Meetings are an essential part of our professional life. They help teams collaborate, share ideas, and make informed decisions. Let’s face it though, meetings are meant to be canceled for unforeseen emergencies, scheduling conflicts, and evolving priorities. Sometimes canceling a meeting is the greatest thing you can do that day to serve your team and your organization, not to mention yourself. Afterall, an email is a suitable alternative to most meetings.
There’s plenty of online chatter about ineffective meetings, and we’ve all heard the phrase, “this meeting could have been an email.” But we seem to be forgetting about the art of canceling one, most likely because we’ve prioritized speed and our own comfort over the integrity of our work relationships, and it’s having an impact. People might not tell you this but they’re pissed and for good reason. We hear all kinds of things in the trenches:
“They wasted the time and effort I invested into preparing for this meeting.”
“They disrupted my workflow and daily schedule.”
“They don’t respect me or my time.”
“They missed a golden opportunity to collaborate.”
“They left us in the dark and didn’t even offer a reason.”
“They don’t keep commitments.”
“I could have used this time for other conversations had I known sooner.”
“My productivity is clearly not their priority.”
“I’m not sure if they’re disorganized or simply don’t care.”
Canceling a meeting might be necessary and even helpful but it doesn't have to be a chaotic or frustrating experience for everyone involved. There’s a right way of doing it, that serves others and maintains their respect and appreciation of you. Try this:
Be thoughtful and plan ahead. The best way to avoid unnecessary meeting cancellations is to plan your meetings carefully in the first place. Ask yourself, is the meeting necessary, is it the best way to address the issue at hand, and I’m likely to keep the meeting altogether? And for god sakes, stop replying “tentative” to every invite.
Communicate early. This is particularly challenging to most and has the greatest impact. Waiting until the last minute is now commonplace and rationalized. In reality, there is no good reason beyond an emergency to give anything less than 24 hours' notice or better yet, cancel the meeting the moment you know it’s no longer a priority.
Offer alternatives. Nothing says you’re committed to the matter and people at hand like offering alternative times to meet. Don’t leave others in the dark or make them do the work to get the meeting back on track. It may no longer be a priority for you but imagine it’s still a priority for them and honor that.
Give context. This doesn’t necessarily require an apology or a long, drawn out story. In fact, sometimes these things can seem disingenuous, suspicious, or even annoying. But a little context goes a long way in maintaining good relationships and mitigating any frustration or disappointment. Be direct and practice brevity.
Learn from the experience. This doesn’t have to be about empathy. Some of the highest producing leaders on the planet see canceled meetings as opportunities to improve their meeting planning and scheduling processes. Reflect on the cancellations and the reasons for them, and identify ways to prevent similar issues in the future.
We hear the word “integrity,” and think “morality,” but maintaining the integrity of our work relationships isn’t about being a good person. It’s about being effective, and learning how to cancel a meeting the right way is essential to keeping those relationships intact to accomplish your short- and long-term goals. They have a saying in the army - “don’t piss off the people that keep you alive.” Enough said.