Don’t Keep People Waiting

One of the ways I attempt to keep my own stress under control is to avoid, whenever possible, the bad habit of keeping other people waiting. Time is precious to everyone. I’ve observed that almost everyone feels that one of their most valued commodities is their time. This being the case, one of the ultimate slaps and most surefire ways to annoy some­ one is to keep them waiting. While most people are somewhat forgiving, keeping them waiting is a sign of disrespect and a lack of acknowledg­ ment. The subtle message is, “My time is more important than yours.” Consider the magnitude of this suggestion. Do you feel that anyone else’s time is more precious  than yours?  I doubt it. Doesn’t it make sense  then that everyone else feels the same way?

Deep down, we all know that no one likes to be kept waiting. Therefore, it’s highly stressful to keep other people waiting because you know you are disappointing someone. In the back of your mind, you know darn well the person is looking at his watch, wondering where you are and why you are late. You may be keeping him from personal or professional commitments and that could make him angry or   resentful.


There are obviously exceptions to the rule-times  when  factors beyond your control prevent you from being on time. Things happen to all of us, and no one has a perfect record. Truthfully, however, a vast majority of the time, being late is preventable. But instead of planning ahead, allowing a little extra time, or making allowances for   unexpected problems, we wait just a little too long, or don’t allow quite enough time-so we end up late. We then compound the problem by making excuses like “traffic was horrible,” when, in reality, traffic is virtually always horrible. The problem wasn’t traffic-but the fact that we didn’t factor enough time in our schedule for the traffic. It’s likely the case that, even if traffic was horrible, or you got off to a late start, or whatever the excuse, the other person isn’t going to be interested or impressed. It may not be fair, but sometimes your work and other positive traits will be over­ shadowed by the fact that you were  late.

I wouldn’t underestimate the negative impact of making someone wait. It drives some people crazy. And, even if they don’t express their frustration to you directly,  it can show up in other ways-not taking  you as seriously, avoiding you when possible, being disrespectful, choosing to spend their time with others instead of you, showing up late to your future appointments, as well as an assortment of other forms of retaliation.

Even if you were somehow able to discount the effects of your show­ing up late, it still creates an enormous amount of stress in your life in other ways. When you’re late, you’re scrambling. You’re in a hurry, behind schedule. It’s difficult to be present-moment-oriented because you’re concerned about whatever it is you’re running late for. Your mind is filled up with stressful thoughts like, “What might happen?” or “I’ve done it again.” Or you might be hard on yourself, wondering, “Why do I always have to run late?”

When you’re on time, however, you avoid all this stress and then some. They may not express it, but the people you work with will appre­ciate the fact that you’re not late. They won’t have any reason to be mad at you or to think you don’t respect their time. They won’t be talking behind your back, and you won’t get the reputation as the person who is always late. You’ll stop rushing and, because you won’t be so hurried, you’ll relax a little bit and have slightly more time to reflect.

Some of my very best ideas have come to mind between appoint­ments, when I’ve had a few minutes to be quiet, when I wasn’t in a hurry. I’ve thought up solutions to problems, as well as ideas for a book or a speech that was coming up. It’s clear to me that had I  been rushing around, running late, it’s likely the ideas would have been buried in the frazzle. I’ve met a number of people who confess that they used to keep people waiting-and who have seen their lives change for the better by implementing this very simple and courteous strategy. Perhaps it can help you as well.

Don’t sweat the small stuff at work – Copyright © 1998 Dr. Richard  Carlson
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