I’ve been pretty busy lately, so when a person I like asked to meet with me to discuss a project, I was tempted to say no. But, in a moment of weakness, I decided to rearrange some things on my calendar so that we could meet. He didn’t show up. Instead, he sent a message that simply said, “I’m sorry I missed our meeting.” Had he told me that he got sick or had to take his child to the emergency room, I would have understood his situation. But he had no reason.
I’m meticulous about not missing meetings. Someone once told me that ‘your calendar is a proxy for your priorities.’ If I commit to meeting you, I will be there. My philosophy is that if I show up for our meeting at the exact time, we were scheduled, I consider myself late. I always build in travel time for traffic delays or other situations that may arise.
On the rare occasion that I have to cancel a meeting, it is only because my boss has demanded my attention or there is an emergency. In that case, I call the person immediately to explain m situation.
I am equally cautious about not being late for meetings.
I’ve noticed that doctors are now imposing penalties on patients who fail to show up late (or not at all). They have a good reason. A study at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore reported that “When more patients are punctual, clinics are less likely to run over their allotted time for appointments.” Plus, doctors are busy. Their time is valuable.
So is yours. So is the person you are meeting.
What message is it sending if you don’t show up or cancel a meeting at the last minute? You are conveying that you are not the person’s priority.
There is no way around it; tardiness is rude.
A USA Today article reported that Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell gets to meetings a little early, and tries to make good use of that time. He says in the article, “I try to get to meetings a bit early so I can see what the mood of the team is and have an opportunity to interact informally before we get down to serious business.”
This means that you need to plan ahead. Once you develop an on-time habit, you will find that you appear more confident and less harried. You will look more professional to colleagues and signal your discipline and dependability.
Now, what if people chronically show up late for your meetings? My meetings with a group always start on time. Just because one person is late, doesn’t mean that I should impose on those who arrived on time. And when a person comes in late, I resist the temptation to summarise for their benefit. I also close the door when a meeting begins. It sends a signal to anyone who arrives late that you aren’t waiting for them. Later, I will take the person aside and offer them advice on how they can better plan their arrivals.
Here are some tips that I follow and have been helpful to others:
Plan for delays. If it normally takes you 30 minutes to drive to your appointment, plan for 45 minutes or longer during busy times.
Make sure you have the materials you will need for the meeting ahead of time. Grabbing things on your way out never works.
Does your phone or watch have a reminder feature? Set the alarm.
Never check your email before you leave. There will be minefields waiting to distract you.
And if you arrive early, have some extra work to do, or read a book.
Now, what if you have to cancel a meeting?
If you have a few days before the meeting, a simple phone call or email asking to reschedule is usually appropriate. An apology and a good reason are proper.
It is more of a problem if you ask to cancel the day before a meeting. People often plan their day around the meetings they have and the travel that will take them from one meeting to another. A last-minute cancellation will disrupt most schedules.
If you want to cancel a meeting on the day we are going to meet, you better have a life and death reason. Maybe you’re sick. Your flight got canceled. Your boss just demanded your attention. Know that the person you are canceling on will not be happy.
If it is an hour before we meet, you better be calling from a hospital.
And if the meeting involves more than one person, be prepared to grovel.
Keep in mind the quote from management guru, Peter Drucker, “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”