Confessions of a Real Estate Agent - March 2017

Posted on: 14th March 2017

I have been living and working in Dubai for the past 14 years and I don’t think that I will ever become accustomed to people being late for appointments. 

No matter how many times it happens, I still get upset at the tardiness of some people with whom I meet and do business. In short, I’m getting fed-up with people arriving late for previously scheduled meetings. And it’s not just 5 or 10 minutes late either. It’s usually a huge whopping 20-30 minutes late, often accompanied by a late phone-call informing me of the obvious – they’re late. 

Even when I accept invitations to attend developers’ presentations on their about-to-be-launched projects, they rarely start on time due to the presenters waiting on…you guessed it…late-comers. 

What am I to make of all of this? I am a self-employed person engaged in an industry where failure stalks like the Grim Reaper. As I have mentioned in previous Confessions, I am getting older by the day and have no time to waste or to be disrespected by someone arriving late at a meeting we had both agreed to. 

And so I ask myself – is this a Dubai phenomenon? 

In an attempt to understand this issue, I’ve read articles on different cultural viewpoints of time. A sequential or monochromic view of time is one where we see time as a series of separate passing events. Things are typically done one at a time, where time is segmented into precise, small units, and where time is scheduled, arranged and managed. 

Polychronic time involves the past, present and future being interrelated so that several things can be done at once, and a more fluid approach is taken to scheduling time. Such cultures tend to be less focused on the precise accounting of each and every moment, and much more steeped in tradition and relationships rather than in tasks. 

However, as Dubai has become a more cosmopolitan society these cultural perspectives of time have begun to break down – while previous generations of local people may have had very different interpretations of time compared to people raised in Western societies, that division no longer applies to the same degree.

Having said that, I have worked for many years in the UK without experiencing this problem – people always turned up to meetings on time and if not, they usually rang BEFORE the meeting time to explain why they would be late. 

There appears to be a basic lack of understanding and awareness here that punctuality is a problem. I say this because late-comers always state the obvious when they finally arrive – "I’m late". Sometimes that phrase ends with a muttered "sorry" or "I am sorry" but the impact on those who arrived on time and whose time has been wasted has already been felt. 

There is nothing a late-comer can do to replace the stolen time. 

Excuses. 

Late-comers have encyclopaedias of excuses ranging from the near-believable to the miraculous. In Dubai, traffic is a convenient excuse as there are critical times in the day – morning, early afternoon and evening rush hours – that traffic does indeed impact people’s travel times. What can you do? 

Planning. 

If you are going to meet someone in a place that is notorious for heavy traffic and/or a shortage of parking, then leave in plenty of time. We have very accessible and useful technology at our disposal these days which can certainly help you reach your destination on time but then if you are early, don’t stress as the technology can also help fill the time between arriving and the scheduled start of the meeting. These new phones are amazing!

There is another cost to people arriving late to meetings.

People who rush into meetings either on time or slightly late are not in an optimal emotional state to contribute to meetings.  Their bodies are swamped with adrenaline and cortisol, hijacking their high-level cognitive thinking, making it almost impossible to add value as they slowly deflate from their manic drive to the meeting.  

By arriving early on time to a meeting, by which I mean 10-15 minutes before the schedule start time, people can attend to themselves properly, go to the bathroom, have something to eat and drink, and begin to focus more tightly on the meeting content and agenda

My protocol now is to impose a 20-minute lateness cut-off to all my meetings, including those held by other people and organisations.  Even if I don’t hear from someone, I will wait for 20 minutes after the scheduled meeting time and then…walk away after texting or phoning them to explain why the meeting has been cancelled.  I am just too busy, my time is too precious, to have it wasted on late-comers, regardless of their excuses.

My new personal benchmark is this: I now consider myself late if I arrive on time.

Steven Leckie