Ep #18: How to Say No to Meetings
If you're like most managers, you are attending too many meetings. In fact, you were likely attending too many meetings before the world went virtual and now that number has increased x3. And I bet 30% of those meetings are not helping you be a more productive leader. Yet your willingness to say no to them isn't there.
If you are having difficulty saying no to meetings, you are not alone. A 2019 Korn Ferry survey of 1,945 leaders thirty-five percent said that they’d go to a meeting even if they knew it wasn’t going to be productive, instead of declining the meeting.
This is a serious problem. And it's not only making you less productive but it's affecting your stress levels and your ability to make the impact you want to be making at work.
In today's episode, I'll be addressing this challenge in 3 different ways:
- Why it is so difficult to say no to meetings
- How we should be prioritizing meetings (it's not what you think)
- How to actually say no to meetings
It is possible to say no to meetings and not ruin your hardworking reputation. It is possible to say no to meetings and still have respect from your boss. In fact, your inability to prioritize meetings could be the thing keeping you from making that next level of impact at your organization.
The time is now to just say no.
What You'll Learn:
- Exactly why it's so difficult to say no to meetings
- The single mindset shift you can make if you want to start saying no to meetings today
- Why the meetings you think you can skip might actually be the one's you should attend
- How this crisis is giving you the perfect excuse to just say no
- The reason saying no actually helps your reputation instead of tarnishing it
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Korn Ferry survey of 1,945 leaders
- Listen to Ep #2: Why You Should Stop Doing What You are Good At
- Listen to Ep #15: How Being in Crisis Mode is Helping Managers Get Out of the Weeds
- Sign up for your free discovery call at stacymayer.com/apply
|Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Maximize Your Career. I'm your host, Stacey Mayer and I am absolutely thrilled to be here with you this evening, as I'm recording this podcast while my children are off safe, snuggled away, and quiet in their beds. This is what we're doing right now. We're making things work and I'm sure you have to do the same.|
|Boy, it has been quite the week out here in Silicone Valley. We're starting to notice a bit of a shift in some of the big tech companies. There hasn't been a lot of lay-offs in some of the larger tech companies but we're already noticing that there's hiring freezes. Organizations like Google, just announced a hiring freeze, and they didn't even announce a hiring freeze in 2008, in fact, they were hiring more people in 2008 than they had done in the previous year. So things are starting to shift, even for the companies that seem to be doing okay during this crisis, this time of change for everybody and my heart goes out to everyone as they're managing this change. And I really respect the leaders that are truly stepping up to the plate. I am talking to so many really powerful managers at this mid-level position that are being called to take on a bigger role of their organizations and they're really killing it. So if you're one of those people I applaud you and congratulations.|
|But you might also be doing something that I want to address on this podcast. You are probably even if you're killing it or not killing it or just getting by, you are attending a ton, a ton, a ton of meetings. If you were attending too many meetings, before this crisis you are most definitely attending too many meetings now. Right off the bat, I noticed the trend that most people were telling me about was that their bosses wanted to have daily meetings with them. So they were going from weekly check-ins to daily check-ins . So this might be something that you're doing. Maybe you're also doing that for your team. You're doing daily check-ins with them as well. You're having more all-hands meetings with the CEO. So basically your day is filled with seven hours of meetings, actually. For some of you, I'm sure seven hours would feel pretty lucky. I had a client who told me her schedule. She had seven hours of meetings scheduled on Tuesday, five hours on Wednesday, six hours on Thursday. And on Friday originally she had two hours of meetings scheduled that was supposed to be her day to get caught up. And then she emailed me and a Friday ended up being seven hours of meetings as well.|
|So you might be one of those people who, when they attend a ton of meetings, they are definitely not as productive as they could be. So meetings are not only frustrating because they take up a lot of time, a lot of headspace, there's one hour that you're spending in the meeting but you're only actually communicating for 10 minutes of that one hour. And so it could be super frustrating to spend your days in meetings after meetings. Yet, our willingness to say no to meetings, and our willingness to decide which meetings are important and which meetings are not important is really challenging. Even in the easiest of times, it's super challenging for leaders to say no to meetings. So today's episode is going to be all about how to say no to meetings. It's going to be broken up into two parts. One is going to be how to decide which meetings are important and which ones aren't. And then the second part I'll give you some tools on how to actually say no to those meetings that you don't really want to go to anyway? A Korn Ferry survey in-- actually, this was in November of 2019, they interviewed 2000 leaders-- and Korn Ferry is a management consulting agency. They're also a leading executive search firm. I work with them a lot with my C-suite clients who are looking to find a new job. So Korn Ferry did a survey where they interviewed 2000 leader and 67% of those respondents said that they are spending too much time in meetings and on calls that distract them from actually making an impact at work. 67%. More than a third, 34%, say they waste between two to five hours per week on calls, on meetings that don't accomplish anything. So this is 2019. They were already wasting two to five hours per week, so chances are good that it's three times that now. So you're wasting anywhere from six to 15 hours per week on calls or meetings that do not accomplish anything. And 35% said they go to a meeting even if they knew it wasn't going to be productive instead of declining a meeting. So if you are someone who goes to too many meetings and can't say no, you are not alone. A lot of people, a lot of leaders, have a very difficult time deciding which meetings are important and which meetings aren't. And then even if they know which meetings are important, they have a very