You’ve held enough meetings to know that conflicts happen, and they can’t always be planned for ahead of time. That’s the case, at this time, with the COVID pandemic the world is currently facing. Everyone has had to shift their schedules to accommodate shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines.
Canceling a meeting here and there is already quite the chore. Canceling multiple meetings at the same time can create scheduling headaches that take hours to sort out. In business and your personal communications, you can make this chore easier. Have your Calendar schedule connected so it can reschedule for you — and send out notifications. You can then make contact later if you wish, but your cancellation will be dealt with promptly.
Keeping track of all the rescheduling changes and making sure that you don’t double book something is a nightmare. Make sure that all of your Calendars are connected so that you never have to miss a meeting again. At the same time, you need to maintain your composure and communicate with compassion and grace.
It’s no easy task, but you can minimize disruptions for yourself and those you’re meeting with. And more importantly, you can keep your relationships healthy while doing it. Here’s how:
Confirm cancellations ASAP.
There’s good reason to assume that your clients, team members, and customers are anticipating numerous meeting cancellations. The coronavirus is dominating the media cycle, and people are consuming a lot more news media because of it.
Regardless of this, you still need to confirm your meeting cancellations on time. Doing so keeps your attendees out of limbo and frees them to make other plans. Plus, it jumpstarts the rescheduling process.
Especially when you’re the one who scheduled a meeting, you shouldn’t make attendees have to guess or initiate conversations about changes. Take responsibility. Delaying your notifications will make things more difficult in the long run.
Face-to-face conversations are the best way to be direct. Social distancing makes those problematic, but you can still be clear through other types of communication. Being vague only leads to confusion and could even strain relationships with the people you’d meant to meet with.
If you can, give clients, team members, and customers a call when canceling. A call will allow you to discuss the circumstances without having to wait for a response via email. Calling demonstrates intentionality on your part. Be cautious of being a time-suck on a call, though.
Be clear about your reasons for canceling. The measures put in place due to the coronavirus give you a sufficient basis, but some things result from those restrictions that further justify rescheduling. There may not be an adequate place to meet, or maybe childcare arrangements are making your schedule more difficult. Be as transparent as you can.
Frame it as rescheduling.
Rather than merely canceling a meeting without concrete plans for the future, discuss the possibilities of rescheduling right away — with Zoom — or some other online platform. If meeting with the person or group is indeed essential, then you’ll need another time or way to cover the information you’d planned to meet about.
Either on the phone call or in a follow-up email, share the agenda you’d developed. Give your client, employee, or contact a range of options as to how and when to meet.
You don’t need to figure out all the details immediately, especially when things could be up in the air for everyone, but communicating a desire to reschedule makes your meeting more of a priority for those involved.
Acknowledge the inconvenience.
Having to cancel a meeting is inconvenient for everyone involved. Acknowledging that fact can make a huge difference for those you are canceling on. Verifying the inconvenience lets the individual know that you value their time and that their presence is crucial to you.
It’s good, too, to acknowledge the general inconveniences of a global pandemic. Get to know what changes they have to make in their daily lives, and take those into account for future meetings.
Remember, your meeting attendees may face more adversity during the crisis than you. Make room to listen rather than moving straight to discussing actions and responses.
Change the forum.
Instead of holding the meeting in person, you could conduct it remotely. It could be a scheduled phone call with one person, or you could use apps like Zoom or Skype to hold conference-style meetings.
One upside about switching to a remote meeting is that you may be able to keep the same time. If you decide to do so, make sure to send over materials to review ahead of time. Also, remember you can share your screen with everyone at the meeting.
If the meeting does need to happen in person, acknowledge that. Cover what you can digitally, and realize that others’ health needs to take priority. Your meeting may have to be pushed back again if the crisis does not abate quickly.
Don’t overload yourself (or others).
With all the upheaval, you may be tempted to get as many meetings out of the way as possible. Why not, when you’re stuck at home anyway?
The trouble is, saying “yes” to too many meetings is often how appointments end up canceled and rescheduled in the first place. If you get into this cycle, know that it can be tough to break out. The better solution is to stick to your capacity in the first place.
Like it or not, you can only handle so many meetings in a day. And pushing yourself too hard will lead to burnout. Your attempts to save time will end up having the opposite effect. You won’t be able to conduct meetings effectively, and your attendees won’t get much out of them.
Be compassionate about others’ cancellations.
When someone else has to cancel on you, it can be tempting to be selfish about your precious schedule. Remember to reciprocate the compassion you hope to receive from others when you need to call off a meeting.
Give people the benefit of the doubt when they need to reschedule and be honest about your availability. You can show people your availability by sharing your Calendar with them. Sharing your Calendar saves a lot of time going back and forth.
Commend your contacts when they notify you with plenty of time to make adjustments. Commenting on them is a contact point that encourages future communication. Lastly, be open to things not working out correctly.
In a crisis like this, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future. People are questioning when all of this will be over, and when the recovery process can begin again. Be encouraging to everyone at this time.
In many ways, though, that recovery process has already begun. You can be a part of all sorts of recovery without even knowing it—handling meeting cancellations with grace.