IN his 2016 book, “Thank You for Being Late,” author Thomas Friedman tells you to appreciate the tardiness of a person, or persons, in your business meeting.
Friedman, columnist at The New York Times, three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, and author of six bestselling books, including “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” (1999) and “The World is Flat” (2005), says you should be grateful to that person for being late as he gave you the chance to pause for a while to see how things are going around you and everywhere. Yes, even if that person mutters apologies with the familiar excuses like “traffic was unusually heavy” or “my alarm clock failed,” or even the superfluous – “I caught my wife doing it with the gardener…”
Still, you should be thankful for your waiting time: “No, no, please…don’t apologize. Believe me, I had the best moment of my life while waiting for you. In fact, I should be the one to thank you for being late!” Why not? At the back of your mind, you enjoyed your unexpected reflection time that you were able to clear up your mind while answering your own questions: Is this person a potential red flag? Is he the best client or business partner to be with? What could be in store for us – a short-term gain or a long-term, mutually profitable professional relationship?
Your thought balloon has begun to weigh things: “I invited this person for lunch, and therefore, decency dictates I should pay for our bill. But maybe, it’s not too much to ask this person to foot the bill so that he could compensate for his tardiness, rather than force him to do a hara-kiri with the bread knife.
“OK. I’ll do that as soon as we’ve completed our lunch, or else this could set a negative tempo for him.”
Anyway, Friedman argues that waiting time gives you the opportunity to discover a few minutes to just sit, think and relax. “I was having fun eavesdropping on the couple at the next table (fascinating) and people watching the lobby (outrageous!). And, the most important, in the pause, I had connected a few couple of ideas I had been struggling with for days. So no apology was necessary. Hence: “Thank you for being late.”
“The first time, I just blurted out that response, not really thinking about it. But after another such encounter, I noticed that it felt good to have those few moments of unplanned-for, unscheduled time, and it wasn’t just me who felt better! And I knew why. Like many others, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the dizzying pace of change.”
Thank you for being late! You’re welcome. OK, don’t worry. I will pay for our lunch so you can’t dictate to me what to write in my next column and preserve my independence.
“Thank You for Being Late” was probably inspired by the “slow movement,” which started in 1986 when Italian journalist and political activist Carlo Petrini took part in a campaign against the establishment of fast food giant McDonald’s in Italy. In recent years, however, Petrini was overshadowed by Canadian journalist Carl Honore, who also appreciates the beauty of slowness in people, events and programs. Honore produced several editions of his many books on the same subject, the latest of which is “The Power of Slow: Finding Balance and Fulfilment Beyond the Cult of Speed” (2015).
So, in business, how would you turn the tardiness of a person into something of value? It depends on how you define “value” and if you care about it. If we don’t have that choice to correct the slowness of people, events and programs, how do we create a positive situation out of it? For instance, we don’t have a choice but to rely on the existing telecommunications’ duopoly to give us poor broadband service that is not expected to improve in our lifetime. So, what do we do to make the most of it?
In my case, I simply subscribe to the barest, prepaid approach. No post-paid plans for me, given the numerous horror stories that we hear from all over. And that’s enough value for me – literally and figuratively.
How about the slowness of people in government? Despite the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 (R.A.9485), we have yet to see the efficiency of our bureaucrats in serving us. So, how can you see value in this case? While waiting for your number to be called while queuing for your turn, you could while away the time by “people-watching,” like what Friedman did. Focus on one person of your age, but be discreet and avoid eye contact.
Eavesdrop and try to learn from his or her odd habit, appearance or story. The experience could give you a tentative conclusion that you’re better off than this person. If not, you know what to do to learn and improve yourself next time.
In your favorite restaurant, while waiting, you could learn a lot by focusing on the uniformed waiters and kitchen staff. Do they wash their hands after using the toilet? Are you sure? Chances are, they don’t. That alone would help you decide whether you’d want to continue patronizing them.
How about the security guard who was picking his nose as you entered his office building? Would you accept the gate pass he was handing over to you in exchange for your ID? Excellence is paying attention to minute details.
Or is it? I’ve always been fascinated by people who ignore important details and still end up receiving more money. Unfair? Patience is a virtue. Maybe, I should patiently wait for my turn. Friedman in “Thank You for Being Late,” quotes editor and writer Leon Wiseltier, who shares his own ideals:
“Patience wasn’t just the absence of speed. It was space for reflection and thought.”
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts on Elbonomics.