difficult time saying no. So you're not alone. But here's what's going on. I just want to tell you a little bit about why it feels so difficult to you. So you are probably someone who is at that mid-level management position. Maybe you're a senior manager, maybe you're a director, it's possible that you're a manager of managers, but regardless of that, you're not the CEO. You could even be a senior vice-president. But you're still not the CEO. So the number one reason why it's so difficult for you to decide and also say no to meetings is because you feel like you don't have a choice. You feel like you have to say yes to all of the meetings. Now why do you feel like you don't have a choice? Well, because there's people in those meetings who are more important than you. So maybe it's a meeting that your boss is holding. Or maybe it's a meeting that the CEO is offering and you feel like you need to be at that meeting. So that's one of the reasons. Also, it could be behavior that's being modeled for you. So maybe your boss is somebody who goes to a ton of meetings and they're going to so many meetings all day, so how can you possibly say no to meetings if your boss is constantly going to too many meetings? Another thing is is that you truly want to connect with your team. You want to make sure that you're on top of them, so you're holding a lot of meetings for your teams. So these are meetings that you're actually leading. And oftentimes those are the meetings that you don't mind too much, because you can see why they're productive, you can see what the end result actually is. So the biggest reason why it's so difficult to say no to meetings is because you feel like you don't have a choice. You have to go. So once we can shift that mindset and really understand, is that true? Do we have to go to all of these meetings? It's a great thing to question, and I'm going to show you why even now during this crisis, it's actually - he he he he he - the perfect time to question it. You have the perfect excuse right now. But before I get into the how to I'm going to talk to you for one more minute about why it's so difficult to say no to meetings. Now, I have talked about this a lot in my previous podcasts. Episode number two I talked about how you have to stop doing what you're good at. And then I think it was three episodes ago - I'll link to it in the show notes - I talked about how this crisis is actually helping managers get out of the weeds. So these are two really great podcasts about people who are just doing too much work. So if you feel like you're one of those people and you're spinning and you're not being as productive, you're not able to strategize and you're ultimately not able to make the impact that you want to make at that higher level, then please go back and listen to those episodes after this one.|
|But basically, I want to summarize it in that it's the getting paid by the hour versus by your ideas. So you still believe that you get paid as much as you get paid, and if you're a leader you probably get paid at least six figures and multiple six figures, you believe, still, that you get paid for having your butt in the seat versus for your ideas, for your innovation. For being able to think outside of the box, to think for strategy. Now, of course you want these things for your career and that's what I help you do. That's what I help managers do is actually be able to make that bigger impact at work. So managers when they're feeling stuck for several years, and they're realizing that they're just in the weeds all the time, and they're not being as productive or as useful as they could be, and they really want their ideas to matter they come to me, and we figure it out, and we get them to be able to make that impact. But at this time you're still believing that you get paid by the hour. So that's the first thing that I want you to understand is that as long as you have the mentality that you get paid by having face time with people and by them seeing you and that's your value that you bring to the organization it's going to be super difficult for you to say no to meetings. But let's just go with me here for a few minutes and let's just say that you understand that you get paid for your ideas, you're willing to embrace that a little bit.|
|So now how do you actually decide which meetings are important and which meetings are not? Now this is a tough one. I already mentioned that a lot of times the meetings that you're having with your team, those are easier for you to negotiate. So you're in charge of those meetings. They are productive. You feel like they're useful. You're able to decide, okay can I do this in a group setting or do they need to be one on one? So I'll just leave that up to you to decide.|
|The next thing that people usually do is they think, "Okay. Where are the meetings where I'm going to have to present something? So it's like a project that I'm working on, and they're going to ask me questions and I have to present my case and I have to talk about it." So those are going to be the second criteria in your head. That's going to be the place that you're going to go and you're going to say, "Okay. All of those meetings, I'm going to have to talk or I might get called on or I might have to answer questions so those meetings are important." I say no [laughter]. I say even those meetings are not as important as you think they are. Now here's what I mean by that. Now I'm not telling you not to go to these meetings but that is not your second criteria. Your second criteria is, are you leaning something in the meeting about the strategy of the company, the vision of the company? Is is this meeting with higher level leadership? Is this meeting a high-profile meeting about a subject that actually impacts the organization? Am I learning something about the organization? So even if it's a meeting where you may not get called on at all for the entire hour, it's sometimes more important for you to be there to understand the strategy. And then, after you attend two to three of these meetings, you're going to start to learn how you can actually speak up, you can actually talk about what your team is working on and how it impacts at this higher level. So now let's go back to your normal criteria number two of which meetings you should attend and should not attend. So you feel like you should attend meetings where you're going to have to answer questions. So the first thing to ask yourself is, "Can somebody else answer these questions for me?" It actually makes you look better if you send a proxy, especially if they're easy enough questions to answer. So that shows that you're a good leader if you're able to send somebody else in your place who's able to answer the questions just a beautifully and magnificently as you would. Now if this is a high-profile