28th July 2023 | Written by

Mastering the Skill of Saying No to Meetings

In the fast-paced world of modern organizations, time is the most precious resource, and nowhere is this more evident than in the ever-increasing number of meetings. With the transition from a manufacturing economy to a services and information economy, the focus has shifted from physical assets to people’s time. Unfortunately, time is an invisible resource, making it difficult to identify and address its inefficient usage.

In this service and information-oriented economy, collaboration and relationships take center stage, impacting the bottom line of organizations in unprecedented ways. Meetings become the lifeline of teamwork and decision-making, fostering innovation and driving results. However, they can also be a double-edged sword. An average employee spends approximately 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings.

The collaborative nature of services and information companies, as well as the post-COVID connectivity needs, have led to a proliferation of meetings. While meetings can be valuable when they have clear objectives and participants, the lack of clarity surrounding their purpose often results in wasted time and unproductive outcomes.

The Invisible Consequences of Bad Meetings

Unlike physical resources, the consequences of attending a subpar meeting are largely invisible to others. While an organization can easily spot and rectify the wastage of physical assets, the same cannot be said for wasted time in meetings. According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, 71% of senior managers consider employee time as their most critical resource. 

While meetings are essential for progress and alignment, the problem lies in their inefficiency. Often, they lack clear agendas or outcomes, leading to ambiguity and time wastage. Unproductive meetings contribute to a staggering $37 billion in unnecessary expenses for businesses annually.

Empowering Yourself to Optimize Your Time

The burden of using time effectively falls primarily on individuals. However, many hesitate to question the necessity of meetings due to a fear of being perceived as uncooperative, unsupportive, or uninterested.

The first step towards tackling the meeting overload is recognizing that the responsibility to optimize your time lies with you. You have the power to make a change and create a more efficient schedule. While this may require some uncomfortable work, it’s crucial to challenge the necessity of each meeting and seek alternatives.

In this context, the burden of using time effectively has shifted from an organization-wide responsibility to a personal one. Employees must now take charge of their own productivity and make the difficult decision of when to Say “No” to a meeting invitation.

To gain a deeper understanding of the impact of meetings on your calendar, consider quantifying the time spent in meetings. Calculate the potential time saved if you were to Say No to some. By determining the value of the time you would reclaim, you can better visualize what you could accomplish with that time instead. This exercise will not only give you more clarity but also provide a persuasive argument to gain support from others when necessary.

How I Struggled Saying No to Meetings

Oftentimes, the fear of Saying No stems from worrying about others’ reactions. Almost every week, I travel to different cities, meeting up with fifty to a hundred CEOs through Vistage. These groups are full of successful leaders and it’s an honor to speak to them, however, I am an introvert doing an extrovert’s job. 

This is where it gets tricky. Speaking in front of big crowds and networking endlessly drains the life out of this introvert’s soul. Just when I crave a quiet night to recharge, the Vistage Chairs sweetly offer to take me out for dinner the night before I speak to their groups. Sounds nice, right? That’s because it is!

Now, don’t get me wrong – these Vistage Chairs are seriously hospitable and kind, but the thing is, I didn’t want to join them for dinner. Not because I don’t appreciate the gesture, but I just need that time to recharge my introvert batteries. I do enjoy meeting people, I enjoy connecting with other leaders, especially those who share our passion for the work we do. But it really stretches me thin, especially right before an important presentation.

So there I was, caught in the classic dilemma of Saying No. My brain went on overdrive, throwing all kinds of worries my way.

What if they get offended? 

Will they think I’m ungrateful? 

Maybe I’ll miss out on some big opportunities. 

What if they start calling me the diva of Vistage speakers?

Amidst this whirlwind of fears, I often ended up Saying Yes to those dinner invites, even though what I truly craved was a quiet night in my hotel room to prepare for the upcoming workshops. But one month, life had a surprise in store for me. I hit a rough patch when my medication got messed up, and sleep became a distant memory. Let me tell you, that messed with my performance in those Vistage workshops!

You see, the CEOs score our sessions, and I noticed a pattern – less sleep meant lower scores. It was time for a change, a bold experiment. So I mustered up some courage and decided to use the “Say No” script that we teach in our program. This nifty little script has been tested with thousands of leaders and works like a charm, ensuring a respectful and celebrated “no” almost 99% of the time.

With a pounding heart, I politely declined the Vistage chair’s dinner offer using the “Say No” script. And guess what? The response I got was nothing short of amazing! The Vistage chair said, “Hey, I’m an introvert too! Thanks for giving me permission to do the same. I wasn’t up for dinner either.”

Let me tell you, that was a breath of fresh air. I realized that Saying No wasn’t a bad thing; it was about taking care of myself and being authentic. And guess what? When I started recharging the night before and skipped those dinners, my workshop scores shot up too.

Now, I confidently use that “Say No” script every time I need to, and guess what? No chairs have taken offense, no connections have been lost, and my productivity has soared. 

Taking Charge of Your Meeting Schedule

The path to reducing meeting overload begins with you. Be proactive in assessing the value and necessity of each meeting you attend. Use the “Say No” script to communicate your decision with respect and clarity. Don’t be afraid to take charge of your schedule, and remember that your time is valuable and deserves to be optimized.

By being mindful of the meetings you accept, you’ll find more time to focus on important tasks, make better decisions, and contribute to your organization’s success. Say “Yes” to the right meetings and “no” to the unnecessary ones, and watch your productivity soar as you reclaim your most valuable resource – time.

Want to learn more about our Say No Script? Contact us here.