Hi all,

I'm trying to improve my skills in managing the amount of useless meetings I end up in.  Perhaps my personality type, but I find it very hard to break from the compulsion to say "yes" when asked to attend a meeting.  In fact I can barely recall ever declining one.  And I'm aware that this is a very bad habit.

I'm looking for some tips on how you can politely but effectively decline meetings without impacting relationships and/or perceptions as to your willingness to support clients.  For reference, I'm in an internal legal team, so very much a business support function - client service is a huge driver.

Here's a practical example:

I'm working with an internal client who has a major project in his sights, but it's very "blue sky" at present.  That is, there are not even sufficient discussions with the external customer to warrant a confidentiality agreement, let alone anything more substantial.

The internal client has previously wasted a lot of time on this matter trying to persuade me to draft documents such as non-binding MOUs etc., before conceding this was not really going to achieve anything.

Recently, I received a meeting invite for the following morning, saying "discuss XX confidentiality agreement".  No details, no agenda, no call or note to explain what this was about, or the roles of the other invitees.

Trying to do the right thing, I called the client's mobile and left a message - more or less, "I'm happy to support you, but am very busy and would like to understand what the meeting is about and what you need my input on".

Predictably, the message was ignored. 

That left me very unsure - should I then (a) reject the invite and not show up (knowing I'd then receive a phone call at the meeting time wanting to know where I was), (b) show up and say nothing, or (c) show up and specifically call attention to the fact there was no agenda and my vm had been ignored.

In the end, I decided on (b).  (a) seemed like playing games, which I detest, and (c) seemed a bit like trying to provide feedback to a client, which seems a bit odd.  (Attending also gave me the opportunity to take a report along and expose him to the discussions and clients).

Predictably, the meeting ran 50% over time, and about 10 seconds of that was spent talking about actual legal issues - yet again, the client and a colleague spent the whole meeting debating whether or not there was even a prospect of a deal.

I listened a lot, provided some practical input about their possible sales and networking options, and then concluded "look it seems you don't have a legal issue right now, let me know when you do". 

All told, a pretty lightweight meeting which let me appear very commercial and do a bit of chaperoning for my direct, but a total waste of organisational time.

Any thoughts on what I should have done in this circumstance?  Do you "bite the bullet" and call the client on their behaviour re. the lack of agenda, ignored voicemail, and/or overall trend of wasting valuable time?  Or just decline the meeting?  Or book another one over the top of it?

Appreciate any thoughts.

Cheers, Arc.


jcvolman's picture

Presuming this was the first time the client did this, I think you have to remember who pays the bills (clients), and not calling them out was the right thing to do.  The next time they do this, though, you have an opportunity to reflect on the last meeting, make some suggestions to make the next meeting more productive, thus adding some value to both sides, which is the long term win/win you seek. 

theintyre's picture

I agree that you give the guy the first one free.

Second time you could respond with "In order to be prepared I need an agenda." or "Can you help me with the goal of this meeting?"

Or you could ask an associate who will be there anyway to take notes and "represent you."