The ultimate compliment a person can get (from someone who is not family or close friend) is that he / she is a thorough professional. There are many aspects to what constitutes professional behavior, possibly too many to capture in a single post.
However, over my career and beyond, I have personally experienced one particular pattern of unprofessional behaviour more than a few times. I am sharing this because many of you could be exhibiting this behaviour and not aware of it.
Broadly, it goes like this.
1. Someone I know, like and respect connects for a chat. (Point – they initiate contact, not me).
2. During the course of a super cordial and happy happy catchup chat, they ask to meet (Point – they ask to meet, not me).
3. Depending upon my schedule (I am free only 1 or 2 weekday evenings post 5 pm) and theirs, we agree a date and time, usually a week or two away.
4. As a courtesy, I connect with them the evening of the day before to re-confirm the meeting.
5. At this stage, over a third of the meetings get cancelled by the other person with profuse apologies. Reasons usually are sound and logical (am sick, got a sudden work meeting, gotta travel across town and cant get back in time etc etc).
Re the people who exhibit this kind of behaviour, there is no pattern wrt gender (both males and females equally culpable) or industry. However, the two patterns that are strong is that they are almost invariably junior or middle management people (usually below 40) and in many cases, facing challenges with their careers.
If you have read this far, some of this resonates with you. Here are four things that could be done differently if you have a tendency to cancel meetings at the last minute with various people.
1. Please ask for a reschedule-ment of the meeting before you get the message the day before to confirm the meeting. The moment you know you can’t make it, connect and cancel. Similarly, if you are in doubt, give a heads up to the person you are scheduled to meet, and prepare him – her. This will help the other person make alternate plans.
2. Ask for a meeting only if you genuinely want to meet and are committed to meet.
3. Put in place a basic time and schedule management system. Whatever works for you. The best time manager I knew used one A4 sheet per month to organise his life.
4. Be empathetic to the other guy. Someone like me (and I know many such people) says NO to more meeting requests than YES. If I agree to meet you, I have chosen to meet you over three other meeting requests I had. Respect that.
A few years ago, when I shared this pattern of unprofessional behaviour with someone, I got a rant about how callous and casual and unprofessional the Indian work culture is. I would not agree with this generalisation – some of the most professional managers I have met have been from my country. But in the same breath, I have met some truly unprofessional people who think nothing of disrespecting other people’s time and attention. I guess it cuts both ways.
Speaking for myself, if someone does this to me once, I am on a more aware mode. If it repeats, I put that person on a blacklist and never ever agree to meet that person again.
On a larger plane, all I am saying is – Respect other people’s time as your own. You will come across as a competent professional deserving of respect. And that is the starting point towards building a great life and a great career.