Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Is It OK to Be Late?

Here’s another tip for improving your mood, your attitude, your relationships and your business: show up on time.

Corporate recruiter Greg Savage has noticed a disturbing cultural trend: too many people no longer feel any obligation to arrive for a meeting, an appointment or dinner on time.

Savage is not writing about America. He is describing the culture in his home base of Sydney, Australia.

His observation may or may not apply to your business or your own relationships. I cannot tell you how prevalent chronic lateness is in any specific locale. For the record, my own contemporaries, who are probably older than yours, take pride in being punctual.

If Savage is not speaking to you and yours, well and good. If he is, it’s time for a correction.

As Savage says, when you garner the reputation for often being late you will be showing the world that you cannot be trusted. Why would anyone want to do business with someone who cannot be trusted?

It begins, Savage says, with a failure to understand the meaning of words. When people believe that everything they say, every commitment they make, is subject to interpretation, problems arise.

People call a meeting for 9:00 a. m. Some people, however, do not believe that 9:00 a. m. really means 9:00 a.m. Savage describes the scene:

In recent years it seems that a meeting set to start at 9 am, for some people means in the general vicinity of any time which starts with the numeral '9'. Like 9.30 for example.

People drift in at 9.10 or 9.20, or even later. And they smile warmly at the waiting group, as they unwrap their bacon sandwich, apparently totally unconcerned that others have been there since five to nine, prepared and ready to start.

10 people kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, while some selfish pratt who idles his way via the coffee shop, is actually 20 minutes times 10, which is 200 minutes wasted - while you keep us waiting because you did not catch the earlier bus. That is over 3 hours wasted. By you! How much has that cost the business? Shall I send you an invoice?

It’s not just the cost in time and money. There’s an emotional price to be paid when you undermine group harmony by showing that you consider yourself more important than everyone else. You will be stirring up emotion and producing drama, not cooperation.

Apparently, some of the problem derives from text messaging. People have come to believe that if they announce that they are going to be late, they gain the right to be late, that is, to take advantage of you.

Savage describes how this plays out:

And an arrangement to meet someone for a business meeting at a coffee shop at 3 pm, more often than not means at 3.10 you get a text saying 'I am five minutes away' which inevitably means 10 minutes, and so you wait for 15 or 20 minutes, kicking your heels in frustration.

And often these 'latecomers' are people who have requested the meeting in the first place, are asking for your help, or are selling something. Fat chance mate!

And of course this has massive application to the recruitment industry, where lateness is both commonplace and hugely damaging to your personal and corporate brand.

Why are the chronic latecomers chronically late?

By all appearances they are trying to show how important they are. Even if they are merely following their bliss or indulging themselves they are still signaling how important they think they are.

Chronic latecomers are manifesting their bloated sense of self-esteem, their inflated sense of self-importance. What is there about such behavior that would cause you to want to work with them, or to be their friend?

In fact, they are saying that they are so busy, that their day is so filled to overflowing with supremely important duties that you should be grateful if they show up at all.

They expect that other people will accommodate them because of they are so important. In most cases, if you fail to accommodate their tardiness they will take serious offense.

Savage explains:

And it is not that we lead 'busy lives'. That's a given, we all do, and it's a cop out to use that as an excuse. It's simply that some people no longer even pretend that they think your time is as important as theirs. And technology makes it worse. It seems texting or emailing that you are late somehow means you are no longer late.

Rather than promote cooperation and harmony people who are chronically late are competing for status.

Of course, if they were really as important as they think they are and if they have real standing in the world, they always show up, always return messages and never cancel on you.

No one rises to the top of a hierarchy by disrespecting other people. One might say that celebrities are often the exception to this rule, but theirs is not exactly a status hierarchy.

Being late is also bad for your emotional well-being. It is more stressful to have to explain away your bad behavior than it is to work with people. It is more stressful to be an irritant than a lubricant.

Good habits improve your relationships because they show you to be trustworthy and respectful. You are likely to receive the same in return. Bad habits will undermine most of your relationships because people will discover that you are more likely to abuse their confidence and their good character than to reciprocate it.

When you show up on time you are keeping your word. If your word is not your bond who knows what other duties you will ignore.

Chronic lateness, Savage says, is a character flaw. In its place one should make a habit of punctuality.

Punctuality spells respect. People are not going to want to work with someone who has  been disrespecting them.

Punctuality requires discipline and organization. Why would anyone want to do a deal with you if you have already shown yourself to be undisciplined and disorganized?


Anonymous said...

There are MANY ways to disrespect the time of others. I read a story about a manager of a depression era factory who paid just one employee to come in 30 minutes early, the other employees felt they might lose their jobs if they came in later, so he would gloat for years later about getting 20 workers to work 1/2 extra per day for free. I had a supervisor who set a deadline for a meeting to review my circuit design, and then postponed the meeting for three weeks. I worked overtime and got paid to meet the deadline, but lost much respect for my supervisor. I met a Big Hair girl from Jersey in the 80s, very pretty, who told me about making a guy drive several hours round trip just to see her. I asked if she might drive to see him and she said, "No. My time is valuable." No psychologist I know of has done any studies on how our body assigns a value to things in part because their job is to pretend to understand the psychology of others and discount their time or interpretation of what behavior means, that is, a typical psychologist is a subtle moralist who pretends to be paid as a healer or scientist. If behavior is not interpreted via a moral filter it has no meaning, so we cannot escape the fact that moral judgments are made, but we can discuss how time and money are evaluations made using moral judgments and become more conscious and less pretensious.

Leo G said...

O|T but thought you may get a kick outta this!

Anonymous said...

Two points.

One - Barack Obama is chronically late for news conferences. Maybe this is deliberate.

Two - I once had a supervisor who scheduled meetings for precise times, i.e. 9:07 a.m.

JKB said...

Mostly people are late because we let them. We accept their excuse. The most frustrating for me is when they hold up a meeting waiting for the latecomers.

Look, if the big dog is late, you wait. If the person who has the critical information is late, you wait impatiently. But everyone else, you go ahead and don't rehash when they show up. They show up on time after a couple times of that.

It may be a passive-aggressive power technique to be late but nothing says get with the program like the world moving on without you.

I do like the 9:07 idea. There is some research in the whole round number phenomenon. An offset time seems to relate a greater importance than the 9 am meeting.

Being a real big dog like the president or CEO and routinely making people wait is a sign of insecurity.

Sam L. said...

Time is money. Concur with JKB.

Jen said...

Funny, just last week I was reminiscing with someone about a fellow I dated for a couple of months. He was repeatedly late—once twenty minutes late!—for our dates, and this before the present ubiquity of texts. The twenty-minute time, I figured I was being stood up and was in the process of making new plans with a girlfriend when he finally decided to show up, something he took none too kindly—as if I was the one with the problem. Indeed, he suddenly broke up with me (beating me to it, after having been ten minutes late that day, making us both late to church of all things!) citing as his primary complaint about me my "obsession" with "being on time, like it's important or something".

Aren't you glad he's going into education?

Dennis said...

NO, unless there is some overriding reason for it happening, like a death in the family.
One of the reason most societies develop manners is to start everyone out with a formal expectation of respect. Contrary to what most feminists believe. Being on time is a sign of demonstrating that respect.
In a large number of professions time is the difference between life and death, failure or success, et al. It is a sign of trustworthiness.