June 19, 2012
You're sitting at a restaurant waiting for a friend. Twenty minutes after your designated meeting time, they arrive in a flutter with a list of excuses. Perhaps there was too much traffic or a meeting ran long. You've heard it a million times, yet their behavior never changes. Sound familiar?
"I think everyone has a person in their life that does this," said Herb Reich, author of the book "2051 Things That Really Piss Me Off." "Being late constantly, to me, means you are saying your time is more valuable than mine. My doctor, who has a $60,000 watch, doesn't know I've been waiting in the lobby for 20 minutes."
Reich said while it's easier to forgive friends and family for their lateness, we need to establish very clear boundaries for being on time when it comes to professional relationships.
"Sometimes I will establish consequences in the contract," he said. "It's always wise to let people know what you feel about their behavior. If they reject it, they reject it, but at least you're telling the truth and how you feel."
And while Reich said lateness is a "personality trait," psychologist Pamela Brand said the behavior is neurological.
"We call this a bio-psycho-socio pattern," Brand said.
The biological cause of lateness, she said, is when the person's organization and planning skills are underdeveloped. Socially, she said there can be learned behaviors or cultural communities that don't focus on time or being prompt.
"If someone wasn't raised ever looking at a watch, and things were kind of loose growing up, just knowing this can help us understand why they function a certain way," she said.
The psychological part of the pattern is when a person condones or rationalizes their behavior with excuses, Brand said.
So can people change their tardy ways?
"It's my belief that all patterns can be changed if a person is conscious and wants it to be changed," Brand said. "There's a book called 'You Are Not Your Brain' that I refer to often that outlines a four-step process of changing patterns in the brain. It does a wonderful job of giving a clear explanation of how patterns develop, how they are hard wired into the brain and how to shift patterns to support neurological shifting.
"You can learn how to focus attention on the desired state," she said. "We need to retrain our brain to have the desire to be on time."
Brand said it's typical to have growing pains in the beginning stages of rewiring your brain, but that it's important not to get discouraged if things don't get better immediately.
"This could take six months for a neurological change to stick," she said.
To lend support for someone who is trying to be more punctual, Brand said it helps to raise the stakes.
"A person is much less likely to be motivated if there are no consequences," Brand said. "If there is no threat to losing a relationship, losing a job or getting kicked out of school, things will stay the same. So if (being late) bothers you, you have to really make the contract clear."
"Once, I was waiting for someone in my professional life, and after 15 minutes, I left," he said. "I explained why I did this, and that changed their behavior. My time is just as valuable as theirs and I don't want to sit around. They weren't late after that."
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