Running Late: How to Maintain Your Composure

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    clock faceIt can happen to anyone. You’re running late because you took one more call before you left for your meeting. Now traffic is heavy. The parking lot is full. The elevator stops on each floor. All these little things add up to one fact: you are going to be late. Here are three true stories of lateness, including my own confession, some thoughts on how it can sabotage you, and how to deal with lateness more gracefully.

    Scenario One: the late instructor

    It is a class I take every week at the same time. When my classmates and I arrive the room is usually dark, the chairs are all stacked in the back of the room, and there is no one there to meet us. We know the instructor is working with other clients, but she is not there with us. Five minutes after starting time, she rushes in with a “sorry, folks” and proceeds to log into the computer and find the files she wants to use.

    Result: Wasted time and a sense that she doesn’t really care about our experience.

    The Solution: As a meeting leader, facilitator or trainer, it always pays to get there early, turn on the lights, set up the chairs and log in. If you can’t be there early to set up, ask someone to do it for you, and you can return the favor before their classes. Leave a welcome message on the whiteboard, perhaps with a discussion question or assignment you want early birds to work on. Then go to your meeting or meet with your other clients if needed.

    Result: Arrivals feel welcomed, and you can arrive with less stress.

    Scenario Two: the phone conference

    Here we were—one boss, two consultants, and one employee, noticeably absent, who was to have led a conference call with his boss to discuss an issue he was working on. When he came onto the call a few minutes later, it was with a very flustered apology and a weak beginning to his leadership of the call. He clearly didn’t have the agenda in front of him, and had trouble leading the meeting with ease and grace.

    The result: A negative first impression and the flustered feeling he experience flavored the entire phone conversation. He felt frustrated instead of empowered.

    The solution: According to one of my most trusted colleagues, there is a more positive approach. “No apologies, no excuses” is her mantra, and she says do whatever it takes to avoid apologies or excuses. In this case a simple “Thank you for your patience” would have sufficed to acknowledge the situation without dwelling on the reasons (AKA excuses) for it. If more information was needed, such as when presenting to a boss or a client, the addition of “I was helping a client” or “resolving an issue that just came up” would probably be an acceptable explanation for the lateness.

    Scenario Two: your author

    There I was, in the car on my way to a half-day workshop. I had started out on time, but traffic was crawling for ten of the twenty miles I needed to cover in order to get to my site on time. I soon realized I was cutting it really close, so I grabbed my phone to let the client know I was on the way. Bad news! Her phone number wasn’t on my phone; it was safely tucked away in my bag, in the trunk.

    The result: I flew in the door only minutes before my session was to have started. Lucky for me, my clients are so gracious and professional, they swooped in to help me set up, and we started the class on time. But I know I caused them concern about where I was, and that didn’t feel good. With a trusted client you might get by with that, once. With a new client, you might not get a second chance.

    The solution: I could have avoided anxiety on my part, and on the client’s, by being able to make that call. Always carry the contact information, directions, etc. on your person, and on your phone. Being in my carry bag in the trunk didn’t help in this situation. I could also have called another person to check in with the client for me, or pulled over and sent a text message (if I had the phone number) or a quick email. Better yet, you can avoid many of these near-misses by starting out even earlier. Depending on where you live and where you need to be, I would add at least 30 minutes leeway. Better early and calm than late and frazzled.

    Next time you have an important meeting, on the phone or in person, don’t be late! And if you are, take a cleansing breath, stay calm and remain focused.

    Do you have any additional tips to share that may help others remain calm and composed when running late?

    Author Gail Zack Anderson, founder of Applause, Inc. is a Twin Cities-based consultant who provides coaching and workshops for effective presentations, facilitation skills for trainers and subject matter experts, and positive communication skills for everyone. She can be reached at

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