This week I ran an unscientific poll on Facebook: "Poll: When scheduling a meeting, does "if need be" offer helpful flexibility or annoying ambiguity?"
I was envisioning a scenario in which every time proposed has the "if need be" option. Let's say there are three possible times: 10 am Tuesday, 2 pm Tuesday, 11 am Wednesday. In theory, everyone could pick the "if need be" option for each time slot -- leaving it up to the scheduler to determine if there is sufficient "need" and then make an arbitrary decision about when to hold the meeting. But not being arbitrary, of course, is exactly what the poll is supposed to achieve.
That's how I see it. Many of my poll respondents (aka my kind Facebook friends) disagree. They find "if need be" helpful -- should enough people select that option, they will look to move their own meetings to accommodate the emerging favorite slot. Which is admirably other-centered. (Of course, this assumes that one clear "if need be" favorite emerges). And in any case the binary yes/no approach is too constrictive, in this view.
That makes sense, especially once the group being scheduled reaches a certain size (8 or more people?) and it would be impossible to land on one time that works for everyone anyway.
But for smallish groups, forego "if need be." People should claim their schedules, say yes or no, and not offload what should be a collectively determined decision onto the meeting organizer. Harrumph!