The text flashed while I was sitting at the coffee shop. “I’m running a little late,” my coffee date said. She was already five minutes late, so that was not a surprise. “No worries,” I texted back. “How late will you be?” The text reply was “@45 minutes.”
Argh, that is really, really late. Late enough that if I waited, my day would be totally disrupted. So we rescheduled for several weeks out. And it was her loss because she was the one who wanted the meeting.
Each of us has dealt with the late person. Sure, it’s annoying, since no one wants to be left at the altar or the blueberry muffin counter. At the moment you realize your business “date” will be late you have two choices.
- You can let it ruin your day. You can be out of sorts, kick your metaphorical dog, and be mean to the person who is late, regardless of the excuse.
- You can sigh and use the time productively. Enjoy the latte you bought, check out the news, and catch up on those e‑mails you need to get to.
I recommend option two.
Most of us don’t plan to be late and don’t enjoy being late, but it happens. And when it does, the real question becomes, how late is late? Let’s start with this: being late is never a good thing. Almost always, for the one who is tardy, there is stress, a bursting bladder, and a dead cell phone. Being late is never fun for the offender.
In a day when business casual could mean shorts and flip-flops and when dogs hang around at the office, what does late mean? It means not on time. (According to some, not being fifteen minutes early is late.) Five minutes late is within a reasonable range and worthy of the good-effort grade. Fifteen minutes late is pushing it on the forgiveness scale. And anything after that is just rude and requires making a big apology and picking up the check. Thirty minutes late will have you wondering why you scheduled the meeting in the first place because it will probably not start out well.
Excuses and reasons why one is late sort of don’t matter. You are still late. Traffic is no longer a good excuse because there is always traffic. You need to bake that into plans and schedules. Good excuses do exist and usually involve blood or children.
Late means the same thing on both ends of the business equation, whether it is a lunch date or a job interview. A late interviewer is just as rude as a late job candidate. A late customer is just as rude as a late sales rep.
For the latecomers, here are some traps to avoid:
- Don’t overbook yourself. It will guarantee that you are always behind schedule and always late.
- Don’t be known as the one who is always late. It will brand you in a disorganized and not happy way.
- Don’t assume that travel will ever go as planned. It never does and you need to bake in lots of time for problems.
- Don’t arrange a meeting without the cell number of the person you are meeting. If there is a big issue you can contact your date.
Unlike many other rules in business that are morphing and changing, the late rule has not changed. Late is late.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, “better an hour too soon than a minute too late.”