There are many situations and moments where we have to meet with people. Meetings are often work-related, but they can also be for a leisurely rendezvous or because we need to discuss something important. But, when others beckon us to meet, the purpose isn’t always clear or straightforward.
In most cases, you can contact the meeting organizer directly and ask the reason for the meeting. However, if you have forgotten the cause, try to talk to another participant, for example: “In preparation for the appointment, can you briefly tell me the main issues?”
Knowing how to ask about the purpose of the meeting will save time and remove the guesswork from your expectations. While it would seem simple enough to just come right out and ask, there are certain instances where you have to be a little more careful about it. This will be especially true when dealing with other cultures.
For Work Meetings
When your boss or supervisor calls a meeting, usually they will state what it’s about beforehand. If they don’t, you can simply come right out and ask. But, if they won’t tell you and you want to find out, don’t be annoying and press the issue.
If they don’t want to tell you the purpose, there’s probably a good reason for it. This means everyone invited to the meeting will find out what it’s about. In the event the meeting is compulsory, there’s not much you can do.
Anticipate the possibilities and pack a small bag of paperwork and other documents you think you’ll need.
It is better to be prepared and not need anything than to need something and not have it at hand.
When You’re Busy
However, if you have other things on your schedule for when the meeting takes place, then you should speak up when your superior announces it. Here, you’ll want to employ a little tact but also get right to the point.
Simply acknowledge the fact they don’t want to tell you what the purpose is. But then also tell them you have a huge amount of work. Tell them that it would be helpful if you know what the purpose is so you can prepare.
If you realize during the meeting that your presence is not required after all, be honest and leave the meeting.
When You Forget the Purpose of the Meeting
But, there may be times where you know there’s a meeting and your boss already stated the purpose. You should know what it’s about and asking might actually get you into some trouble. Hopefully, you received an email or a note of some kind. You should be able to refer to that.
Unfortunately, there might be moments where you don’t have time to refer to the announcement. If it’s a delicate situation and you have to remember what the meeting’s purpose is, perhaps you can ask another coworker about it. Or, your boss’s secretary or administrative assistant might be able to tell you.
No matter what you do in this kind of instance, always be polite and apologize for your forgetfulness. Being honest and sincere will always go a long way with people.
Different Kinds of Meetings with Friends
Sometimes friends want to set up a meeting because they need to get something off of their chest or they might have a surprise for you. If they don’t want to state the purpose of the meeting, once again, they probably have a good reason for it.
For Serious Discussions
That said, if it’s going to be a serious discussion, it’s a little rude on their part not to at least give you some idea of what the meeting’s about. When they arrange the meeting with you, give a gentle nudge and ask something like:
“Can I at least get a general idea about what the purpose of this meeting is?”
In case, this is going to be a stressful meeting and your friend will not state its purpose, you do have a right to know what it’s about.
Depending on the situation, you can say, with couth, you can’t meet with them unless you have some idea of what it’s all about.
This will be especially true if you haven’t spoken with or seen this person in some time.
In the Case of Recent Arguments
Now, if the friend is someone you see often and you have been arguing with lately, it may be best to not inquire about the subject of the meeting. You already know or should at least have some idea. Asking about the purpose of the meeting may come off as playing dumb. This may not help matters at all.
If their purpose is for a surprise and there’s a genuine sound of excitement to their voice, don’t ask about it. You’ll ruin everything. The only thing you can inquire about at this point is if it’s a good or bad thing. This may be necessary if you know your friend to be a prankster.
Meeting with People from Other Cultures
Whether you’re setting up a meeting for work or leisure and the summoning party is from another culture, there are some definite things to keep in mind. Most western countries place value on stating the purposes of a meeting before the event. This is common in the US, UK, Germany, France, Poland, Russia, etc.
However, many Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, such as Japan or Egypt, do not have a similar perspective. Many of these people believe that holding the meeting is enough in and of itself. This difference comes from cultural beliefs and ideas about working with others.
Western versus Asian Perceptions
For instance, in the US, many people consider work meetings to be a distraction and a waste of time, especially if there is no inherent purpose. But, in Japan, meetings mean you get to share and spend time with others. So, simply organizing a meeting can be productive depending on the work to accomplish.
Also, Americans view meetings as places to make decisions, come to agreements and develop ideas. Many Japanese companies will hold meetings just for people to sound off about their reports or to discuss recent events within the company. They aren’t intended to be productive the way Americans think about them.
It can be off-putting to someone who is Japanese when asked about the purpose of a meeting.
Their ideas of structure and hierarchy come into this picture as well. When a subordinate asks a question, more traditional Japanese people will think it’s a hubris and stupid thing to ask.
For Meeting Organizers Who Are Japanese
When you find yourself in a situation where someone like a Japanese person is organizing it and they don’t state the purpose, there are a few things you can say. But, you must ask immediately and don’t wait until later. Being prompt with your questions is a far better endeavor than waiting until the last minute.
Also, the Japanese are not fond of direct and confrontational questioning. They often have a very subtle and indirect way of speaking, especially to respected authority figures and elders.
You want to take care in how you word your question.
Consider saying something along the lines of:
“Is there anything I need to bring to the meeting?”
“Do you want any help organizing the meeting?”
“Will there be a specific focus for the meeting?”
“What is the goal you want to accomplish by the end of the meeting?”
“Is there a particular outcome you’re looking to achieve with the meeting?”
Asking questions in the manner listed above will give you a more roundabout way of getting your answer. When you make the question more about the person setting up the meeting rather than yourself, you’ll be able to get a much clearer picture of the purpose of the meeting. They will see you as a kind and thoughtful person too.
Meetings with People from Desert Countries
In places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it’s hot, arid, and dry. The exact time may not be the highest priority in such circumstances. Also, they don’t usually state the purpose of a meeting and rarely favor inquiries once a meeting is set up.
For people from western cultures, this can be incredibly infuriating. It seems as though things move too slowly.
If you find yourself in such a situation and you want to know the purpose of the meeting, be very nonchalant about it and let go of any tension.
When they call or send a message to set up the meeting, it’s then that you should ask what it’s about and at no other time. If they don’t state it or you get dead air, just leave it be and show up on time. Don’t worry about other people, just do what you need and think about your own actions.
Katie Holmes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.