If you’ve ever stood (or sat) around waiting for somebody who is late, you will understand how frustrating and downright awkward this can be, especially when they either don’t warn you that they’re going to be late or they have a habit of being late on the regular. Equally, if you are typically late and have received flack for it, you may struggle to understand what the problem is. From your end of things, you might feel that there are genuine reasons for your lateness or that people make an unnecessarily big deal out of it.

A friend of mine was recently kept waiting for four hours. Yes, you did read that correctly. Four feckin hours. That is far beyond the bounds of acceptability. My first thought was, What’s so special about this guy that you’d circle around Victoria station for a few hours while he hung out in the pub with his mates?

We know when we’re going to be fifteen minutes late. Someone who is four hours late knew this sometime between one and two hundred and forty minutes before they decided that they would bother to show up.

The way that you feel about and deal with timekeeping is really a matter of values. Namely your personal (core) values, the ones that speak for your character.

Sure, there will be people who will argue up and down about how culture has its part to play in the acceptability of lateness. We can all, however, think of generalisations that are made about cultures and races that are not actually true of the people we encounter from these.

It’s not that things don’t happen and that none of us can ever be late, but how we typically treat time does say a lot about how much we respect other people’s time as well as our own.

People who don’t really care about keeping people waiting or disrupting their schedules have an over-inflated sense of their own importance. When did common courtesy die a death? In an age where you could almost say that we’re over-connected, how the hell can a person fail to notify us that they’re going to be late when we have mobile phones, texts, email, Facebook, WhatsApp, IM, Skype, Twitter, Instagram, and the list goes on?

We’ve got to quit with this bullsh*t, super busy malarkey. Habitual lateness (super late people) is just an extension of this whole carrying on as if we’re busier than a world leader. No, we’re not!

When we don’t respect and value our own time (boundaries), we over-promise ourselves in the name of pleasing and fear of saying no. We wind up malnourished in the self-care department. We also don’t acknowledge that our concept of how long it’s going to take to do something or get somewhere is inaccurate.

Habitually late people have an element of passive aggression in there, and some will have people pleasing in there too. Most habitual passive aggressives will not own up to their behaviour because they have a carefully constructed framework of truth that they feel legitimises their habits.

Let’s, though, think about what the habitually late do:

  • They tell you what they think you want to hear.
  • They don’t know how to own their behaviour, either because they like the image of themselves being punctual (even if intentions don’t materialise into actions) or because they’re afraid of conflict.
  • When people do express their rightful annoyance at their timekeeping, some see it as green-lighting their concerns about honesty. e.g. See! This is why I didn’t say anything. Look at how they’re reacting.
  • Some agree on the time and then show at the time that they always intended to.
  • Some are very dismissive of any concerns. The stories I hear of name-calling, mocking, and arguments related to calling out people on tardiness are unreal! “Uptight” seems to be a favourite.
  • When someone flags their tardiness, they make temporary amendments and then slide back into old habits.

There’s also one other particular reason for lateness that has a significant part to play: People pleasers are often unwittingly transactional and as such, on some level, believe that they’re building up credit.

Even if a habitually late person (who is also engaging in people pleasing in some other aspect of their life) recognises that they’re out of order for being late, on some level they rationalise that because they do [whatever the pleasing is] this gives them credits to be late. They might reason, for instance, that they do a lot of good deeds. Sure, that’s great, but that doesn’t mean that people should pay for that with their lateness. Also, the pleaser may not be acknowledging that there’s underlying resentment about some of their pleasing and overgiving that manifests in their tardiness.

Habits are based on associations that become cues and triggers for us to think, feel and act.

Whether we’re super punctual, on time, or habitually tardy, if we trace our way back, there are specific reasons and associations that we have.

Some people remember how awful it felt to watch others keep people waiting or to be the person who was kept waiting. For example, my father would sometimes show up days late. And some people discovered that they can control others with their timekeeping. It’s a form of rebellion that lets them play out the resentment they’re masking. This means that a habit may have been formed to get back at someone else in their past and then it became their default. They haven’t realised how it’s not working for them when they, for instance, keep pushing the boundaries with the time they show up at work.

Some people observed other tardy folk and it became learned behaviour. It might even have become a coping mechanism for dealing with an environment with little or no time boundaries. Some people actually like this idea of being the Last One To Show Up.

Whether we stress about being late or being kept waiting, or we’re not that fussed about being punctual or about who we keep waiting, some of the clues to why are in our past. It’s our emotional baggage. We may not be differentiating between it and the present.

What we do or we don’t accept in terms of our own timekeeping and that of others is personal. So what’s OK for one person or a particular relationship isn’t going to work for another.

Late person + Late person = similar wavelengths
Punctual + Late person = problems

When it’s only our own time we’re messing with, we’re free to do with it what we want, although we’re not free of the consequences of not taking care of our time.

If you’re a very punctual person, this habit is handy. It can, however, also be a source of stress if you keep trying to make habitually late people change or you keep showing up on time for the late person. It becomes a passive-aggressive power struggle that can really shake your confidence and stoke resentment. Halt.

We have a few friends and relatives who must have been born late. We either tell them that it starts earlier than it does or we don’t make any arrangements that are dependent on them.

If you’re habitually late, try to consider other people’s positions (empathy) as well as the commitments that you’re making.

Get familiar with your habits and acknowledge any passive aggression lurking beneath, no matter how small.

Be more realistic with your time and give as much notice as possible so that people have a chance to adjust their schedule. Or, yes, reschedule yourself. Only say yes to what you can stick to.

If you find that you’re very stressed by your own timekeeping due to fear of being late or you want to unearth clues to your tardiness, get a piece of paper or journal and list any memories of you (or others) being late. Or maybe it was feeling controlled by someone else’s schedule or feeling that you were in control of a person via your timekeeping. These are the associations driving your habits. Examine any that hold an emotional charge for you (strong positive or negative reaction) so that you can evolve beyond the past. These old habits can cause you to act, think and feel small. You can explore your relationship with timekeeping in more depth with my free audio series, The Emotional Baggage Sessions.

Of course, tardiness is annoying to be on the receiving end of, and it can feel very personal. Still, if we recognise that it’s their habit, not a missile created for and aimed at us, we can find ways to protect ourselves from being significantly inconvenienced.

Your thoughts?

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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Super Late - How we treat time says a lot about how much we respect other people's time - Natalie Lue - Baggage Reclaim
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