A client found it distressing as to why she is always late and wanted to know why. We all have known someone who keeps us waiting and shows up breathless, flustered and apologetic or expressing questionable remorse.
I have observed most chronic tardiness fall under 3 culprits.
1- Mental illness or medical problems
…ours or a family member’s. When people suffer from Anxiety, Depression or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), getting organized and being on time can be elusive. As soon as there is any kind of medical issue, our ability to remain organized becomes challenged because of the added stressors of recovery. When it falls in the mental illness category, we are further blocked by stigma, the ones we have and the ones we perceive from others.
If you suspect that someone is suffering from undiagnosed mental illness, providing a supportive shoulder while kindly outlining expectations is very appropriate. Depending on the nature of your relationship, you may be able to support them in going for an mental wellness evaluation, citing the chronic lateness as being something that may get resolved. Tread lightly here and consult with someone before entering into that conversation.
2- Poor self-esteem
Yep, poor self-esteem affects self-efficacy. Additionally, when someone feels responsible for everything, needing other people’s approval, they usually have poor boundaries and don’t say “no” enough. They have difficulty cutting conversations short and worry about coming off as disagreeable. This means they run late and say “yes” to too much. Because their to-do list is so very long, they end up short changing someone. Then they apologize. A lot. And apologize for apologizing.
An honest and respectful conversation is in order. If someone is time challenged because they admit to having difficulty saying no, show empathy and offer to help them prioritize when they are feeling overwhelmed. The greatest kindness you can do for such a person is to give them examples or models of good boundary setting and encourage them to just keep trying while pointing out when they get it right.
When someone is chronically late, ask yourself if they are late for things they deem extremely important. Are they late for work where there would be consequences? If they have to pay a late fee, do they get there on time? Do they keep everyone waiting, or just a select few?
It doesn’t matter if they kept you waiting to do volunteer work for the local Mother Theresa. Doing honorable work does not excuse them from treating you and your time disrespectfully. By their behaviour, they are declaring you are less valuable to them then other things and other people. This needs to be pointed out to them respectfully but firmly.
If you suspect arrogance, and it truly bothers you, you may have to set a consequence. Remember, consequences have to be under your control and you have to be willing to follow through. Otherwise, that is called an empty threat; not a consequence.
What if its all 3?
People can have an undiagnosed mental illness which they are denying. That causes other problems which increases self-doubt and insecurity. If we point out their tardiness, they may not currently have the skills or desire to tackle this habit and get defensive and angry if we try to open up a dialogue coming off as arrogant. Whenever we have a conflict like this, we must ask ourselves what the nature of our relationship is with them. If it is a family member, we would treat that differently than a subordinate, colleague or boss at work.
The bottom line is the only way to rectify any of these scenarios is through honest and respectful conversations with expectations clearly expressed.