One of the worst things about modern business is having to attend meetings. Although some meetings are necessary and beneficial to go to, the majority of them are pointless. You spend two hours sat listening to people talking about things which you mostly already know about or that aren't relevant to you. Two hours which you could have used more productively (i.e. doing your job).

It's not surprising that most people if given the option would prefer to not attend most meetings that they have been invited to. So why don't we all just stop going to them?

The reason is that it often doesn't look good to not go. For the people who organise the meeting, it's important. So by not going, you probably will offend them. And let's not forget about the people that actually attend. Some of them may be annoyed about you not being there (because they didn't want to go, but went anyway). So unless you want to possibly damage a working relationship, does this mean that you have to go to every meeting you've been invited to?

Not necessarily. If you have a good a reason why you can't go, you can use that. If you don't have one, then you have to give an excuse. And in this case, it's where you have to be clever.

Should you go to the meeting or not?

I understand that you are reading this article to find a good excuse to give to not attend a meeting, but you need to think if it in your best interests to go or not. Even if the meeting is going to be pointless for you, you need to ask yourself if your absence at the meeting create any problems for you?

When deciding whether you should go to a pointless meeting or not, look at the list of people who have been invited. If you notice that some important people (e.g. senior managers etc...) have also been invited or people you know from experience can cause you problems, it's probably in your best interests to attend.

If there aren't, then the next step is to think about what excuse you are going to give.

Coming up with an excuse

If you are looking to give an excuse to not attend a meeting, then in effect what you are doing is lying. It may be a white lie, but it's a lie all the same. And you have to be aware that if the person finds out, it's not going to be good for you. So you need to make sure that they don't.

Making sure they that don't find out depends in great part not only on the excuse that you give, but also who you are telling it to and who else is going to the meeting. If you don't have any daily contact with the person who invited you or with the other people who have been invited (they all work in a different building or on different floors in the same building), then you could say that you are already doing something at that time. If they work close to where you do, you can't really use this excuse (unless you want to hide away for a couple of hours during the meeting).

The other thing you need to think about is how the excuse you give sounds to the person you are telling it to. The best way to do this is think from the other person's perspective. If you were the person inviting people to a meeting, what reasons for not attending would seem acceptable to you?

Less is better

The more specific you are in the excuse you give, the easier it is for the person who invited to find out that you are not telling the truth. In addition, people have a tendency when they lie to over explain things (to give too much information). And this is something which many people can pick up on.

This is why I would recommend that you be as non-specific (don't say what exactly you are doing) as possible in the excuse that you give and to keep your excuse short.

What excuse to give

Trying to come up with an excuse which is both acceptable to the person who has invited you and is impossible/difficult for them to find out that you are lying, is not an easy thing to do.

Unfortunately, there is no one perfect excuse which everybody can use. One excuse that would perfectly work in one situation (for example, where a person works in different building to the person who invited them), won't work in another situation (for example, where a person works close to the person who invited them). So you have to pick an excuse which is appropriate to the situation you find yourself in.

Below is a selection of different excuses which you could use. Choose the excuse to use which you think is most appropriate for your situation:

Due to a prior commitment that I am unable to change, I will not be able to attend the meeting.

Due to personal reasons, I will not be able to attend the meeting.

Due to having to finish a report (or something else which sounds important and has to be done) on that day, I will not be able to attend the meeting.

Something very important has just come up that requires my attention. This unfortunately means that I am no longer able to attend the meeting.

To see examples of what you should write in the rest of the email when using one of the excuses, do my exercise on 'can't attend a meeting email'.

In conclusion

When you don't want to go to a meeting but don't have a valid reason for not going, it's important that you give a good excuse (see above). You need to make sure that the excuse you give is both an acceptable reason for not going and that it is very difficult for the person you are telling it to, to find out that you are not being 100% honest with them. To prevent them from thinking that you are lying to them, keep your excuse short and vague (non-specific).