If you are one of those people who consistently arrive late for planned meetings, I have a request on behalf of your family, friends, and co-workers:
Stop it. Just stop.
I say this as someone who was once the chronically-late guy. I offered the same excuses that you probably use: “Sorry I’m running late…I’ve just got too many balls in the air” or “Traffic was terrible.”
Poppycock. I was late because I chose to be late.
There is no such thing as being “fashionably late.” A meeting is a promise. An agreement that obligates you to be in a specific place at a specific time to meet with specific people. And if you break that promise, you should expect that others will get upset. They should.
The Story that Changed Me
Most of the time, a good story brings about a change in me better than a list of rules or reprimands. It was a true story that killed my chronic lateness. Maybe it can help you as well.
The story was taken from from Constantin Stanislavski’s book, The Actor Prepares. Stanislavski was a famous Russian acting coach and director whose work greatly influenced actors such as Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud.
Doc Bell — one of my college professors — shared this story in an acting class:
I awoke much later than usual, rushed into my clothes and dashed to the theatre. As I went into the rehearsal room, where they were waiting for me, I was so embarrassed that instead of an apology I made this careless remark, “I seem to be a little late.” Rakhmanov, the Assistant Director, looked at me a long time reproachfully, and finally said:
“We have been sitting here waiting, our nerves on edge, angry, and ‘it seems I am a little late.’ We all came here full of enthusiasm for the work waiting to be done, and now, thanks to you, that mood has been destroyed. To arouse a desire to create is difficult; to kill that desire is extremely easy. If I interfere with my own work, it is my own affair, but what right have I to hold up the work of a whole group? The actor, no less than the soldier, must be subject to iron discipline.”
For this first offence Rakhmanov said he would limit himself to a reprimand, and not enter it on the written record kept of students, but that I must apologize immediately to all, and make it a rule in the future to appear at rehearsals a quarter of an hour before they begin. Even after my apology Rakhmanov was unwilling to go on, because he said the first rehearsal is an event in an artist’s life, and he should retain the best possible impression of it.
“What right have I to hold up the work of a whole group?”
That is the line that changed me. It had never occurred to me that being late for a rehearsal or any other meeting was a self-centered act.
And it is.
The truth is, those you leave waiting begin to draw conclusions about you. Unflattering conclusions.
They start to think that you’re selfish. Arrogant. Perhaps even narcissistic.
My guess is that you’re none of those things. Neither was I. But that doesn’t matter. Conclusions are drawn nonetheless.
When you leave us waiting, we conclude that you think your time is more valuable than ours. What else could we think? You’ve forced us — the ones who showed up on time — to kill time because we couldn’t start the meeting without you.
Does it occur to you that arriving late pushes back every other meeting we have for the rest of the day? In other words, your tardiness affects dozens of other people.
All of this is utterly avoidable. It can change immediately. All it takes is to make a conscious decision in advance to arrive early.
Thanks to Stanislavski, I’ve decided that I would rather inconvenience myself by arriving 15 minutes early than leave a friend or business associate waiting even one minute.
If I am leading a meeting or teaching a class, I begin promptly at the stated start time and wrap up at the agreed upon end time. If someone arrives late and asks a question related to material already covered, I’ll say, “We’ve already discussed that. You can speak to me afterwards about it.” It is only fair to those who arrived on time that I not waste their time rehashing old ground.
Promptness is a good career choice, too. I rarely entertain a promotion or a raise for someone who cannot arrive to team meetings on time. On the other hand, I always notice those who respect my time.
You can make a change and arrive a bit early. And everyone will love you for it. But if you elect not to then don’t be surprised if bitterness among your friends and coworkers begins to fester.
It’s your call.
“I have always been a quarter of an hour before my time, and it has made a man of me.” Lord Horatio Nelson
Questions: Has this struck a chord? Share your thoughts in the comments.