How to Avoid Unnecessary Meetings Without Being Rude

Photo by Ashley Jurius on Unsplash

In my previous article, How I Cut the Events on My Calendar by 40% and Got a Promotion, I shared with you the proof that making your day more fluid is the key to unlock a better work-life balance.

Intuitively, the less events in your calendar, the more time to focus on the tasks that matter during the day, the less time you spend working overtime, the better work-life balance and sense of accomplishment.

After introducing a 2-step framework, called Meeting Avoidance Framework (MAF), which has the power to help you avoid unnecessary meetings, many of you asked for tactical tips to effectively put the framework into practice without coming across as rude, especially with colleagues.

In this article, we will deep dive into some practical tips and examples that will help you be more productive, as well as come across as a great trustworthy team player.

Implementing the framework

Some of you may be thinking: “The Meeting Avoidance Framework sounds good in theory, but it won’t work for me since my situation is different…”. All excuses to avoid a much needed change!

Based on my experience, the MAF works for everyone.

To increase your confidence that you can make it work, I’ll provide you with another tactical framework to handle the real-life situations you face every day at work.

Photo by Blake Weyland on Unsplash

One aspect to clarify. This article focuses on how to practically “dodge” meetings that come from people who want to talk to you.

There is also the other way around: how to avoid scheduling meetings when you need to talk to someone who appears to be unreachable. We will be exploring this scenario in the next article (tip: follow Tweelin not to miss it!).

For now, let’s focus on avoiding others to book time on our calendar, and thus push us to work overtime.

Inbound Meeting Avoidance Matrix

Meeting Avoidance Matrix (MAM) — Copyright Tweelin Inc. — All rights reserved

Productivity is a very controversial topic, because personal productivity often clashes with the overarching organizational productivity.

Which one is best for you, collective or individual?

The answer is: you need both.

You can optimize productivity for yourself and eliminate tasks that are important for someone else, and get a bad selfish reputation that won’t get you promoted. Eliminating tasks that are important for others isn’t the right approach, because it is interpreted as disrespectful by the person who wants to talk to you.

The Meeting Avoidance Matrix (MAM) helps you boost both yours and other people’s productivity, making you standout. Let’s explore its four quadrants, one by one. But first, a pinch of axis definitions.

Urgency

Urgency is pretty straightforward: something urgent requires immediate attention; something not urgent can be deferred.

Importance

Importance is much more subjective. We define it as the extent to which an interaction with someone else is meaningful considering our goals, personal or overarching.

The important questions to ask are:

Does talking to someone have positive effects on customer satisfaction? Or, does not talking to that person have negative repercussions on customer satisfaction?

Does talking to someone help with progressing on your top priorities?

Do any of your hierarchical bosses endorse the communication? In other words, does your organization want you to talk to that person?

SCENARIO 1 — Important and urgent

When communicating with someone who wants to talk to you is important for you, and it’s also urgent, then it’s time to act as soon as possible.

As soon as you find a “when can we talk” message in your notification stack, try to call that person directly, because it shows positive intentions. In case of no answer, send a “ping me when you are free” text message and be on the lookout for any signs of availability.

Some examples that fit in this scenario:

  • Your boss has a customer meeting and needs something from you asap.
  • A customer is threatening to return a product because the part you own is failing.
  • You are responsible for a project activity and a teammate raises a yellow flag for a possible delay.

SCENARIO 2— Not important and urgent

The second scenario is when something is urgent but not important for you. In this case, always assume that the task is important for the other person; in fact, most of the time, it is. So, call that person at your earliest convenience, when he/she appears to be available.

In this scenario, someone might be tempted to delegate the task. However, delegation is tricky. Someone is looking for you to get an answer, and you have a tremendous opportunity to help that person solve an urgent and important problem for her. That person will definitely remember that, and, the next time your name will come up in any discussion, it will be associated with positive feelings and words, which is absolutely priceless to build a great reputation within your organization.

