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Always Late? Find Out Why

2. “I’m showing who’s in power”

It’s one thing to think, We’re good friends. If I’m a few minutes late it won’t matter. It’s quite another to think, She knows I’m busier than she is. It isn’t a big deal if she waits a few minutes for me to get there. People who use lateness to signify they are special or more powerful than those they keep waiting may not plan to show up late, but there’s often a quiet running commentary at the back of their mind suggesting that others will — and really should — wait for them.

I once coached an executive who was repeatedly late to meetings with the team working under her. It had come to the attention of her boss, who was unhappy about it. When I explored the reasons for the pattern, she admitted it was rarely the case that a true emergency prevented her from being on time. “Do you worry whether your team really accepts you as their leader?” I asked her.

She smiled. “It isn’t like any of them ever leave before I get there,” she said. Exactly. Waiting is a form of deference. And it can mean the late person wants — or needs — to be reminded she is superior and in control. It sounded to me like my client might be keeping people waiting for exactly this reason. “There are lots of ways you’ve proven yourself as a leader,” I told her. “Once you believe that yourself, you won’t need to keep testing people to see if you’ve proven it to them.”

If someone you care about is pulling rank by always running late, lead by sharing your own feelings in a supportive way. Remember, your friend or coworker or husband may not even realize that she or he is locked in a hurtful pattern. Here’s what you might say: “I’ve got to tell you, when you’re 20 minutes late — and it happens a fair amount — I start feeling like a second-class citizen. I doubt you want me to feel that way. Could we agree from now on to meet at a time that actually works for both of us?”

3. “I need to know I’m loved”

I once treated a client who was chronically late to appointments with me.

“I don’t think you’ve made it here on time more than twice out of a dozen visits,” I told him, finally. “Any reason you can think of?”

He shook his head. “I’ve always had trouble getting where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “My dad used to just take off without me whenever it happened.”

“When did it happen with your father?” I asked.

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