I saw the agenda for the meeting. It appears that the discussion is focused on internal operations. Given that my work is based on outside sales, I feel my attendance is not needed. May I be excused from this meeting?”
As a manager, you must respect the candid approach described here. You should only invite people who add value to the discussion. If not, leave them off the meeting list.
#2: Determine if a staff member can attend the meeting.
In many cases, a staff member can attend a meeting in your place. The person can take notes, and provide you with a 10-minute summary. Your time is valuable, and you can leverage your team. A staff member can gain excellent insight by participating in the discussion. You have a win-win situation.
You should, however, review the agenda and provide speaking points to your staff member. Meeting coordinators appreciate individuals who are proactive, and who can share their knowledge even when they are not in attendance.
#3: Deny the request to attend the meeting.
Of course, you want to be careful with this option. In other words, you can’t say, “Hell no! I don’t have the time!” It’s best if you make it clear from the outset that your time is committed to day-to-day work and projects.
Have a short discussion with your manager, and reinforce to her that you would like to limit the meetings you attend. I took this approach when working for an organization, and my manager would often block requests before they got to me.
Some meetings do have value, and you should attend those. In my case, meetings are done via webinars. The advantage here is that those who are unable to attend can watch the recording. As a manager or leader of an organization, I want my employees to spend less time in unproductive meetings and more time doing the work that makes the organization successful.