[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Do you get annoyed at people showing up late? That they don’t respect you by wasting your time showing up late, when you respected them for showing up on time?
I used to fume at people showing up late. Fume!
Then I tested a strategy that works so well, I never again had a problem with people showing up late.
If I hadn’t tried it I never would have believed it. For that matter, I would have fought against it. In fact, I expect the more angry someone gets at people for lateness, the more they will resist this model and strategy, yet the more it would help them. I don’t remember how I came up with it because it ran so counter to my judgmental perspective, which underscores its value, both in its goal and in revealing the value of flexibility in beliefs.
A model to get people to show up on time: everybody gets fifteen minutes
My rule for myself is that everybody gets fifteen minutes and I don’t mind.
If someone shows up fourteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds late, I act as if they showed up on time, no questions asked, no explanation necessary.
Does it sound counterproductive?
Before I tried it I would have opposed trying something like it tooth and nail. Wouldn’t it create more problems, not solve them? If people realized I wouldn’t punish them for showing up fifteen minutes late, I was sure they would learn they could show up twenty minutes late. A half-hour! I had to punish them to change their disrespectful behavior!
To my surprise that never happened. As best I can tell, people continue to show up with the same distribution of lateness and earliness as before.
I don’t consider them late, so I stay calmer, we don’t get into fights, we enjoy our time together more, and we spend our time doing whatever we planned to do instead of talking about time.
People now sometimes fall over themselves apologizing when they arrive more than ten minutes late. My graciousness in having no problem with it and getting on to our business often somehow leads them to apologize more and feel they owe me. Fine with me if they do. They’ve bought me lots of beers that way.
By the way, if they show up later than fifteen minutes late I often still don’t mind.
I also feel liberated in two ways. At fifteen minutes, if I don’t feel like waiting and have other things to do, I leave with no worries. I expect the same generosity with their time that I gave with my time, so when we get in touch after, I calmly say I waited fifteen minutes and left. My calmness leads them to respond calmly too, and we move on to rescheduling.
The other liberation is that, while I try to arrive on time, I also give myself fifteen minutes too. If I show up twelve minutes late and someone gets mad at me, I point out my policy (publicly posted two years ago on this site) and that I followed the Golden Rule.
I can’t tell you the liberation from anger, self-righteousness, and judgment Everybody Gets Fifteen Minutes has brought me.
Another thing. While I wait, I rarely try to optimize my time texting, emailing, or whatever, as if my time is so valuable any waste is a disaster. If I have something to do, I’ll do it, but if not, I’ll just sit there watching the world go by, often singing this song to myself
Listening to this song writing this post just puts me in a good mood, like I don’t have a problem in the world.
Seriously, can you think of anything you’d rather do than enjoy listening to the Rolling Stones sing a great song? If whoever you’re waiting for shows up in the meantime to do whatever you planned, all the better!
Now say someone routinely shows up more than fifteen minutes late. What do I do? Then I change how I meet that person. I’ll tend not to schedule things where their timeliness matters, like instead of going to movies with them, I’ll only invite them to join group events where if they show up late the rest of us are still having fun. Or I’ll decrease the time I spend with them.
Or I’ll arrange to meet at my place or at my work. If we’re meeting at my place, I almost don’t care how late someone shows up. I have so many things I could do, I’ve come to see their lateness more like a gift. I get stuff done instead of spending time with someone busy with other things.
When I use this belief
I use this beliefs when someone after our scheduled time, including myself.
What these beliefs replace
These beliefs replaces my anger at them showing up late with graciousness. It replaces starting meetings angry and defensive with starting them doing what we wanted to do. It replaces my fuming with calmness.
Where this belief leads
This belief leads to you feeling like nobody ever shows up late anymore. You realize the value of changing yourself when you can’t change the world. You realize how much better relationships go when you don’t try to control other people.
It leads you to realize much struggling against things you can’t change creates stress and learning to accept and celebrate them makes life fun and enjoyable.
EDIT: while finishing editing this post on a Friday evening, I got a text that someone was going to have to be about an hour later than planned. Before Everybody Gets Fifteen Minutes I’d get annoyed. Now it means two things: I have time to start writing another post and I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a bottle of wine out of it. People don’t like being late and when I don’t punish them they find ways to make it up themselves.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book