“I’ve been meaning to ask you something for a while, but I keep forgetting,” was how opened the conversation.
“Fire away,” I urged him.
“Do you still have any of those little cards you had printed up that you gave to people who were late for business meetings, lunches or dinners with you?” he asked.
“No,” I responded, “I ran out of them years ago.”
“Why didn’t you have more printed up,” Paddy inquired.
“I ran out just before I retired,” I explained, “and as I never handed them out on social occasions anyway I didn’t see any point in having more printed.”
“Do you remember what was on them?” was his next question.
“Of course,” I assured him.
“Well,” Paddy urged, “lay it on me. As I recall there were five or six admonitions.”
“Six,” I confirmed, “and ‘admonitions’ is a good word, Paddy. An admonition is actually a friendly rebuke, but some people took them as insults.”
“ And knowing how annoyed you got back then when people were late, that probably didn’t bother you too much,” Paddy said.
I didn’t respond so he then asked, “Didn’t you often just get up and leave if people were very late?”
“If it was just me and the person who was late for dinner or lunch, I’d wait twenty minutes and then leave,” I admitted.
“What about a meeting?” he asked.
“Same rule,” I said, “if it was just one person I was meeting with, and that person was twenty or more minutes late showing up I wouldn’t see them.”
“Did it ever cost you a client?” Paddy reasonable asked.
“Not that I cared about,” I said.
“What if they called and said they’d be late,” he asked.
“That was fine,” I replied, “the meeting, or whatever, would be on. But, depending on their excuse, they might still get a card.”
“Well,” observed Paddy, “at least you weren’t always a complete jerk. But, tell me about the card”
“It was a 3 x 5 filing card that, as you put it, admonished the person to ‘think for a moment about the signals that you send by being late without a good reason.’ It went on to list the signals.”
“And they were?” Paddy prodded.
“The card said that by being late you were telling people that
- You are more important than they are
- The things you have to do are more important than the things they have to do
- You’re not very well organized
- You’re irresponsible
- You’re insensitive to their feelings
- All of the above”
“That’s pretty tough talk,” Paddy opined. “Do you really believe all that?”
“Not about someone who is unavoidably late,” I admitted, “but I do for people who are chronically late. Being chronically late is an insult to everyone else involved.”
As Paddy got up to leave he mockingly said, “Well, I guess I better not be late for any of these get-togethers.”
“If you are,” I said, “remember that when people are kept waiting they will usually be less pleasant to deal with, if for no other reason than they probably filled their waiting time reviewing all the faults of whoever keep them waiting.”
Paddy muttered something in rebuttal but I couldn’t make out what it was. But I think it ended with the word “you.”