Punctual or Tardy?

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“Better three hours too soon. Then a minute too late.”
-William Shakespeare

You’ve heard the phrase: “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

In many social and professional situations. this is true. Some of the most critical of these are job interviews and first dates.

We all know someone who is habitually late. When it’s our friend, we tend to joke about it, but we all make concessions to the fact that –

“Mary is always late.”

“We tell John something starts 30 minutes before it actually does, that way he is only a little late most of the time.”

“She’s just so busy; we make allowances.”

But don’t all of us don’t have busy lives?

You see there are consequences both to being punctual and to being habitually late. In business, tardiness can be suicidal. I know several human resources people who never hire someone who is late for an interview. Never.

Once you have the job, you automatically are thought of as ineffective or unprofessional by many if you are tardy. Coming in late to a meeting colors every word you utter afterwards. Walking in late is the first word on your contribution, you didn’t care enough to show up on time.

Being late for a business appointment can shut-off any chance for that big order or the new account.

You give away your power when you’re late. You lower others opinion of you and by association devalue your product, service, ideas or proposal.

What it comes down to is this: You can’t afford to be late. Not to the meeting, the game, the performance or even a date.

Yes, he or she might be THE ONE! But you were late, you show tremendous disrespect, you implied they weren’t worth the effort for you to be considerate of their time or make the same effort they put in to be prompt for you.

Now, time is relative. So let’s look at a few examples:

Let’s start here. You are 10 minutes late.

The obvious question is: Late for what?

  • A first date. You were meeting your date at a restaurant, at the bar in fact, for a pre-dinner cocktail. Almost universally, clock-watchers will tell you that you are not, in fact, late. Ten minutes in this situation is on time. If your first-time date is upset by your late arrival, dump them immediately, don’t even have the first cocktail.
  • A business meeting, where you are presenting to a new client. You are late, in some cases you might even lose your job over that 10 minutes. In this situation, you should have been early. How early depends on whether you are presenting in your offices or theirs. In yours, you could and should be set-up and ready to greet the client even if they are early. In their offices, it’s a bit tricky; you don’t wish to appear too eager. But being early, by say 15-20 minutes shows respect for their time and allows you to acclimate to the surroundings.
  • A performance with a hard and fast start time (theatre, symphony, etc.). They print the time on the tickets for a reason. Also, many such events do not seat you once the lights have gone down.

Clearly, we feel tardiness is a big no-no. Unfortunately, you or someone you know is stuck behind the clock 24/7, so to speak. Is there anything you can do about it?

Well, the obvious answer is yes. Get a good watch and show up on time!

However, significant studies have shown that habitual tardiness can have deep psychological roots.

Success scares some people, so they sabotage their path to succeed. The easy way out, don’t show up or show up late.

Another success avoidance strategy is to overbook your life. You then have a real reason for being late; you had two other meetings that morning, and they ran over. Of course, that doesn’t explain why you were late to the first meeting of the day.

There are also individuals who do not have a “timely grasp on life.” By that we mean, the clock does not mean the same thing to everyone. There are lots of jokes about how certain ethnic groups deal with time. The historical facts show us that clock-watching is a relatively new part of social life. In fact, many cultures that have embraced the punctuality of business life do not transfer that rigidity to social and family situations.

Bottom line, if you wish to succeed in different professional and social situations; you must know the culture around time. Business situations are simple – Be Punctual! Socially, I personally opt for a more casual attitude towards the sands of time, just be sure others in your social group feel the same.

“I must govern the clock,
Not be governed by it.”
-Golda Meir


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