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Timing and Respect for People

I had it dinned into me as a child that civilized people only call between 9 am and 9 pm. I am still like that, waiting patiently until I can call someone at the appropriate time. It is almost like a taboo or a superstition. Bad things would happen if I messed up on this custom.

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My children have even adopted this practice even though two of them work nights. When they call me, they make sure to tease me by opening with, “Did you know that only civilized people call between 9 am and 9 pm?” They all know that violating this rule means that I would worry if someone had died or if there were a catastrophe of some sort. Although they treat this rule lightheartedly, they really know that it is really about respect for other people and their time.    

The 9-to-9 rule does take a beating with international calls, but there is an understanding that the timing may be inconvenient but doable on an exception basis and with many thanks for the inconvenience. Respecting others’ efforts to be on time becomes important.

If this 9-to-9 rule is so important, why do we constantly violate the rule with our emails? I am terrible with this as well, answering emails at any time of the day. Maybe people don’t worry, knowing that they can respond when they are ready, but it still shows a lack of respect for people’s time off. Dealing with people in different time zones makes this particularly difficult. The 9-to-9 rule does take a beating with international calls, but there is an understanding that the timing may be inconvenient but doable on an exception basis and with many thanks for the inconvenience. Respecting others’ efforts to be on time becomes important.

I guess that I, along with many of my generation and culture, am almost neurotic about being on time. I am almost always early, afraid that something will make me late. It is a sickness, I know – laughable really.

So, this is the most recent neurotic near-late event. We, two of my adult sons and I, planned an outing to celebrate the first day that we could go in-person to a restaurant. A little old school, I still have a landline, preferring my laptop to charging a cell phone as well. Yes, I know, I have to fix that and join the modern age. Anyway….

My middle lad, three quarters of an hour before we were to meet, texts his sister to ask if I had already left. As she is the only one in our household to have a cell phone, she dutifully bounced into the living room to say that her brother had asked if I had left yet. 

“Mum are you still in the building?” she said. “Yes, why?” I said. Her response was, “Oh, the brothers were wondering if you were going to go all Boomer and arrive early.” A little sheepish I responded, “Tell them that I am leaving in five to ten minutes.”

So uptight, right?  Do I stress myself out needlessly about being late? In part.  Being on time for me is obsessive, of course, but it has a lot to do with respect. It is not pleasant to wait for someone. I am embarrassed about wasting people’s time. So, I tend to arrive early so that others don’t have to wait and wonder when I will show up.

In the Western business world learning to be on time is a necessary rite of passage. I even remember one of my early bosses had a piggy bank on his desk. He used to say, “When you are late, you are disrespecting the rest of the team. Put a looney in the bank. It goes to coffee for the team, as a sorry.” Also, have you ever noticed that many people make sure to log into Zoom at exactly the start time and that others take care to log in no later than five minutes? This is also in respect of people’s time.

With the digital world and the current Pandemic, we are all gaining the understanding that people are human, stuff happens, and timing is not quite as precise for others.

But what about looking at the other side of things? If you arrive too early, are you inconveniencing others or messing with their preparation time? Do you leave others feeling embarrassed or confused? What about people whose culture is not as fixed on time and being on time. How do I respect them and the way that they approach time? What are some alternatives? For webinars, we automatically build in time for people to arrive. There are already five to ten minutes where we wait for others. With the digital world and the current Pandemic, we are all gaining the understanding that people are human, stuff happens, and timing is not quite as precise for others.

Am I the timekeeper, the self-righteous preserver of the right time to arrive? Not exactly. I was horrified one time. I had a meeting that started at 10:30, but somehow, I had it in my head that it started at 11:00. I waited patiently and logged in at 10:50 to make sure that I had plenty of time to set up. Once I had done that, I realized that, in fact, I was twenty minutes late. Wow, my heart sank. Did I ever apologize, feeling that I had lost a business colleague due to my rudeness.  I received such a gracious response. My colleague merely said, “I wasn’t worried, I just did some other things while waiting. No problem. Let’s get started. I have time to extend the meeting if we need to.” What is the moral of this story?  To have a respect for people, it means give a little and get a little time in return. We are all human and time is relative, but respect is for always.

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Audio synthesis courtesy of © designplex.ca