Would it surprise you to learn my Google Analytics report shows my most searched for blog continues to be “phraseology to leave a meeting early”? And this particular blog was written pre-pandemic! Given the increased volume of meetings now sucking up your time, I felt it best to revisit and update my advice.
First of all, whether in-person, virtual or hybrid, certain meetings are vital to attend. I’m not suggesting otherwise. Meetings must be called when there are important issues to discuss, decide, debate or celebrate. In fact, I’ve written a recent blog on how to run an effective virtual meeting.
However, there are still too many meetings that should last 10 minutes but drag on for 90 due to a leader or team’s unwillingness to adopt best practices. Who hasn’t shown up at the Monday (or pick your day) morning staff meeting at 8 a.m. where no one, including the person calling the meeting, had anything to report?
Memo to all meeting callers: remember that your organization is paying people to be engaged and to create outcomes. Meetings should not be time wasters, but serious problem solvers. “Touching base” is pointless, if the people showing up to the meeting (in-person or virtual) should be engaging with customers at that time, or producing products, or testing products, or working on vital research, or planning for something that will affect the organization or anything else more important than staring at one another.
Memo to all those sitting in senseless, time-wasting, long-winded meetings, don’t feel guilty if you must leave, rather be empowered to leave to get where you need to be to operate at your top performance level. No one wants to intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings however, there is a way for both sides to meet and still maintain a harmonious work environment.
Leaving a meeting may be unavoidable. Perhaps you should have not been invited to the meeting in the first place. It’s possible, you know and no less an institution like MIT explored that problem at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. One of the key findings of their study was that at least half the people who sat in on a “bad” or pointless meeting, took a day to recover from it.
Virtual, in-person or hybrid, there are some attendees who don’t need to be there in the first place. Barring that, there are clearly things you can do to stand up and walk away from time wasting meetings, or to leave merely meetings where there is no need for you do be there any longer, or situations where there are serious conflicts.
If you happen to know in advance you need to leave, set yourself up for success while at the same time exiting with purpose and class:
“I must leave.” Meetings are invariably “owned” or called by a key person. Let that person know before-hand that you will need to leave the meeting. Bring all others up to speed when you first connect or it’s your turn to speak. “As I shared earlier with Rachel, I’m going to be present for the first 25 minutes, and then I must leave. I’ll be proactive and identify what I’ve missed following.”
Don’t apologize and be brief. If it feels safe to share details, do so (“My daughter needs a dental procedure”) however, there is no need to bleat and moan about dentistry and the quirks of the healthcare system. Another option is to simply say, “I need to be somewhere else, and I appreciate you understanding.”
Take time to make time. If you’re genuine hard stop is 25 minutes, then tell everyone you must leave in 20. That will give you the necessary time to allow another person to perhaps finish their thoughts and make you look good for sticking around a bit more.
Position yourself. If it is as in-person meeting, get to the meeting early and sit by the door. Your exit will be less intrusive. Again, be sure the key person is aware of what you need to do. If the meeting is virtual, show up as early as possible to connect and “show” others you’re ready to go. After all, the last thing you want to do is roll in late and leave early.
Show appreciation. When it is the time for you to leave, express appreciation and live up to your word: “I truly appreciate everyone’s time, energy and insight today. I’ll follow-up to address anything I may have missed.” If you must leave and someone is flapping their jaw without taking a breath, gather your things, give a nod and go. Online, put the same message to everyone in the chat, wave and press “leave meeting”.
My hope is that if enough people in an organization characterized by many time-waster meetings take similar actions, greater awareness of the value of time will be created. The shifts we are experiencing in our workplaces may be somewhat difficult for some people to accept, but ultimately, they are healthy. A healthy organization is a successful organization.