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On-Time, or Not

By Andy Warren,

Today we have a guest editorial from Andy Warren as Steve is on vacation.

I’ve found people fall into one of two camps; those that are on-time for appointments and those that aren’t. Or perhaps said more accurately, those that believe being on-time is important and those that see it as the beginning of a window of arrival that closes when they arrive. Logically it seems like the whole point of setting a time is to actually meet at that time – thus why we all tend to rant about waiting on the doctor and the cable guy. If only it were that simple!

I learned about being on time in the military. Rather than some complex set of inferred rules about which appointments matter and which don’t, they treat all appointments like they all matter – because sometimes it really matters, and the best way to get that behavior is to make it the standard.  Being late in the military is a good way to get the immediate and undivided attention of a leader and not in a pleasant way. For better or worse, that’s part of me now. When I say let’s meet at 10:15, that’s what I mean. You show up at 10:16, or 10:17, or 10:18, that’s fine. 10:20? I’m mildly annoyed? 10:30? Really annoyed, and so on. If that seems unreasonable (you late arrivers!), you can at least see how and why it grates on me a little!

It took me a while to understand that not everyone sees it that way. I have more than one friend that will show up 15-20 minutes late every single time we have lunch. I think it’s more about time management and not so much about caring about being late, but the net is the same – they are late. Some are apologetic, some not. It’s who they are and I adjust to that. I either order at the scheduled time or plan a longer lunch.

It took me a while as a person and a manager – a long while – to figure that out. There were places I could flex and hurt nothing (when someone got to the office, lunch with a friend) and places where I wasn’t going to flex (the start of our weekly meeting). If I had to wait a few minutes on someone, it was usually OK because I would always bring something to read or work on, but it wasn’t OK to keep a group waiting.

If you have a looser definition of on-time than I do, all of the above might strike you as pretty uptight. I get it. I’m not saying you have to change. This is just another piece of the puzzle when dealing with people. Whether you agree with that view or not, you have options; you can arrive on time, give a reasonable window for arrival, arrive not quite as late as usual, or not worry about it at all and accept whatever consequences that might arise from it in the worst case. And obviously the reverse applies to those of us that put more value on being on time.

While writing this, I was thinking about my friend, Don Gabor, teaching me about adapting to the conversational styles of other people. It’s hard enough to just carry on my side of the talk; it felt three times as hard to try to map what I wanted to say into the style that the other person found most comfortable. Why go to the extra effort? I’m probably badly paraphrasing his response, but it was along the lines of “it increases the chances you’ll communicate effectively”.  It always takes more effort to meet someone halfway, but it’s often well worth the effort, whether it’s conversation style, code commenting, or being on-time.

 
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