meeting with very high-profile people, if you're in a very large organization and there's people that you don't normally get in front of, then by all means you attend that meeting. But if it's just a regular meeting and you can send somebody in your place and you can be working on something that's much more productive and much more high level, then I suggest sending someone in your place. So let me give you an example of a client of mine that is trying to figure out for herself which meetings she should attend and shouldn't attend. And one of the questions that came up for her is that her boss is actually working on the coronavirus task force, so how they're going to be marketing in the terms of the coronavirus. And she is supporting her boss on this, but her boss attends all of those meetings. Those higher-profile meetings, her boss does all of the speaking at those meetings. Well I was actually suggesting to her to attend a couple of those meetings as well. So even if she's not going to be speaking up, she can hear what her boss is working on. So then when she has the one-on-one meeting with her boss, she knows how to tie in what she's working on to what her boss's most important problems are. She can actually help her boss solve the problems better if she has more information. Now just like I said, you might already be noticing that this is actually adding more meetings to your schedule as opposed to saying no to meetings. So that might actually be the case, that you end up attending more meetings. But here's the funny thing. When you start doing a job that your work actually matters and you get out of the weeds and you are starting to make a bigger impact on that organization and you see a shift in the CEO's behavior or the leadership team's behavior because of something that you mentioned, something that you brought up, it feels good. You enjoy your work more. And that's the goal, is that we're actually making a bigger impact at our organizations. So yes, you might have to attend more meetings than before. But I encourage you not to let that last for long. So make sure that you're sending in a proxy, that you're not attending the meetings that you're not going to be as effective at, and that you make sure you prioritize, "Where are those meetings that are going to help me hit those long-term goals of making a bigger impact and actually starting to get the recognition that you deserve along the way. Now as I promised, I'm going to give you three strategies to actually start to say no to meetings. And the first one is actually quite simple. So I mentioned that we have this beautiful opportunity right now to actually just say no. Just say no. I am too busy. Pick the meeting that you do not want to go to, send an email out to the group, and say, "I'm sorry but I will not be able to attend this meeting. I would love to get a debrief from such and such, or I will be sending this person in my place, and they will be debriefing me on whatever you talk about."|
|So now, instead of attending an hour-long meeting, you could be attending a 10-minute debrief with somebody actually on the leadership team, and learn what happened in that meeting. Now, why are you able to say no now during this time of crisis? Well, quite simply, we're all attending too many meetings. Nobody is going to argue with you right now. Most organizations are prioritizing their employee health. They're asking their employees to take care of themselves, and I know that is so much easier said than done, and you don't want to start not attending meetings and then not backing it up with these bigger strategic ideas. So that's the important thing is that you're going to walk the talk. You are not just not attend these meetings. You're going to be able to be more productive. You're going to be able to make that higher-level impact right off the bat. So you have to make sure that you hold yourself accountable. If you can't hold yourself accountable, you get other people to hold you accountable by having these 10-minute follow-up conversations with people. So my first strategy of saying no to meetings is just say, "No. I can't go. I'm sorry. It's just I'm too busy."|
|Another way to say no to meetings is leave. So once you have spoken, once you have gotten what you need out of the meeting, you're allowed to leave and you can even warn them ahead of time. I might need to drop out after 30 minutes, or I only have 20 minutes to attend this meeting. Think about it. Let's think about if you're a VIP, if you're a super important person in this world, somebody who'd we know that they're very strapped for time. You don't even think twice if they come in for 10 minutes and leave. So the only reason why it feels bad to you is because of your people-pleasing tendency, your tendency to want to have face time with people, your tendency to want to show up and to say, "Hey. I'm here. I'm doing the work," I'm saying that you can say, "Hey. I'm here. I'm doing the work," with your ideas, not by just having your butt in the seat. So I give you permission to leave early if you need to.|
|In the same vein, don't be afraid to cut a meeting short. So let's say you scheduled a one-on-one. You know the agenda. You know exactly what you want to get out of the meeting. Just call it. If 10 minutes is up and you've already gotten to the point, then just say, "This is great. I'm so glad we had this meeting," and move on. That is the third and final way is to just leave, to just move on.|
|So these are the three strategies; just say no, give yourself permission to leave early if you need to, or cut a meeting short. I know that these sound simple and you might feel like you've tried it all before, but give it a try again. We have an incredible excuse right now to try things different, to say what's working and what's not working for us, and to actually notice. Am I really making an impact? Does my work matter or am I just spinning in circles? Because the only way that you're going to make it to that senior-level leadership position is if you can start being more strategic. If you can start making those higher-level decisions now, and there is absolutely no reason that you can't be in the driver's seat of that, and you can't take back control.|
|Thank you so much for listening. I hope this was useful and I'll see you next week. Bye|
About Your Host
Hi, I’m Stacy Mayer, a Leadership Coach for emerging executives who are ready to take their career to the next level or seeking more fulfillment in their current organizational roles.
I help corporate managers reposition themselves to advance their careers, build confidence in their ability to solve problems in real-time, and step into their higher leadership potential so they can make a bigger impact in their organizations.
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