Behaving consistently is key here. Help anyone, however, if you are not able to, figure out the right person who can help them and don’t be skimpy in terms of words. Compose nice messages, say thank you, say you feel bad you could not help more, add punctuation (it means you care about them — they are worth your extra effort), show vulnerabilities, tell the “why” of things to let them understand your world. Do all of that and people will quickly see you as a trustworthy team player who deserves their support.

Now delegation…

If you are a new hire, don’t delegate communications, as you would be seen as “distant” and that would slow down your ascent to the next hierarchy level. If you have been around for a while and you built up a solid reputation, then delegation is an option. However, I recommend you to always tell the other person “why” you are delegating to one of the people who work for you or with you. That way, the person who needs to talk to you will understand and the impact on your reputation will be limited.

Examples in this quadrant are:

  • An operations manager needs to close the budget by the end of the day and your input is needed.
  • You are an Engineer and a dependency on your product needs to be discussed before another business unit commits a new initiative.

SCENARIO 3 — Important and not urgent

Then, we have the quadrant where the matter is important for you, but it isn’t urgent. This is a tricky quadrant which may fit various situations.

For example:

  • A Product Marketing manager wants to talk to you to make sure that the copy for your product launch, scheduled for next month, is consistent with the actual product features.
  • You are a salesperson and the Partnership manager wants to get your feedback on a new program they are preparing for key accounts.
  • You own the strategy for the next fiscal year and a dependent team leader wants to check-in with you on progress.

The workstreams in this quadrant are typically longer term and very impactful. Probably the most important things on your plate.

When possible, dodging a meeting in this quadrant requires a bit of creativity.

A good strategy is texting back and saying: “since these days I am swamped with XYZ, which is important because ABC, why don’t you share with me the doc and I’ll make sure to review and comment on it by Wednesday next week?”.

This way:

  • You’ll do the work you need to do anyway, since it’s important for you.
  • You told the other person “why” you prefer not to meet and you added generous context information that helps the other person better understand what is going on in the company. That person received value from you and now sees you positively.

Often, people choose to meet to make sure something happens. E.g.: “I want to meet so that the review of the marketing copy will surely happen by a certain time”. But if you show commitment and stick to it, you are saving yourself and the other person from the headache of another meeting, and that person now trusts you more than others, which means he/she will have good peer reviews for you.

It’s all about skipping the meeting elegantly and doing the work offline, whenever it is comfortable for you. Plus, you can afford doing the work offline, because it is something you should do anyway — it’s important.

SCENARIO 4 — Not important and not urgent

Then, there is this final scenario: the matter is not important for you, and it’s not urgent. So, why do you need a meeting? Here the art is stalling without being caught, while, at the same time, providing value to the person trying to get a hold of you.

Reply via message with something like: “for my own education, could you, please, let me understand why this task is important for you and we should meet now?”

They will reply and you will ask more “why” questions, while showing you are genuinely curious to understand. Respectfully comment on the answers and provide feedback. These “why” questions, along with your point of view, will help the others clarify their ideas. Steer them to understand that what they think is urgent and important, is neither of those, and there is a significant opportunity cost for you to talk about it right now — so you should do it later. If you have done a good job challenging their beliefs, you have bought time. And with time, things may change, along with the need to talk about something in the first place.

By the way, often, recurrent program sync meetings are neither important nor urgent, so you should talk to the organizer and “skip it this time” because there isn’t any news from you.

In summary, sometimes, priorities change, as well as plans. Let the time take care of things; you just elegantly push back and come across as very helpful to think things through.

This quadrant is probably the one that requires the highest level of soft skills.

Next steps

In the next article, we will analyze the options we have to avoid scheduling when it’s you who needs to talk to an unreachable person.

Thank you very much for sticking with me until the end. If you found this article useful, please, don’t miss the next one by following Tweelin.

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Dario De Santis

Dario De Santis

Long-termist visionary technology Entrepreneur and Product Leader, with a strong passion for improving people's productivity through innovative solutions.