Posts Tagged ‘lateness’

Zen & the Art of Timeliness

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Shortly after I started this blog last year, as a result of my outrage about bad manners in the workplace (Leadership and Good Manners), I googled to see if there was anyone else out there thinking about manners and etiquette in business. It turns out there are lots of people, and one the articles I came upon was, No you are not ‘running late’ you are rude and stupid by high profile, straight-talking and eminently sensible Firebrand recruiter Greg Savage, on his beautifully named blog, The Savage Truth.

The article was posted on 7th June 2010, and to date has attracted an astonishing 107 comments, with very polarised views, and many of them astoundingly vitriolic.

Who would have thought that the subject of lateness would ignite passionate debate and uncover such heatedly conflicting responses?

Greg’s article is clever, honest and funny, and addresses the frustration I’m sure most of us have experienced when people are late for appointments and meetings, and worse, don’t even seem to think this is a problem. While there are all sorts of reasons for lateness (circumstances, psychology, culture, lack of time management skills etc), and all have us have been late from time to time, and should expect some degree of tolerance and understanding for this occasionally, an underlying attitude that being on time doesn’t matter is just wrong, because everything you do sends a clear message.

You are your brand. Everything you do, and everything about the way you present yourself, affects the way you are perceived.

Psychology* tells us that people are judging everything about us, all the time. And whether we like it or not, think it’s “fair” or not, the sooner we learn that everything sends a message, the more control over our lives we are going to have.

So what does lateness say about you? Some of the commenters (“commentators” doesn’t quite work here) on Greg’s blog say they think lateness should be respected as a personal behaviour style, some say lateness should be excused if you have children, and some say that lateness is cultural and should therefore not be “judged” (implied racism, I gather).

If you are chronically and/or unapologetically late, and you are trying to make it in the business world or the workplace generally, lateness will not be seen as a positive personal attribute. Lateness is insulting to the person who is waiting for you – it tells them you don’t think their time is as important as yours, and that you don’t respect them. Lateness is an indicator that you are a bad time manager and disorganised at a very basic incompetence level. Lateness tells people you are selfish, and maybe lazy or indolent (could you not get out of bed in time, like the rest of us?). Lateness says you are stressed and not in control. Lateness, in a cultural context (personal or otherwise) says you don’t fit into an organisational culture. In short, lateness is unprofessional.

None of this sounds great for your reputation or personal, not to mention corporate, brand! I’d say the sooner you “get it”, the better.

So if you are chronically late, how do you change it?

I’m an expert on this because I grew up in a family where chronic lateness was the norm, and I had to work really hard to overcome it in myself.

The first thing I realised was that I was much more relaxed when I was on time. The second thing I worked out was that you just have to get organised (in quite a small way really) and work out how long things will take. You need to work out a realistic (as opposed to hopeful!) estimation of how much time all the steps, like driving across the city, putting on your make-up, getting in the lift and to the coffee shop, are likely to take, then factor in reasonable time for the unforeseen like traffic jams or fractious kids. Thirdly, you have to realise that lateness is rude and selfish and that your word is your bond. If you say you are going to do something, try to do it, every time, and that includes turning up when you say you will. And lastly (for now), forgive yourself if you are SOMETIMES late, despite all your best efforts, and expect other people to forgive you too, SOMETIMES. All you can do is the best you can do, and now you have changed your ways, you should rarely be late.

Now, while this might just sound like fixing a problem for other people’s benefit, and a lot of hard work (and you’re a nice, casual, laid-back kinda person, right?) the amazing thing is that there are huge personal and professional benefits for you.

If people can depend on you, you will get respect. If you have respect, you will have more influence, and this will show up in every facet of your life, not least your professional life. If you are not always anxious because you are running late, or having to make excuses and being on the back foot all the time, you will be able to concentrate on the job at hand, and this means you’ll have more focus, time and energy for the real things that deserve your attention.

And from my own experience, an extraordinary thing happens: you start to get into a Zen-like love for perfect timing. Time takes on a water-like fluidness and serenity, and when this happens, you have a real sense of personal control and satisfaction. Who knew?

Lynette Jensen

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* This is a personal view and does not necessarily represent the opinion, belief or policy of the company. More posts below.

*Psychology is primarily a discipline that gathers statistics based on people’s behaviour and responses, and subsequently works out what’s “normal” culturally and personally, which is to say how people are and how they think and behave.