The Arrogance of Lateness


What are you telling people when you show up late?


Some friends were at loose ends on Christmas Day, so not wanting them to feel left out, we invited them to our house for Christmas Dinner. “What time should we come?” they asked.

“Around 12 would be good. We’ll be eating at 1pm.”

They showed up at 1:25.

Friends had visited them, they claimed, and they ‘couldn’t get away’.


The rest of us had already had our appetisers and the roast lamb was being carved as they walked through the door. I could have waited until they’d arrived before we started eating, but here’s my dilemma….


Should I sacrifice the quality of the food and make the majority of guests who had arrived on time wait on these two latecomers or should I do the ‘polite’ thing and wait until they arrived before serving any food?


I chose not to wait on them because I don’t think it’s appropriate to reward unacceptable behaviour. They could have informed their friends that they had a dinner engagement and needed to go. They didn’t. In choosing to stay with their friends, they sent an unmistakeable message to me. It’s the same message delivered loud and clear by every person who is late.


“I am more important than you. My time is more valuable than yours, therefore you should wait on me.” The arrogance is astonishing.


Of course there are times when events move beyond your control, but in order for it to be a valid excuse for lateness, the event needs to be very convincing. Earthquakes and tsunamis work. Traffic, other people holding you up or getting a flat tyre don’t.


People who are chronically late always seem to have excuses, sometimes they even sound valid. The truth is, if they wanted to be on time, they would find a way, even if it meant reorganising their life in order to accomplish it. If you’re chronically late, then reorganising your life and priorities is exactly what you should do, because the lateness thing is just not working for you.


Before you dismiss this as a minor issue, think about the last time someone made you wait. How did it make you feel? Annoyed, tense, worried that something had happened to them? Maybe even angry? While you were waiting, did you think about all the other things you could have been doing? Then of course, there’s the knock on effect. Because this one person was late, it’s thrown your own schedule out of whack.


If you’re a victim of the arrogance of lateness, don’t reward unacceptable behaviour. If someone shows up late, postpone or cancel their appointment. If a colleague fails to show up on time, go on without them.


And if you’re a perpetrator, by all means keep on being late if you don’t mind conveying the idea that you’re a far more important person than the person who is waiting on you, but don’t expect to do a lot of business with them.