You are silently communicating how you value people’s time.
For some of us, the world can be divided into two kinds of people: those of us who show up on time, and those of us who are late.
English writer Edward Verrall Lucas had a view on lateness, “I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them.” Now I realize that the majority of us have been late to something more than once in our lives. But the distinction that I’d like to zero in on concerns people who are habitually late–and what message that kind of behavior sends to the rest of us. In short: it tells us that our time is less valuable than yours.
Let me explain.
So let’s first define what we mean by “being late.” You need to first understand that being late might depend greatly on the kind of culture you come from. In South American countries, for instance, you might be considered on time if you show up within two hours of an appointment–or even on the same day!
In Switzerland, on the other hand, even showing up at exactly the scheduled time might be considered late since everyone is expected to show up early.
But for our purposes, let’s stick to the norm for U.S. business culture, which gives us about a five-minute window for showing up for a scheduled appointment.
If you’re running any later than that, it’s expected that you would call your host and explain where you are and what time you expect to show up.
In most cases, your host will understand and everything will work out fine because we all know that stuff happens–from flat tires and unexpected traffic to airline delays.
The trouble is when someone is chronically late.
For example, I was in a business group made up of several business leaders who met regularly. But one member of the group simply could never show up on time. Worse, he was always 15 to 20 minutes late for our meetings – which means if he started 20 minutes earlier – he could have made it.
What kind of message do you think that sent to the rest of us?
The truth was that we were all insulted because it was clear that this executive thought his time was more valuable than ours. No matter what excuse he might share, he was clearly communicating that whatever he was doing was more valuable than being with us.
So we held an intervention and explained how we felt and that, if he didn’t change his behavior, we would ask him to leave the group. It was some tough love and very emotional for everyone.
To his credit, the exec got the message loud and clear and was on time–if not early–for every meeting after that. Of course, we gave him proper positive encouragement every time he showed up for the meeting to start with a little cheer!
Think about how you feel whenever you go to the doctor’s office, or even the DMV, where you think you have an appointment–but you find yourself waiting 15 minutes, a half hour, or even longer before you actually get to talk to someone. It’s incredibly frustrating, right? That’s because you feel like you’re wasting your valuable time and that the other person and organization are demonstrating that their time is more valuable than yours.
Unfortunately, this is such a common practice–especially among service companies, who don’t seem to understand how harmful this kind of practice can be in creating lasting relationships with their customers. At a minimum, an effort should be made to explain why the meeting is delayed. Otherwise, why would a customer want to work with you if you clearly don’t value their time? Luckily, there are some technology companies that are trying to bridge the gap between keeping their people fully utilized and not making customers wait, like Qless.
If being late is one of your habits – best to break it now at the risk of insulting all your friends and business associates.
So, the point is to recognize the kind of message you send whenever you’re late and to remember that, if you don’t want to send the wrong message, remember to show how you value someone else’s time as much as you value your own by showing up on time.