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Switzerland

Punctuality Problems — What Drives The Chronically Late

Those people in your life who are always late have a predisposition that puts off decision-making. Question of freedom or lack of respect? A question even in Switzerland.

Hold on
Hold on
Camille Destraz

GENEVA In the mid-1980s, legendary French singer Johnny Hallyday crooned, "I'm waiting for you, I'm waiting for you …" Dedicated to the umpteenth love of his life, the song could have become an anthem for people awaiting the chronic latecomers who show up at 7 p.m. for a 6 p.m. meeting, or put off making decisions until who-knows-when.

Where does this predisposition for being late originate? Swiss occupational psychologist Annabelle Péclard explains it by citing one of the late Swiss pychiatrist Carl Jung's personality theories. "Some people with a "flexible" approach versus a "structured" one tend to postpone making a decision until they have enough information to be certain to act knowingly," she says.

For them, it's about leaving open as many doors as possible in any situation, whether before a meeting with friends or booking a plane reservation.

"I take no pleasure in making a decision," says Robert, 46. "If you give me five possibilities, I prefer to add another one than to choose. It's even worse for holiday travel. I put my stuff in my suitcase, then change my mind. Even if I do it in advance, I know I'm going to finish at the last moment."

He says he realizes it's inefficient and that it reflects that a part of his brain is blocked. "The worst is arriving early at the airport," he adds. "Then I tell myself I could have done something more with my time."

Deadlines be damned

Whether in our private or professional lives, strict deadlines are difficult to handle. "When it's possible, some people try to postpone the deadline to do the best possible work," Péclard explains. "But if the deadline can't be postponed, they continue to work in an unstructured manner, doing everything at the last minute."

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He'll be right there — Carluz Photo

The concept of freedom is ultimate central to Robert's problem. "It's nice to think we don't care about time, and it's a real luxury to choose to be late," says the man who, paradoxically, collects watches.

When we become aware of our own predisposition, it allows us to understand and eradicate the guilt. But it's very hard to counter the tendency itself.

A few years ago, 62-year-old Philippe managed to reverse the trend. "I used to show up to work at any time I wanted and was late for all my appointments," he says. "Obviously, people always made comments. I changed when I became a father! Your child can't be kept waiting after school. I eventually thought that it was the same for others. It's a matter of respect. Those who have known me can't believe it."

Psychologists say that some obsessive disorders are characterized by this unfortunate tendency to be late. These people want everything to be perfect and linger over small details. But because it's impossible to control everything, it causes anguish.

Robert has recently found a good way to mitigate his lack of punctuality at parties. "I bring a dessert instead of an appetizer," he says. "Otherwise, when I arrive two hours after everyone else, I look like an idiot."

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