How do we un-invite someone to a meeting?

I build a tool for meeting design and facilitation, this is something that came up during the process of helping our users to tell someone the meeting doesn’t need them anymore. Here are some thoughts I got while finding a solution.

The Organisers’ dilemma

Imagine this.

You’re a manager of a sizeable team organising a meeting with your boss and your reports and some person from HR. The purpose of this meeting is something really important.

As the days go by and the agenda crystallises, it becomes clear that the team lead in your team is not really needed.

How do you tell them?

How do you tell someone that their presence at an important meeting is not required?

How do you say to them that whatever they have to contribute — however informative/entertaining/revealing — it is not really that valuable to the purpose?

Or imagine this:

Same meeting, but this time the person you need to be there is someone with a huge ego — they must do all the talking and as little listening as possible — no one enjoys being in meetings with them. They are rude/inattentive/unprepared or one of a number of other meeting faux pas. But you invited them already.

Regardless of how valuable what they have to say is, as the organiser, you are balancing the time of 6 other people in this meeting. How do you say to this person they are no longer welcome to the conversation?

Meeting invites — or invitations to anything really — start off a ticking time bomb that few get to experience the explosion that is set off when the invitation is withdrawn.

Don’t confuse this with a meeting being cancelled — those don’t count. I mean where the party goes ahead but you are no longer invited.

As a meeting convenor — effectively the organiser and de-facto facilitator of the meeting — it falls to you to let the uninvited know they won’t be coming. At best they might get an email of the proceedings.

At Amazemeet, we really don’t have this problem, though we have to think about how to help our users sometimes do this rather delicate task.

Why, you might ask, is this delicate? — Surely you just tell the uninvited person they are not needed at the meeting. Let’s say you do — chances are they will be quite shocked and not even ask why. They might even just ask if the meeting was cancelled and when you say ‘No’ and walk away — they are left feeling hung out to dry — AWKWARD!

So we asked around our group of battle hardened meeting organisers to hear how they handle this tricky situation.

It seems our respondents favoured 4 main options:

  1. Do nothing, let them come anyway and run the risk of them derailing meeting or wasting theirs and everyones time.
  2. Invite them but make sure they stick to the agenda and purpose.
  3. Send a nondescript email notifying them they are no longer required at the meeting and leave it as that.
  4. Chat with them beforehand and explain why they were uninvited.

How we solved this

With Amazemeet, we take a pretty clear line with people at the meetings. The people you are thinking of inviting either have to be there or they don’t. There is no ‘Optional’.

In fact when you invite someone to your meeting, you have to say what you expect them to contribute to the meeting. Notice we say ‘contribute’ — which is active — vs simply ‘participate’ — which can be oh-so passive.

So if you invite someone, the tested assumption is that you really thought through why they need to be there and expect them to contribute to reaching the purpose. So an un-invite is kind of a big deal.

As we built the feature that lets you remove previously invited contributors to a meeting, we worried about how to let the uninvited down gently. Of course the cynic amongst us thought ‘why worry, they would be delighted to not be in another crappy meting — so it doesn’t really matter what we say”.

But we dug and asked some our users — how they would have felt if they had been uninvited from a meeting and the responses where interesting and revealing.

Most said it depended on how important the meeting was, who was there, etc

Almost all immediately recognised the awkwardness of the situation (the Organisers’ dilemma) and agreed it would cause them to question why they were removed from the meeting invite.

So we thought how do we turn something that is almost unanimously considered a negative experience into something positive.

We decided that ‘however valuable the meeting, it is still your irreplaceable time spent’. This means that we believe people would generally welcome getting their time back than not. So we changed the wording of our emails to focus more on what you gained by not attending than on what you think you lost by not being invited.

Amazemeet Email for Uninvited Contributors

This is only one possible way of addressing what can often be an awkward situation and I would love to hear how your experiences of being uninvited from anything went or how you have handled having to un-invite someone from a meeting.

Featured Image credit: Connie Ma