We have all faced a similar situation: something comes up that prevents us from attending a work meeting where our presence is essential, and we are forced to cancel it. How to do it correctly without affecting your credibility as a worker or a team leader?
In this article, we will give you several tips to cancel a meeting the right way. Also, we will show you how to do it from the most common videoconferencing platforms. And finally, we will give you some examples that will guide you in writing a good cancellation email.
- It is of vital importance to inform of the cancellation as soon as possible. If possible, days in advance.
- Briefly explaining the reason for the cancellation will help colleagues understand why it is appropriate to cancel the meeting.
- A cancellation email should include a thank you for the understanding and flexibility of the people called, as well as a brief apology for interfering with their schedules.
What you should know about cancelling meetings
Just as it is recommended to avoid excessive meetings (face-to-face or virtual) to avoid generating stress and overload, a good work practice is also to respect people’s time (1). Cancelling a meeting is going a little against this advice, but no one is exempt from encountering a situation that forces them to miss a commitment. For this reason, it is important to know how to cancel a meeting properly. Before you learn how to do this, there are a few things to consider:
When is it appropriate to cancel a meeting?
Sending a timely email informing that a meeting has been cancelled or rescheduled is a sign of respect for your co-workers’ time. Here are some examples of when a cancellation email is an appropriate way to handle an external situation that compromises your business meetings:
A common illness
If you are unable to meet a work commitment because your physical or mental health is affected, do not hesitate to cancel or reschedule your meetings. Contrary to popular belief, taking the time to recover also benefits the company, because “87% of HR executives rate people’s health and safety risks as a serious threat to the business” (2).
A personal or family emergency
Sometimes it is necessary to rearrange priorities to support the family or manage an emergency of one’s own. Other aspects of life, not just work, also deserve our attention, and even more so in the case of an emergency. Once the setback is over, you can resume your meetings with peace of mind.
An availability problem
Various situations can lead to you having two commitments scheduled at the same time. In this case, you may have to cancel or postpone one of them or appoint a representative. That person would take notes and then update you on what was discussed at the meeting. In any case, an e-mail informing what you decide is essential.
A change of plans
It may happen that something changes and the meeting you had scheduled is no longer necessary, or that your presence is no longer required. In such a situation, the most natural thing to do would be to cancel the engagement or modify its purpose in accordance with the news. In any case, it is important that you do not delay in notifying your work team about it.
Why is it important to send a meeting cancellation email?
It is natural that sometimes situations arise that force an employee to cancel or postpone a commitment. What is not acceptable is not valuing the time of co-workers and not informing them of the change of plans. Respecting people’s time is undoubtedly a sign of professionalism and integrity. So, cancellation emails are important because:
- They confirm your professionalism: whether you hold a leadership position in a company or not, performing with a high level of responsibility speaks very well of you as a professional. Cancelling a meeting when there is no other option and informing them in time is a sign of your ability to manage contingencies wisely.
- Show that you respect your colleagues’ time: anyone who leads or is part of a work team should know how to value their colleagues’ time. Cancelling a meeting for justified reasons and in a timely manner gives those who were called to the meeting the opportunity to use that time for other tasks. The key is to notify in time, so people can reorganize their schedules comfortably.
- Avoid loss of trust: imagine that you have not been informed of the cancellation of a meeting and you have lost hours in transportation or waiting for the videoconference to start. Do you think the person who called the meeting has credibility? Probably not. In fact, breaking commitments is the main generator of distrust in work teams (3).
What happens if you cancel a meeting at the last minute?
Ideally, this should not happen, but if for any reason you find yourself having to send a cancellation email at the last minute, that would be preferable to never send it at all. However, you should be aware that some uneasiness may arise among your colleagues, and your credibility will be somewhat affected.
Is it necessary to explain the reason for cancelling the meeting?
It is not necessary to go into details, especially if it is a personal or family emergency. However, you should always give a valid explanation why you have no choice but to cancel or reschedule a meeting. Be brief, but try to give an honest reason that justifies the relevance of your decision to your coworkers.
What is the difference between cancelling a virtual meeting and cancelling a face-to-face meeting?
The differences can be approached from different perspectives:
Let’s start with the fact that a face-to-face meeting not only requires the person to allocate time to the commitment, as such. He/she must also invest time and money in transportation. For that reason, in the case of a face-to-face meeting, forgetting to cancel or not cancelling on time is more problematic than in the case of a virtual meeting.
However, even if the person called to the meeting does not need to travel or leave his or her home, he or she has the right to manage his or her time as he or she sees fit. So canceling on time remains crucial.
From another point of view:
If business relations in general are developed digitally, the most natural thing to do would be to cancel the meeting in the same way. In the case of companies that do not have the option of remote work and use, for example, telephone communication, the same means could be used to cancel a meeting. It all depends on the internal dynamics of each workplace.
In any case, nowadays e-mail is the most formal and agile way to communicate with colleagues and record what has been agreed. And, unlike calls or instant messages, people can decide when to check their email, so email is more respectful of their time and space.
How to correctly use technological resources to cancel a virtual meeting?
There are many virtual platforms through which work teams schedule their meetings. Keep in mind that you will only be able to cancel the meetings that you have called. If you have been invited to a meeting that you will not attend, what you need to do is delete the meeting from your calendar.
