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I Said Ish, Not At!

“OMG, Bill, you’re late. Again! The movie already started.”

The room was still as people turned to see what the upset was about. The accusation stopped everyone cold for a moment. You could almost see the gears in Bill's head grind as he looked for a defense.

Whether it’s arriving in person or returning a phone call, email, or text, it’s hard not to be annoyed when someone doesn't appear when they said they would.

The person waiting is kept from something else they might have done if they weren’t anticipating your contact. Instead of the pleasure of speaking with you, they’re experiencing the tension that comes from being in an unsettled state and unsure of what to do.

Minds start rolling with typical questions of concern and then turn to anger as time progresses. Are they not going to show up? Could I have the time wrong? Has there been an accident? Should I wait or leave? How rude of them not to be here? Do they think I have nothing better to do? I feel dismissed and disregarded. And so the tone for your time together is set.

Life happens. Interruptions do just that, cars break, public transit is not precise, clothing needs changing, and even the most carefully planned preparation time can balloon into inaccuracy.

“Cripes! I’m not late, Steve. It's only 3:05! I’ve actually made great time getting here. Calm down. I said 3ish, not that I’d be here at 3,” Bill was irritated, too. “Plus, the movie didn’t start; the previews only just started.”

We expect people to show up when they say they will. On the other hand, people arrive when they expected they would, too. (Reread these two sentences. It’s essential.)

Expect is the keyword in many disagreements about time and almost anything else people conflict over. Combine the idea of expectation with when they said they would, and you have a recipe for discord.

Family and cultural traditions influence our attitudes and behaviors.

We also have preconceived ideas that define how we speak about time and how we define reliability. These powerful histories and individualized rules influence our actions and responses, yet we’re often unaware of them.

I was asked to speak to a group of community education teachers charged with helping parents learn ways to educate their pre-school children at home. The city program’s success (and future funding) depended on teachers meeting with a specific number of parent clients during the allotted time. Appointments were scheduled at clock time: 2 pm or 3:30 pm.

In contrast to the teachers’ agendas, the parents were tuned to their children’s unpredictable and flowing moods, nap, and snack time.

In their daily life as parents of young children, being available in the afternoon was the best appointment commitment they could promise.

The teachers were frustrated because they couldn’t meet their work goals. The administrators were bothered because it seemed like a simple issue: Make an appointment and show up. Didn't the parents care about their kids' development?

The parents and kids lost valuable training if they couldn’t be available during the appointment time. In many cases, due to cultural time differences, the parents didn’t understand why the teachers were bothered when they missed appointments.

How would you handle it?

In the meantime, let’s get back to listening to the differences between Steve and Bill’s viewpoints. (Meantime?)

Steve expected precision. Bill expected appreciation for the effort he made to be within his version of on time, which he feels has a 20-minute range. They’re speaking different time languages.