Chapter Two Blog - Importance of Being on Time

02 Feb 2017

You’re late: The science behind latecomers and what we can do to cope

I was waiting on a client. We had to discuss a few things about a new campaign I was developing for her. My client was late, as always. I was getting slowly but steadily annoyed. I realised then that I abhor people who come late, who make me wait. It seems reasonable enough. But it also got me thinking.

I thought back to my corporate days. Instantly, I recollected the times when I had been angry most frequently: it always involved sitting in a meeting room and waiting for someone to join. That frustrating moment of waiting for someone seemed, to me now in retrospect, to symbolize everything that was wrong with corporate life: the bureaucracy, the egos, and the waste. I   remember this one colleague who always came late to meetings. On an average, he came at least half an hour after the agreed time. I remember feeling enraged, then finally resigned to the reality. He was an important stakeholder and I couldn’t move ahead with some things on my plate without him. But despite developing a more resilient, worldly attitude towards his late tardiness, I continued to harbour an acute sense of outrage. It was the same outrage I felt now as I sat in the café waiting for my client.

I have spoken to some of my friends to see if they share this sense of outrage of it is only me. Interesting, many people feel the same outrage. It is not a violent outrage. It is a more understated outrage but it comes with a distinct sense of the self and of things in general being disrespected.

How do latecomers disrespect people and things?

1. Firstly, there is the frustration of waiting, the awareness that there is a bottleneck in the form of a person who we cannot see or influence at the moment

2. Then there is the sense of time’s wasteful passing with no productive activity taking place, all because of this one person

3. Even after the person arrives, his or her coming late has set an edgy, hurried tone to the meeting which causes many agenda items to be left out for want of time

4. All in all, by the end of the meeting, you feel angry, unfulfilled and disregarded

If it happens once, one can and will dismiss it as an exception. Bad traffic, one ways and other commitments from time to time can wreak havoc on the order of things. But when it happens every single time, one tends towards more, grim possibilities:

This person lacks discipline

This person does not have a strong sense of responsibility

This person is fine but when it comes to us he or she maintains a casual, almost embedded disrespect for us, as though our time and work is inferior compared to this person’s contribution

The last reason, if true, can cause a serious rift between the latecomer and the other person because it strikes at the heart of many relationship/partnerships problems: the lack of respect. Where there is secret contempt for another person’s time and priorities, there can never be healthy mutual understanding and progress.

Of course, the latecomer, if questioned has their reasons.

Some of them are frankly embarrassed that they are always late. But their frankness, their self-deprecation, does not help us or the cause.

Some of them insist that they mean well but no matter this they are somehow always late.

All regularly applied excuses which don’t help and don’t point to the real underlying problem.

Research indicates chronic latecomers may be wired differently from us.

Neurological researchers have discovered that there may be a correlation between chronic lateness disorder and attention-deficit disorder. The ADHD sufferer has abnormalities in their brain’s executive centre which plays a key role in time management. If you are always late then an awareness of this disorder may help you feel vindicated. But it’s not something that is easy to explain to people who value timeliness. So how can you manage time better and not cause social frustration?

1. Get realistic with your time management. Understand how long each activity takes and plan better so that you have sufficient time to complete each activity. For e.g., it takes one hour to get to a meeting with your agency. Don’t assume it will take thirty minutes and extend your last meeting. Be realistic.

2. Use alarms and apps to help you keep track of time and plan key tasks.

3. Multi-tasking isn’t for everyone. Try and focus on one thing at a time. Bring it to closure and then move on.

4. Create a routine. Breakdown your day into the six things in the right sequence for you to do in order to feel good and make others feel good as well.

5. Last but not the least, be sensitive to others. Understand that your delays affect their life and cause them to perceive you as someone who is disrespectful and hence, unpopular.

Coming on time has so many benefits: people like and respect you instantly, the meeting’s full agenda can be achieved, there is a sense of calm focus about the proceedings, and in the end you make people and yourself feel a sense of productivity.

For those of us struggling to communicate with someone who is always late, try and follow these tips:

Call out to the fact that the person is late. Most times, this works.

1. If it doesn’t work, then explain to the person that their coming late affects the productivity and the morale of others.

2. If the person does not change even after all this, then their problem is either more deep rooted or they simply don’t care about you. Evaluate what you want to do then. Is there any point in being frustrated and taking this personally? Is this person the same with everyone else? So, in that case, is it just something to ignore?

Late coming can be frustrating for the one who waits and disreputable for the one who makes people wait. I was told by one of my bosses, ‘If you are not 5 minutes early for a meeting, you are late’. That somehow stuck with me. I make an effort to always be on time. Sometimes it causes me a little anxiety but it is worth the feeling of focus and control I experience during the rest of the meeting.

My client finally came thirty minutes late that day in the café. I told her she was late. She apologized and blamed the traffic. I told her the traffic could not be possibly coming in the way all the time. She paused and nodded, knowing her game was up. I felt better for sharing. Hopefully, next time will be different.

About the Author:

Sandhya Reddy is a leadership & transformation coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that enables everyone from CEOs to work-from-home parents to achieve their goals by replacing self-imposed limitations with enabling stories.

Many of us in our thirties experience a disquieting realization: what brought us to middle-management may not take us to senior-management. This is true. To chart a new career path, one needs to think and do things differently. This is where Sandhya can help. She is a coach. Life coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, personality development, leadership coaching… they are all part of her forte. Her Executive coaching programs helps tomorrow’s leaders set new goals, make new plans to achieve those goals, get that elusive promotion through a blend of knowledge, action and image-building, enhance influence among the leadership team, be more productive, get more out of one’s team, and be known in the company as an indispensable performer and future leader.



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