The dog escaped and you had to corral her back into the house before you could get on the road.
Argh! Road construction. Add another 10 minutes to the trip.
You spilled coffee on your pants -- now you'll need to swing by the office and change.
That colleague or client you were meeting at 9 a.m.? Yeah, that's not going to happen. Better call it in and beg for another few minutes. You've just had such a crap morning!
Of course, life happens. Sometimes it just seems like nothing's going to go your way, and it's completely unavoidable that you'll be late for an appointment, interview, or other engagement.
Here's the cold, hard truth, though -- whatever reasoning you have to explain why you kept that person waiting, that's exactly what happened. That person you were supposed to meet? She had to find a last-minute sitter after her daycare provider fell ill. Her train was running late and she had to run the last six blocks to get here.
You're not the only one life happens to.
When we're late and we keep people waiting, we might be sabotaging the entire relationship, especially if it's a new one. As author Alex Stone states in the New York Times essay "Why Waiting Is Torture," "Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year waiting in line. The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one's life is slipping away."
You probably wouldn't intentionally make someone feel that way (I hope). But here's what you're actually saying when you're "just" a minute or two late and keep someone waiting:
- My time is more important than yours. I'm very busy doing very important things, and you'll just have to bear with me.
- I don't care what you have going on. Whatever it is you could have been doing with your time, I assure you it wouldn't have been nearly as fulfilling as sitting here waiting on me.
- I'm kind of a victim. Things just happen to me! I can't control what's going on in my life, and I don't prepare for it, either.
- I'm more powerful than you. Keeping people waiting can be used to exert authority or power over others. Google's new CEO, Sundar Pichai, used to wait for hours outside Marissa Mayer's office when he reported to her.
- What we were meeting about isn't that important to me. I could take it or leave it, really. That job, or business deal, or discussion about your upcoming wedding -- not so much a priority for this cat.
You probably wouldn't actually say any of these things out loud to a potential employer, client, romantic interest, or anyone else in your life. Why would you imply it by keeping them waiting?
With all of that said, if you are going to be late, call (or email, text, send smoke signals, etc.) ahead and let the person know. Be honest about how late you will actually be and give that person the option of waiting or rescheduling -- even if that makes things a bit less convenient for you. Don't assume they're okay just "sitting tight" for an extra 20 minutes.
Life happens. We can't always control what happens to us, but we are completely in charge of how we react to it. Make sure that if circumstances dictate changes in your schedule, you're proactive and accommodating to those around you, especially those to whom you've already made a commitment.