Just because you're invited to a meeting doesn't mean you have to go. Instead of tagging along, you can—and often should—decline.
Learning how to decline a meeting can seem daunting. Everyone wants to be a team player, and nobody wants to end up in the bad graces of a colleague or supervisor. But done tactfully, declining a meeting shows you respect everyone's time and prioritize essential projects.
In this guide, we'll discuss how to politely decline a meeting and how to replace it with async communication tools, like Loom.
Why you should decline more meetings
Some meetings are a complete waste of time. Even when a meeting is warranted, nearly half the duration is spent on unproductive discussions. Perhaps worst of all, over two-thirds of workers say that today’s excessive meetings get in the way of other, more important tasks.
Meetings have been an integral part of business culture for so long, they've become habitual. But our work environment has changed drastically over the years, and meetings are no longer the best way to communicate in the era of hybrid work. Nowadays, we have asynchronous communication tools that prove far more effective.
Async communication tools like Loom empower employees to structure their workdays around important tasks. They fulfill the same function as meetings but eliminate unnecessary interruptions and time constraints, providing a convenient alternative that works for everyone. This works especially for distributed teams where there is very little overlap in timezones for synchronous meetings.
When should you decline a meeting?
There are many reasons to decline a meeting. Here are a few red flags to watch for when considering your next invitation:
There's no set agenda
No decision needs to be made
Your presence isn't absolutely necessary
Meetings without an agenda or actionable conclusion are better left for the water cooler. Sure, these types of brainstorming sessions are important. But they're not worthy of a meeting-level discussion.
Even if you've determined that a meeting should occur, that's still not a good enough reason to go. You must ask yourself whether you have anything worthwhile to contribute. If not, your time is probably better spent elsewhere.
Lastly, think about whether the meeting is right for you. You have your own priorities and timelines to juggle, and sometimes a meeting doesn't work with your caseload. If that's the case, it's time to learn how to reschedule a meeting or decline it outright.
How to decline a meeting
Once you've decided it's time to decline, there are a handful of steps to getting your message across politely and with respect for everyone involved:
1. Determine your reason for declining
Consult the section above and note your reason for declining the meeting. Even if you don't plan to share the exact reason (you probably don't want to mention that you think the entire meeting is a waste of time), having a reason in mind helps with accountability, both for yourself and any manager who asks. It can also help you prepare a clear and tactful cancellation message.
2. Give advance notice
Meeting request emails often come with an invitation link that you can accept, decline, or mark as a maybe. You generally want to indicate your status as soon as possible (24 hours before the meeting, at the latest). This only takes you a few seconds, and it helps the meeting owner and the rest of your colleagues prepare for the meeting.
If you're considering declining but need more information, mark a maybe while you reach out for clarification.
3. If unsure, ask the meeting owner to confirm you're a required attendee
If you don't know whether your attendance is necessary, send an email or Loom video to the meeting organizer.
Rather than blatantly asking whether the meeting is mandatory (which may be seen as insulting), ask for clarifying information and offer potential workarounds that show you respect their request. Here's an example of how to phrase your message:
Hey [NAME]. I wanted to check in about the [TIME] meeting on [DATE]. What's on the agenda for this meeting? Do you need me to be there, or can I follow up with you afterward?
By asking probing questions, you'll gain greater insight into the purpose of the meeting and why you're expected to be there. Use this to determine whether you're needed—or if you should send a cancellation message.
4. Send your cancellation message
Once you've chosen to decline the meeting and sent advance notice of your decision, it's time to craft and send your cancellation message. In-person communication is often ideal, but you can also send an email or use a channel like Slack. If you want to personalize your message or show that you've taken the original meeting request seriously, consider sending a Loom instead. Even if you hate the sound of your voice sending a short video message is a personalized way of declining a meeting.
No matter which communication channel you use, there are a few things to keep in mind when crafting your message. First and foremost, you should make it clear that you care about the potential impact of your declination. Tell the meeting owner (and other attendees, if applicable) that you understand the importance of the topic but that the meeting doesn't work within your schedule (tip: research the makers schedule and managers schedule).
Perhaps even more important, you should also offer concessions in the form of a reschedule request or an asynchronous update via email, Slack, or Loom.
5. Offer to send an update asynchronously
If the meeting owner and other attendees need specific information from you, offer to send an update via Loom.
Loom is asynchronous video messaging software that records your screen and webcam at the push of a button. It also saves these snippets in the cloud and lets you download them or share them via short link. If you choose to share, your contacts can watch your video recordings on their own time.
As you’d imagine, Loom is a quick and easy way to communicate and share your knowledge without the hassle of a meeting and its myriad scheduling issues. What’s more, Loom is totally free for you and your recipients.
Declining meeting examples
Your declination message should reflect the unique circumstances of your work environment. Here are a few messaging examples to help kickstart your response and express yourself in a way that's articulate and thoughtful:
I'm sorry I can't make it to the meeting, but I'll follow up with a Loom video going over my latest updates to the project. If you need a face-to-face, I can also swing by your office towards the end of the day.
I have a different meeting scheduled at that time, but I'd be happy to find another convenient time to talk. Are you free Friday afternoon at 2 PM?
After reviewing the agenda, I don't think I'm the most qualified person for this meeting. You may want to reach out to Jim from the sales department, who has spearheaded similar projects in the past.
Thanks for the invitation, but I don't think I have much to offer in the way of constructive feedback at the moment. That said, I'd love a copy of the meeting notes to review afterward.
Could we push this meeting back a week? Our team is still working hard on the project, and that's when we'll have something tangible to show and discuss.
I can't make it to the meeting due to a scheduling conflict, but I've prepared a document with my thoughts on the matter. Please let me know if you need any clarification, and I'll be happy to send you a loom.
This looks like an important meeting, but I'm out of the office that day. Could you send me a recap of the notes? I'll have a look and shoot a loom with my take on the matter.
Replace your next meeting with Loom
Loom is an excellent modern work tool for replacing your next meeting. It works for virtually every scenario, allowing you to send personal messages that convey lots of information in a short amount of time. Best of all, it lets you get straight to the point—there's no wasting anyone's time. Your recipients can watch your recordings and reply whenever and however works best for their workflow.
Here are some examples of meetings you can replace with a loom:
Weekly update meetings
Presentations (these could be pre-recorded looms)
We may be biased but you don't have to take our word for it. Sign up for Loom, and see for yourself how it can help you eliminate those dreadful meetings and start reclaiming your time.