Second Wave Blues: How To Decline A Meeting Politely And Avoid Fatigue

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how to politely decline a meeting
9 min read

As a 20-something-year-old working at home during the pandemic, life has drastically changed over the past year. Right from redefining goals, changing jobs, making new connections, and losing some, the year has been one of changes.

When we first started working from home during the first wave, there was excitement about having more freedom, taking naps, and living the idealistic writer’s life we’ve seen on TV. My teammates and I created our groups of 2 and 3 on Hangouts and messaged each other throughout the day about everything (and nothing) in general. In fact, I even got to know a few of my colleagues better. Communication had never been easier (apart from a few hiccups, of course!)

There was always talk of a second wave, but nobody anticipated how bad it would get.

Between checking up on loved ones, scrambling around for a vaccination slot, and trying to finish a mountain of work while watching the world outside crumble from the devastation, extra human interaction seems like a chore in itself. It isn’t on top of people’s priority list, including mine.

So, how do you turn down a meeting invite or a catch-up session with colleagues without seeming unprofessional or unpleasant?

It’s Okay Not To Be Okay

Sitting down for long meetings, especially when you’re more of a listener than a speaker, is incredibly draining. Raise your hand if you’ve found yourself feeling fatigued after a meeting at least once. Here’s where knowing how to decline a meeting politely comes in handy

Being an introvert, it takes hours of alone time to recharge my social batteries, but now it seems like no amount of time is enough.

In this period of panic and uncertainty, it’s okay if you need to take some time for yourself and learn how to say no to a meeting, as long as you’re getting all or even most of the work done.

Over time, I’ve resorted to filtering the people I speak to (personally and professionally) and only attending meetings that I am an integral part of. But this can be met with responses like “Please could you reply ASAP?”, or “Since you weren’t a part of this meeting, just informing you that we set this (unrealistic) deadline.”

Remember, just because you’ve opted out of a meeting or conversation, the work won’t stop. Hence, be cognisant of the interactions you choose to forego.

(Continue Reading Below)

When You Can Decline A Meeting Invite

Your presence at a meeting isn’t always optional, so it’s important to know which ones you can miss. Obviously, don’t decline meetings that require you to update the status of certain tasks or projects, unless someone else can fill in for you. The same goes for time-sensitive tasks.

When you don’t have anything to present or add, go ahead and opt out. If your team members will be attending the meeting as well, you can politely decline the meeting invite and ask them to update you on anything important. I also do this on days when there’s too much work and too little time!

In some cases, the meeting could be scheduled outside of work hours. In that case, it shouldn’t be an issue if you decline.

However, one thing I make sure of is that no important decisions involving my work are taken.

Casual meet-ups post work are fun and a great way for the team to bond. But if you’re not feeling particularly social on that day, take the liberty to opt out. You can request to push the meeting to a later date, or ask a work friend to catch you up later!

Many micromanaging bosses have resorted to constant update meetings and check-ups while working from home, expecting employees to always be available. What would have been a 10-minute conversation at your desk at the workplace is now an hour-long virtual conversation.

decline a meeting

Knowing how my day will flow and having the freedom to structure tasks makes me feel organised and in control- and this has proven to yield good results in the past.

Random catch-up meetings and constant update calls get taxing, and I feel too drained to work by the end of it all. If this happens to you too, make sure to tell your manager you are not available (finishing a task, having lunch, in another call). If this happens often, bring it up politely to nip it in the bud. Read on to know how to approach your boss.

If you’re having a hard time coping during the second wave, know that you’re not alone (unless you want to be!)

How To Decline A Meeting Politely

Many workplaces have become more compassionate towards their employees during the pandemic. But whether or not your organisation falls into that bracket, it’s imperative to know how to politely decline a meeting and the way you do it makes all the difference. Here are some messages you can send out!

1. Declining An Optional Meeting 

It’s not too hard to politely decline a meeting where you don’t have an active role. Just make sure you inform the organiser in advance.

Message: Hi! Just wanted to inform you that I’ll be declining this meeting due to some urgent work that has come up. Please could you update me on any urgent deliverables?

2. Asking Colleagues To Catch You Up

Ask colleagues that are attending the call to fill you in, so that you don’t miss out on anything important- especially deadlines!

Message: Hi! I won’t be attending today’s meeting. Please could you fill me in on anything important that was discussed, afterwards?

3. Declining An After-Work Hours Meeting

It’s not a necessity to attend meetings that are scheduled outside of work. However, make sure to enquire about the agenda, as it may be something on priority.

Message:

Hi! Just wanted to check- what is this meeting about? Since it’s after work hours and I have something important planned, I want to understand the agenda before accepting the invite.

OR

Hi! Just want to inform you that I’ll be declining this meeting invite as it is after work hours and I already have something important planned. Please fill me in on anything important that is discussed.

how to decline a meeting

4. Declining An Important Meeting

If it’s just one of those unbearable days and you really need to decline the meeting, be smart about it. Inform your boss or the other attendees in advance. You could also ask to reschedule it if you’re an integral part of the project. However, make sure your tone is firm but apologetic.

Message: Hi! I’m so sorry, but it looks like I’ll have to drop out of today’s meeting. There’s too much going on, and I need some time to reassess tasks. If it doesn’t make sense to have the meeting without me, I suggest we reschedule it at everyone’s convenience tomorrow.

5. Turning Down A Team Catch-Up

Since it isn’t an official meeting, saying ‘no’ to a team catch-up shouldn’t be that hard work-wise. Just make sure you let your colleagues know why you won’t be a part of the conversation. You can even ask to reschedule and cite your state of mind as a valid reason.

Message: Hey! I’m really sorry, but I won’t be joining our catch-up today. There’s a lot going on and I don’t feel up to it right now. Let me know if you’re free later to fill me in on what I’ve missed!

6. Dealing With A Micromanaging Boss

If you need to let your boss know that random calls and constant update meetings may be hampering your work and mental peace, it’s best to be polite about it. But do let them know that this is a real problem. 

Message:

Hi __. I would like to quickly speak to you about something. The frequency of the __ update call seems to be more than required, due to which my work is getting hampered. Please could we look at reducing the frequency to ___. This interval is perfect to give you valuable updates. 

OR

Hi __. Please could we talk for a few minutes? Wanted to understand if there is a way to limit or prepare for the ad-hoc work and meetings that come my way, as they seem to be disrupting my work schedule. It would help greatly if we create a process. Wanted to hear your thoughts!

Initially, my fear of disappointing others or missing out on important things kept me from taking some much-needed alone time for myself. However, once I got over it and prioritised things, the realisation that everyone was in the same boat as I was struck me!

If you’re having a hard time connecting with others during the second wave, fear not! With everything that’s going on, it’s normal to feel disillusioned. What’s important is understanding what you need and giving yourself some space. So, speak to your colleagues and reserve your time and energy for those important tasks without letting your efficiency get affected in the slightest!

Updated 23 August 2021

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Gauri has a Master's degree in English Literature and advanced certification in German. A dreamer, she is fascinated with the art of weaving words and works towards becoming a better storyteller each day. Talk to her about poetry, space, or mental health, and you'll have her full attention. When she's not reading or catching up on her favorite crime show, you'll find her journaling at a local cafe, whipping up delicious treats in her kitchen or unsuccessfully trying to resist that bottle of Nutella.

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