I know. You’re so busy you can’t breathe. Your calendar is crammed with back-to-back meetings. Your task list is so long it takes you 15 minutes to just read the darn thing. And when you scan ahead, hoping to spot an empty moment in the future where you’ll get a chance to relax just a little bit, your hopes are dashed. There’s no relief in sight.
Even reading this, you can feel your shoulders tense and your jaw clench. Your insane schedule stresses you out and drags you down.
I know, because there are days when I’m there too. When those days happen for me, I can’t always keep up. I miss deadlines, forget tasks, and arrive late for meetings. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I’m overbooked and it happens.
I know I’m not alone in this because, in the past several years, multiple studies have shown that people working in U.S. companies frequently arrive late to meetings. That’s not, I think, a discovery any of would find surprising.
What is surprising, however, is that despite how common it is to be late, people aren’t rolling with it. We don’t simply sigh and think, “Ah, well, that’s the way it is these days.”
When you show up late, the people waiting for you are not happy. Not happy at all.
Dr. Joseph Allen, Professor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology at the University of Utah and one of the researchers who looked at the impact of lateness in meetings, said they were surprised by just how much anger they saw in the study results.
“When we asked people what they thought should happen to people who came late, we were shocked to see how violent the answers were. Many respondents said they wanted to see latecomers physically punished- like, punched in the face. What’s more: that feeling often lasted for more than a day after the meeting.”
In case you thought it was no big deal to waltz in to meetings whenever you get around to it, now you know. Whenever possible, try to get to meetings on time.
But what if you can’t make it on time? The studies found these three factors reduced the negative impacts of meeting lateness.
1. If you’re going to be late, don’t be too late.
What counts as too late? The rules here are unspoken and depend on the culture. In the U.S. where these studies took place, the line between acceptable lateness and maddening lateness seems to be five minutes.
People were less impacted and more forgiving of people arriving five or fewer minutes late. When you arrive ten or more minutes late, though, tempers flare.
Any time you’re late, you’ve made other people wait for you, which is disrespectful of their time. It’s rude. In case you didn’t learn this one in grade school, any time you’re rude to someone else it’s important to apologize.
I know I don’t need to tell you this, but the researchers found a surprising number of people who must have skipped the manners lessons at school because they came late and never once apologized to the group.
3. Explain why it wasn’t your fault.
Finally, when you apologize, don’t say that you simply lost track of time or forgot when the meeting started.
Paying attention to when you’re supposed to show up is entirely within your control. The studies found that when a group hears that the late person couldn’t be bothered to pay attention, that didn’t make them any less angry. Sometimes, it made it worse.
On the other hand, when someone who was late explained that they’d been detained for reasons beyond their control-a crazy accident on the highway, an emergency with a client, a call from a sick child-the group was more willing to forgive and move on.
So, if you’re late for reasons beyond your control, offer a sincere apology and share that reason with the group so they can all let go of the frustration that’s been building up. Alternatively, if you’re late for lousy reasons that are all your fault, stick with a heartfelt apology and keep the lame reason for your tardiness to yourself.
The main takeaway here is this: don’t be late for meetings. Yes, it’s common. Yes, your boss or your client might do it, and your peers might too.
But common does not mean acceptable, polite, or a good idea. Despite rampant meeting tardiness, arriving late to meetings still makes people really angry-like, punch you in the face angry-and that’s just no good for you, your team, or your business.
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