Avoiding Meeting-time Ping Pong

You can relate, I’m sure.

An email the other day said “…let’s meet on the phone to discuss, let me know when next week is good for you.” I had this strange feeling that meeting-time ping pong was about to start.

What is meeting-time ping pong? This is my name for the situation that occurs when two people are trying to nail down a time and date to meet.  The email exchange usually goes something like this:

“Let’s meet. When next week?”

“Tuesday at 3pm.”

“Oh I can’t Tuesday afternoon.”

“Wednesday at 4pm.”

“Well I was going to leave early that day. When else?”

“Monday at 1:30.”…

You can see where this is going, right? A constant back-and-forth of emails which wastes time and frustrates both parties: the person who is proposing the meeting times which keep getting rejected, and the other person, who I’m sure can’t understand why mind reading isn’t working.

It reminds me of the “no-win” game, “I’m thinking of a number…” there is just no way to make that answer work for you.

As with many things, you can only control your actions. Here are a few ways I’ve managed this request. Perhaps some of these tips can work for you.

Best response
Here’s what I’ve learned to be the best response to the “When do you want to meet?” question. “I can meet for a 30 min call on Thursday at 1:30 or Tuesday at 10:30. I can’t do Monday afternoons. If either of those times don’t work for you, please suggest ones that will.”

The idea being you give a morning option and an afternoon option – you never know what standing commitments the other person may have. You also give a heads up about the times you are not available so the other party is made aware of dates/times not to propose. Usually, the “please suggest” phrase is the trigger that motivates people come back with a date/time suggestion of their own.

Time zones
Careful when you are working across time zones. Be sure to include the time zone you are willing to meet. I’ve found that most people operate on “me time” meaning that if they suggest meeting at 2pm, to them this means “2pm in my time zone.” Be willing to address that up front. For me, working in the Eastern time zone and sometimes working with folks in the Pacific time zone, I’ll let them know, “I’m happy to have this meeting past Eastern business hours to accommodate the time zone difference, a 5pm Pacific meeting start works for me on Tuesdays.”

Team meetings
If you’ve got more than one person to meet with, I’d suggest a contacting each person directly in advance. Work out what their availability is, then send the group email. Nothing more time wasting than several ‘reply alls’ to the group with everyone flip flopping between meeting times.

I’d suggest your individual contact email go something like this, “Hi Bob, I’m arranging a group meeting for next month, I wanted to get your availability – I’d like to host the meeting Tuesday at 9:30 or Wednesday at 2:30, do either work for you? If not, please suggest an alternative.” After I have everyone’s response, I’ll figure out what works best for all and then send the meeting invite… “Our meeting will be on May 4 at 2:30pm, attached is a calendar invite and the call in number, see you then. Any questions – please contact me directly.”

More work at the start
Yes, it is a lot more up front work, but it saves the annoying meeting-time ping pong. What’s worked for you when arranging meetings? Or, do you use the meeting-time ping pong method to avoid committing time to someone you’d rather not meet with? Sneaky!


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