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I've got a close friend/roommate who is often late, (I'd say about 25% to 50% of the time, he'll be 15min to 1hour late). I've gotten used to it and it doesn't bother me too much personally.

But it also happens for more important appointments such as going to school (he's a student in master degree), or when he has to go to work (hopefully it never backfired yet, he is tutoring high school students, so they have quite flexible hours).

He'll then say things like "I can't stand this. I'm so late", "It sucks I'm late". And blame it on transportation or anything else. It also results in him being in a bad mood and thinking he's really unlucky.

The problem is when I try to answer by telling him he should plan to be early if he want to be consistently on time, it angers him and he says I'm not supportive.

My point of view is having an "optimal" ride using public transportation is being lucky and you can't really complain about being late when you repeat the same behaviour endlessly and expect a different result. Also he should not complain about things he can't control and start acting on the things he can control.

I'd like to communicate that to him (not on these terms obviously since my goal is to not to have him adopt a defensive stance) and help him change his behaviour to improve slowly but continuously so he ends up stopping to complain about being late.

Edit : We are French (if cultural context matters) and as said in the comments I'd really like to help him fix this behaviour as I don't want him to stop sharing his mood and problems with me.

  • 4
    Do you really want him to change his behavior, or do you mostly want him to stop complaining about it to you? – Erik Jan 21 at 15:27
  • Ideally changing his behaviour, as I have no desire of limiting our interactions and I'd really like to avoid sending him a message like "I'm not interested in listening to your problems", it's actually the opposite, i'm willing to fix every problem he could submit. – Maxime Jan 21 at 15:47
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Ideally your friend would be able to accept their responsibility to allow sufficient time - unfortunately from what you describe I think that's going to be a losing battle.

If your main goal is that you want to avoid him getting defensive while improving the end result (i.e that he isn't late as often) you could try sympathizing with him about how annoying the required solution steps are:

Yeah public transport is awful, I find I have to leave at least x minutes earlier than it should really take to make it on time! It feels like such a waste of time but I've found it's just too unreliable otherwise!

This way you are implicitly putting yourself in the same group as him - while assigning any "blame" to a faceless third party.

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To me, being on time is a show of respect. I respect our agreement to meet up at an agreed upon time so therefore I make an effort to show up on time or a little early. Some times life happens which makes you run a little late which isn't a big deal if the other party understands and you don't do it frequently.

In the situation with your friend, it sounds to me he's over committed himself or he at least feels that way. He's going to graduate school, working and still attending social gatherings. That's pretty difficult to do all at once. I'd probably ask him to list out everything he's doing and ask him what he needs to do and what makes him happy to do. Then find some way to prioritize between everything.

This advice is based on my personal experiences. My wife and older sister both happen to be chronically late people. My dad and I both happen to be people who hate to be late to where we'll show up early to avoid being late. With my older sister, we got to the point where we'd tell her that the family event started earlier to get her to show up on time.

With my wife, she is late to everything from friend's parties to doctor's appointments. I noticed that two big things:

  • My wife would overcommit herself. My wife would cram her schedule full of stuff to "optimize" her trip outside, but there wasn't enough buffer between events to get to everything on time. She'd be late to the first event and that lateness would domino to the other events. Plus she'd be just exhausted at the end and dreading the next trip outside.
  • My wife had these rituals that had to be completed before she could leave the house such as she'd have to eat a home cooked meal AND do all of dishes before she could leave.

Through the years, I helped her target these areas. I helped her spread her obligations out more e.g. it's not a good idea to see 3 different doctors in 1 day in different cities. I convinced her it's better to show up early to a doctor's appointment, because sometimes they can squeeze you faster than showing up late and hoping they squeeze you later. It's just a more pleasant experience to be on time. We're not stressed out about being late and the doctor's office isn't stress out and angry either.

For her rituals, I introduced her to protein bars and snack bars so she could eat something and not generate any dishes. She's even gotten to the point where she's okay leaving some dirty dishes behind.

She's still late to some things like gatherings with friends, but she's gotten much better at showing up early or on time to important commitments.

  • Thanks for your answer, my problem is he feels like i'm lecturing him when I'm trying to help him solve this problem. And I think that's why he says I should be supportive instead of putting the blame on him, so the discussion is not very productive from this point. – Maxime Jan 22 at 11:04
  • @Maxime I totally understand. My wife is kind of the same way. I learned the hard way it's really important to come from a place of trying to understand what's going on first and not trying "judge" or "fix" the situation. Why is your friend or my wife trying to do so many things at once that they're late to everything? For my wife, it's because 1) her parents did the same time with cramming too many things into their day and 2) she felt guilty not working that filling her day felt like she was contributing. But it took a lot of talking to get to that point of understanding for the both of us! – jcmack Jan 22 at 18:51

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