Is That Meeting Really Optional?


A theme has recently emerged with several of my clients. Some have expressed frustration when one of their direct reports misses a meeting that they consider to be important. I have also heard about this from the other vantage point, from my clients who have opted out of meetings like this when a legitimate scheduling conflict arises – and they just don't understand why it is a problem. Although it may seem minor in the grand scheme of things, remember that people draw conclusions about you from the small snapshots they see. They may not have time to explore what led to your decision, or to challenge their own conclusions about your decision, because of the competing demands on their time and attention.

So when you decline a meeting that your boss considers to be important, you may inadvertently send the wrong message – one that raises questions about your level of engagement, ability to manage your time effectively, or understanding of key priorities.

Here are three tips to help others take the right messages away:

1. Reverse roles

Put yourself in your boss's shoes. Even if you don't think missing that meeting is a big deal, your boss might. What is it really about for her? Perhaps it's less about the topics to be discussed and more about you showing your support, by making time to be there or contributing your valuable ideas. There is usually something bigger at play, so challenge yourself to notice it.

2. Clarify your underlying intent

If you decline a meeting, be sure to convey your underlying intent and distill it down to a few key messages. It could be this simple: you want to be there, you understand the importance of the meeting, and you are trying to balance it with moving another competing priority forward.

If you can't attend because you are spread too thin, then it may be time to reexamine how to leverage others or explore other strategies (perhaps with your boss).

3. Take responsibility for your absence

Have a game plan ahead of time, so that someone is prepared to share your input at the meeting and to give you a debrief afterwards. Sharing this with your boss may put her at ease. In some cases, your boss may want to be the person to update you on what you missed. Just be mindful not to create more work for her to do so.

I hope this article got you thinking about what you may be inadvertently communicating. Start by using the three tips as a checklist to help you notice what you already do well or may need to do more of, to send the right messages about your leadership.


© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.