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Why persistent latecomers are so annoying

CAREER COACH by Joyce Russell

Have you ever dropped everything to make sure you were early or on time for a meeting or appointment, only to be kept waiting by the other party?

I can understand people who might be tardy due to cultural differences in how they view time. But I'm referring to those people who agree to be at certain places at certain times, and then habitually show up late with no reasonable rationale; those folks who consistently are late and seem nonplussed by it.

Are those constant latecomers overscheduled? Is it intentional? Do they even care? Are they so wrapped up in their own self-worth and ego that they like making a grand entrance and believe that others can and should wait for them? Are they even aware of how much their lateness bothers others around them? Do they get so caught up in doing just one more thing that they lose sense of time? Do they just lack self-discipline and can't seem to leave what they are currently doing? These are the questions that people often raise when voicing their frustrations over those who are late.

I wonder if these people understand the perils of their lateness. Many view people who are habitually late as rude and inconsiderate. They will say the unpunctual are self-centered when it comes to their time and to other things in their lives, and that lateness reflects a lack of respect for the other person's time. People often avoid working with individuals who are chronically late to meetings, or slow to turn in projects and offer ideas. This is unfortunate because the consistently late person could be a fantastic contributor in terms of creative ideas and insights. But after showing up late enough times, they will simply not be asked to contribute or be involved.

How to handle such people? Here's some suggestions:

— First, let them know who you feel — how it reflects a lack of respect for your time and that you feel disrespected. Sometimes, just explaining this can help, especially if they value the relationship and just were not aware of the impact lateness was having on you and your feelings toward them.

— Try to get them to understand the root cause of their lateness. Is it that they tried to do one too many things? Do they even realise they are late and do they want to change?

— Give them earlier deadlines than needed to get them to arrive on time or turn their work on time.

— Let the latecomer know you will only wait a certain period of time before you leave. This gives you more control of the situation.

— Attend events on your own terms: buy your own tickets to events, drive there on your own, etc. Don't get stuck waiting for the late individual.

— Instead of reinforcing late behaviours by saying “Late again, what's new? You are always late,” try saying, “It's not like you to be late.” This might actually start to change the view they have of themself.

— Reward them for being on time instead of punishing them for being late.

— How do you handle a boss who is always late to meetings? Perhaps they believe they are the most important person in the room and everyone will wait until they get there to start. Someone close to the boss should point out that others, especially other higher-level managers, are stressed by this behaviour, and that it makes them look bad. This is very tricky, but at some point, someone has to tell the boss.

Share this article with someone in your life who is chronically late. Maybe it will start the conversation. And, if you are that person, remember how negatively most folks view lateness — they see it as selfish and a lack of respect for them and their time. Is that really what message you want to send? Probably not.

Joyce Russell is the senior associate dean of learning at the Robert H Smith School of Business and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Programme. She is a licensed industrial and organisational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussellrhsmith.umd.edu.

Late again: a tendency to be tardy can be interpreted as having a lack of respect for others

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Published September 22, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated September 21, 2015 at 7:16 pm)

Why persistent latecomers are so annoying

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