10 tips for politely declining useless meetings

In the Zoom era, comms pros are getting added to all kinds of virtual gatherings. Here are some tactics to start emptying your calendar.


It’s 2022, and communicators are still struggling to shed useless meetings that drain time and energy.

Corey DuBrowa, VP of global communications at Google, shared how removing meetings from his calendar was a huge part of how he is recalibrating in the new year. He wrote on LinkedIn:

One thing I think most companies are *terrible* at is “stopping things that aren’t a priority anymore” — most companies seem to have an almost endless shelf life for work or projects that realistically should have been called months, if not years, ago. So two things I am doing this year to personally try to get at the heart of your question: 1) I am taking meetings OFF my calendar, they are energy and idea killers 2) deprioritizing things that really aren’t important. I’m sure some feelings will be hurt this year but I don’t have time in my life or in my work week for “pro forma” meetings and “somebody else’s priority” stuff. I want us (aka me) to take back our most valuable and precious commodity: our time. To think, to connect, to create.

Yet, getting out of that pesky 7 a.m. confab can be tricky for communicators who aren’t looking to offend colleagues, clients or bosses.

On Twitter, the question of how to politely decline a meeting became a big thread where users shared some of their favorite tactics for letting people down easy:

Warning signs

How can you tell that a meeting is going to waste your precious time?

Here are some red flags:

  • No agenda is offered. You’re well within your rights to ask what a meeting is going to be about. If you can’t tell from the agenda how you will be contributing to a decision or discussion—it’s time to decline.
  • It’s a meeting that’s always happened. Don’t do things just because of old habits. Interrogate why a meeting is happening. Maybe it could be an email instead?
  • There’s no one else like you in the meeting. For employees from underrepresented backgrounds, getting added to a useless meeting can be doubly frustrating as your time is 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.

How to decline meeting invites

Once you’ve made the decision that a meeting just isn’t for you, here’s how to politely refuse:

1. Ask for the meeting’s objective. If the stated purpose of the meeting is vague, off-target or missing altogether, let the organizer know you won’t be a “value-add.”

2. Just be direct. Why not just ask the meeting organizer why you are being included? A direct question isn’t necessarily a rude question.

3. Ask who else is going to be in the meeting. Sometimes the guest list will provide clarity on whether you need to attend.

4. Recommend a replacement. Help someone else find visibility and give up your seat—and also free up your schedule.

5. Promise to follow up later. Just because this meeting doesn’t pertain to you doesn’t mean your virtual door is closed.

6. Address the agenda in an email. Circumvent the meeting entirely by quickly addressing the issues for discussion in an email or Slack message.

7. Jump on a quick call. Worried that your email response is too brusque? Have a quick virtual chat with the meeting organizer to clarify if you are the “ideal stakeholder” for a call.



8. Get double-booked. Block out your calendar with a phantom meeting or two and promise to review the meeting summary.

9. Push for a new protocol in your workplace regarding meetings. How can you start the conversation about creating a healthier meeting and scheduling culture?



10. Keep it simple. Short and sweet is usually a good recipe for getting to the bottom of things.

And 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.


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