Here are the steps to cancel a meeting in the most common applications:
|Platforms||Keep in mind||Step by step|
|Microsoft Teams and Outlook||The calendars of these two platforms are synchronized, so you can access meeting settings from either platform.||1. From the calendar, double-click on the meeting to open it.|
2. Look for the “Cancel Meeting” option in the ribbon at the top.
3. Compose the cancellation email in the window that will open.
4. Click on “Send cancellation”.
|Google Meet and Google Calendar||As above, the calendar of these two platforms is synchronized.||1. Open Google Calendar on a computer.|
2. Right-click on the meeting you want to cancel.
3. Click on the trash can icon that says “Delete”.
4. Write the cancellation email in the window that will open.
5. Click on “Send”.
|Zoom||Before cancelling the meeting in Zoom, don’t forget to send an email informing your colleagues of the cancellation.||1. From a computer or cell phone, open the meeting you want to cancel.|
2. Click “Delete.
3. Click on “Delete meeting”.
How to cancel a recurring meeting or event on virtual platforms?
In each of the applications mentioned above, you will find the option to cancel a series of recurring meetings or just one of them in particular. For example, if every Monday at 9 a.m. you meet with your work team, but next week you will not be able to attend, you can cancel only that meeting. If, on the other hand, you have changed teams and will no longer be in charge of the weekly meetings, you can cancel all scheduled events from a certain date onwards.
8 tips on how to cancel a meeting the right way (with examples)
You already know the importance of cancellation emails and everything you should keep in mind regarding this situation in the work environment. Now, here are 8 fundamental tips to cancel a meeting properly:
Send the cancellation as soon as possible
We never tire of repeating it. It is vital that those invited to a meeting are aware of the cancellation as soon as possible. If possible, do it days in advance. That way they won’t feel like they’ve been wasted and will be able to accommodate their agendas for the day without any hiccups. In the worst-case scenario, cancel at least an hour or two in advance. You can opt for a formulation like this:
✓ “I am sorry to have to cancel our meeting scheduled for this afternoon at 16:00 on such short notice, but a sudden change of circumstances has come up, and I have to be absent from work for the rest of the day. Thank you for your understanding. As soon as I am able, I will be in touch to review rescheduling options.”
Be clear in the subject line
The subject line is the first thing your colleagues will see when they check the mail, and even in the floating notifications on the computer screen, if they are enabled. So write a concise subject line to get the message across to them as quickly as possible. Example:
✓ Subject: “CANCELLED – Follow-up meeting – Tuesday, September 7 – 16:00”
If you are going to cancel through platforms like Google Meet, which do not allow you to write a subject line, inform them of the cancellation in the first sentence. Example:
✓ Message body: “I am compelled to cancel the follow-up meeting scheduled for October 10 at 10:00.”
Get to the point
Keep in mind that the message you are going to convey to the meeting attendees is simple, and that the most important thing is that they are informed of the cancellation as soon as possible. So use the right words and don’t try to qualify the situation or beat around the bush. Example:
✓ “I am informing you that the follow-up meeting scheduled for October 10 at 10:00 must be cancelled.”
Include the purpose of the cancelled meeting
To avoid misunderstandings and to be as accurate as possible, include all relevant details of the meeting you are cancelling, so that it is not confused with another meeting. In addition to the date and time, briefly include the purpose of the meeting. For example:
✓ “The weekly sales strategy follow-up meeting that was to take place this Wednesday, October 10 at 10:00 has been cancelled.”
Reading a cancellation email should take no more than a minute or two. Writing three or four sentences, plus a greeting and farewell, is sufficient. One sentence to directly inform that the meeting has been cancelled, another to briefly explain the reason, and the last to inform of possible future actions. For example:
✓ “I must cancel the follow-up meeting that was scheduled for October 10 at 10:00 am. The reason is that I have been called in by the department manager to discuss some changes that our sales strategy is going to have. Once I have met with her, I will arrange to reschedule the meeting to update you on what was discussed.”
Reschedule the meeting
Unless the meeting is no longer necessary, it’s best to let your colleagues know in the cancellation email that you’re rescheduling. Or, that you will designate someone to represent you at the meeting, so they can update you later. Another option would be to tell your colleagues that they can propose another date and time to have the meeting. Here’s how:
✓ “For the time being, the follow-up meeting on October 10 at 10:00 must be cancelled, as an unavoidable personal commitment has come up for me. Please feel free to propose an alternative date and time for us to hold the meeting.”
Since the people you had called for the meeting cleared a space in their schedules, it is most appropriate for you to offer apologies for changing their schedules. This shows that you value and respect your coworkers’ time. Example:
✓ “I find it necessary to cancel the follow-up meeting scheduled for tomorrow, October 10, at 10:00, since I must attend to an urgent family situation. I am sorry to interfere with your schedules, and I hope this cancellation will not cause any major inconvenience. Once I have resolved the emergency, I will be in touch to reschedule the meeting.”
Appreciate the flexibility of your colleagues
Something can happen to all of us that forces us to cancel a business meeting, but don’t take your colleagues’ understanding for granted. Thanking them is critical and helps make the cancellation subtle and not cause major inconvenience. For example:
✓ “I have no choice but to cancel the follow-up meeting we had planned for this October 10 at 10:00 a.m., as I must attend an urgent medical consultation. I propose to reschedule it for October 14 at the same time. However, I remain attentive to other proposals of date and time. Thank you very much for your understanding and flexibility.”
Cancelling a meeting is a natural and common situation at work, so it doesn’t have to be a complicated experience, as long as it doesn’t happen too often. The key is to be aware of the problems that the cancellation may generate in colleagues and express it in an assertive way.
The reason for cancellation, although it must be honest and justified, is not the most important thing. What is essential is to pay attention to the way in which we communicate it to the people summoned to the meeting. Also essential are the actions we will take in the future regarding the cancelled meeting, and demonstrating that we respect the time of our colleagues.
1. Impact communication in work teams. Human Resources Observatory (ORH); 2022 .
2. Mental health and work: 5 obvious problems of poor management (and 17 less obvious ones). El Economista; 2022 .
3. Santillán E. Leading at a distance: Issues and good practices for leading distributed teams. Universidad de San Andrés; 2020