There’s a long-standing bit of etiquette that’s often overlooked today. I do understand why. Our schedules are jam-packed and our deadlines seem to multiply daily. We book meetings on the hour and if one happens to run a bit late, there’s a domino effect that throws off the rest of our day.
We start to neglect a key building block to trust and relationships with prospects and clients. We tell ourselves they’ll understand, that it happens to everyone, that a quick apology is all that’s needed. But that’s not true. Ignoring this simple act of respect quietly diminishes us and consistently loses us opportunities.
What is this one small act? What will allow you to practice it consistently?
We can all express our respect for, and interest in, another person by simply … being on time. Arriving and leaving on time tells others many things – that we are genuinely interested in them, we honour the relationship, we respect their time, we value the opportunity.
That’s a lot of trust-building and all that’s necessary is … being on time.
When we are not punctual, we create doubt and, in today’s hectic world, perhaps even a bit of anxiety. Think about your own experience of waiting for someone:
As the time for a meeting approaches, you finish up or put aside tasks you are working on, you prepare. And then, as you wait for the other person to arrive, you consider what you might do quickly. Should you try to finish that email? Or start reading that report? Or make that quick phone call?
And as even more time slides by, you begin to wonder. Did I give them the correct address? Is this the right meeting room? Or perhaps, if it is a virtual meeting, the correct link? Should you close this link and re-enter the meeting? Is this the right day or have you made an error in your calendar? Have they emailed or texted to cancel or say they will be late?
That’s a lot of distracted thinking and a lot of energy spent as well … all because someone is late. And similar thoughts and actions occur when a report, proposal or response to a request is delayed.
I’ll admit that my relationship with punctuality is not one to be emulated. My mother, a stalwart Catholic, was certain that being late was cause for time in purgatory and she instilled a great fear which influences me to this today. I’m fastidious about being on time, bordering on the obsessive really. If it’s an in-person meeting, I may arrive 20 or 30 minutes early and spend time in my car or at a nearby coffee shop catching up on email or reading reports. Even more ridiculous, when it’s a phone meeting, I will watch the second hand on a clock, so that I can dial the final number at exactly the right time. Sheesh!
So in our days overflowing with tasks and obligations…
What can we do to ensure we are on time?
Well, our smartphones come with bells, whistles and reminders of all kinds. If you need to be buzzed or beeped to be punctual, make that happen.
What’s even more effective is building extra time into every appointment instead of scheduling everything in a tight sequence. If you have a meeting that ends at 2 pm, leave time for last minute questions or comments as well as to gather your thoughts, stretch, grab water or coffee. Schedule the next meeting at 2:30 or even 2:45. There’s no rule that says meetings have to start on the hour or half-hour. Keep in mind that everyone else is busy too, and they will appreciate that you are not creating rush.
And when your schedule does get thrown off, speak up quickly. Whether by phone, email or text, let others know you are delayed. No excuse is needed; it happens to all of us from time to time.
Even though my actions around time lean towards the ridiculous, throughout my career being on time has been a first step towards building trust. Punctuality works; it’s incredibly powerful.