About 20 years ago when I was still doing criminal defense work, one day while I was in court with a client, a man showed up late for his court hearing. When the bailiff told the judge that the man had arrived, the judge told the man that a warrant had been issued for his arrest because he was late for his hearing. The judge then instructed the deputy in the courtroom to arrest the man and book him in the Peoria County jail where he would have to pay a cash bond to be released. Upon his release, he would be given a new date and time to appear in court.
The man complained to the judge that he was late because the courthouse was located in downtown Peoria and he was not familiar with the streets in the downtown area. He also told the judge that he had trouble finding parking.
After listening to what the man had to say, the judge leaned back in his chair and calmly said, “You know, when I was stationed in Korea during the Korean War, it was hard to find parking in downtown Korea. If you go to downtown Chicago, it’s hard to find parking. If you go to the downtown area of most cities, it’s hard to find parking. You’re a grown man. You should know by now that when you go downtown, you’re going to have trouble finding parking. You were more than 30 minutes late for your hearing. I can’t run my courtroom in an orderly fashion if I have people showing up late for their hearings. I’ll bet that the next time you’re supposed to be in court you’ll consider the fact that it’s hard to find parking in downtown Peoria and you’ll leave early enough so you can get here on time.” The judge then told the deputy to take the man away.
I thought about the incident with the judge earlier this month when my daughter Teresa told me about a problem she had with one of her college professors. Teresa is a junior in college. Her problem began after she was assigned a difficult graphic design project to complete.
One of the resources that was available to her to assist with the project was a professor who had volunteered to laser-cut some materials for her. Teresa contacted the professor by email to set up a time to meet with him. After he failed to respond to her email, she sent a second email, and then a third email.
A few days after she sent the third email, the professor replied and provided her with a time that he could meet with her. Because the time he suggested was at the same time as one of her classes, she sent a reply email and asked him for some other times that he was available. He ignored her email and she sent two more emails to him. He again failed to respond.
When Teresa discussed her problem to me, the deadline for the completion of the project was only five days away. She was in a bind because there were several tasks that needed to be done, but all of them were dependent upon the professor assisting her with the laser cutting. I asked Teresa how many emails she had sent to the professor and she told me that she had sent seven emails over a period of three weeks. He only responded to one of them.
If the professor had done what he was supposed to do, she would have had a two-week window of time to complete her project after he cut the materials.
I asked Teresa some questions about her project and we discussed some ways she could reconfigure the project so she could get it done in time to turn it in. I then told her that there were two clear lessons that she could learn from the experience — lessons that could be turned into rules on how to deal with other people.
I outlined the two lessons for her and then asked her to repeat them to me in her own words, a technique I commonly use with people to make sure they understand what I said to them.
The first lesson was: When a person makes a commitment to do something and then fails to follow through on the commitment, you should never trust that person again to keep a commitment. If he or she fails to keep their commitment, you should immediately find someone else to replace the person.
The second lesson was: When a person agrees to meet you at a certain time, if the person is late for the appointment, you can never trust that person again to keep a commitment. That person also needs to be replaced.
I told Teresa the story about the judge and then explained to her that in the business world, in a classroom environment, and in any other arena where you have to compete with others, the two rules that I outlined must be adhered to.
Whenever I’m interviewing to hire someone for my law firm, I schedule at least two separate interviews with the individuals I’m interested in hiring. I pay close attention to when they show up for their appointments. If an individual is not early for both appointments, he or she is immediately excluded from further consideration for the job.
When a person fails to do what he or she says they’re going to do or fails to show up for an appointment (or an event at a time that was agreed upon), that person reveals that they cannot be trusted to keep a commitment. There are obviously some occasions when it is acceptable for a person to change the date and time of an upcoming appointment. In order for such an action to be valid, the person must give adequate notice and must have a legitimate reason for requesting the change.
When I asked Teresa if the professor ever notified her that he was unable to do what she was requesting that he do, she answered no. In my opinion, the professor should be fired from his job. He has no business working as a teacher for a university if he is unable to follow through on his commitments to the students.
If you’re the type of person who is late for appointments or events, or who makes commitments that are later broken, you should be focusing all of your energy on permanently modifying your bad behavioral habits. As long as you continue behaving in that way, you cannot be trusted to keep your commitments.