One of your goals as an employee is to be accommodating and a team player, but it's not always possible or advisable to accept a meeting invitation. When you need to decline a meeting invitation, there are steps you can take to let the meeting organizer know in a timely and professional manner. In this article, we review the process for declining a meeting request to help you communicate clearly, professionally and politely.
How to politely decline a business meeting request
Before you decide how to decline the meeting, double-check that declining is the best option. Read the specifics outlined in the invitation to make sure you understand the purpose of the meeting. Then, evaluate if your schedule has room for the meeting. If you decide not to attend, communicate your decision to the meeting organizer as soon as possible.
Follow these steps to turn down a meeting request effectively and respectfully and to remain professional and courteous in the workplace:
1. Self-confirm that "no" is the right answer
Before declining a meeting invitation, determine why you aren't able to attend. If the meeting invitation is vague or you're unsure whether you are the right person to attend, follow up with the meeting organizer to get clarification. If you decide that not attending is the right choice, there are still ways to decline that will help you maintain your good working relationships and still offer your assistance.
2. Determine whether a meeting is necessary
Sometimes colleagues set up meetings more out of habit than necessity or before they have agendas and goals set for meetings. If you think this might be the case, contact the meeting organizer and ask for more information. It may be that, in talking on the phone, chatting on your work messaging platform or exchanging emails, you are able to give the meeting organizer what they need without having to attend the meeting. This extra effort exhibits your willingness to assist with the matter at hand.
3. Propose alternative times
If your reason for declining a meeting is due to a scheduling conflict, you can counter-propose a time for the meeting. Most scheduling platforms offer you this choice in addition to accepting or declining. Many also allow you to check invited attendees' schedules before proposing an alternate time. The meeting organizer is likely to appreciate your taking the time and effort to assure everyone can attend.
4. Apply the “no, but…” principle
One habit you can develop to maintain your reputation as a willing team member is to answer with “no, but…“ instead of just a refusal. You might say, “No, I can't attend the meeting, but I am happy to review the minutes and give you my feedback.” Another response could be, “No, I won't be there, but I'll be glad to ask someone on my team to cover for me.”
Saying “no, but…” turns a potential negative into a positive and lets the meeting organizer know that you share their enthusiasm for achieving the meeting's goals.
5. Be clear, direct and polite
The most important thing when declining a meeting invitation is to monitor the tone of your message and adjust it if necessary. Since written communication lacks nonverbal cues, declining an interview via email, text or messaging app requires a delicate approach. Always aim to be:
- Clear: Make sure you say it is definite that you won't attend.
- Direct: State why you won't make it.
- Polite: Take the time to craft a complete reply. Instead of simply clicking “decline,” including an explanation can better help the meeting organizer understand your decision. This also allows you to properly acknowledge the organizer's message and the time it took to plan the event, which demonstrates professional courtesy.
Related: How to Improve Communication Skills
Examples for Declining Meetings
Here are some examples to use when declining to attend a business meeting:
- I can't attend this meeting, but I'd like to chat with you about this. I'll stop by your desk this afternoon.
- I know our schedules are all very busy. Are you available to talk to me on the phone about this?
- Apologies, but I'm not available for this meeting. I look forward to helping on this project—could we start the conversation now via email?
- I'm sorry I'm not available at the time you requested. Based on your calendar availability, I'm proposing a new time for us to meet.
- I don't think I'm the right person to attend this meeting. I think that [coworker] would be a better choice. Would you like me to check their availability?
- Thanks for including me, but I'm unavailable to attend. I'd like to forward the invitation to [coworker] to attend in my place.
- Thank you for asking for my input. Reviewing the meeting agenda on the invitation, I don't think I'm the one to make decisions that will also affect the sales team. Are you comfortable inviting [coworker] instead of me?
- Given that this is a decision-making meeting, I think it's more appropriate to have my manager represent our team.
- Thanks for the invitation. Based on the invitee list, I don't think you need me at this point. Would you please send me a recap? I will review it and then bring inform my team.
- What an intriguing topic! Based on our current project status, I don't think we're ready for a productive conversation yet.
- Could we push this meeting back until the project team has met the next milestone?
- I'm looking forward to working on this with you and the others. I'd prefer to wait to meet until the marketing team has finished its report. Otherwise, we can't really move forward with determining the next steps.
- It looks like this meeting is informational. Would it be possible for your group to send out an overview rather than having a meeting?
- This is going to be an important discussion. I'm not able to attend, but I'd like to find time to share my thoughts with you beforehand. Please let me know a convenient time.
- I'm sorry, I can't attend this meeting. If I prepare something ahead of time, would you be willing to share my ideas for me with the group?