I made sure I taught my kids, if someone sends you an e-mail, a text message, or any other type of communication, you need to respond. If you don’t have time to give a complete reply, acknowledge receipt and tell them you will get back to them later. And then do so.

Yet, I have learned I can’t expect the same from everyone. And I have learned life is better when you realize people have different ways of managing their time, their calendars, how they respond to invites, and nearly everything else.

A long-time challenge for me has been learning to accept my way can be right for me and at the same time someone’s way is right for them in this regard. I still struggle with behaviors I consider to be common courtesy, but others don’t.

For example, not showing up for an appointment is something I’ve never done. But I have been stood up.

No one is perfect. Mistakes happen. I get that. For example, a person makes an appointment but forgets to put it in their calendar.

It’s easier to avoid that these days because you can invite someone electronically to an appointment and, if they accept, it’s on their calendar. But, that’s not a guarantee because the person still has to look at their calendar.

Early this year, someone in my office showed up for an appointment and found the person was no longer with the company. At my office, if someone left our firm, whether it was their decision or ours, we would look at their calendar and make sure to contact anyone they had been scheduled to meet. I guess it just didn’t occur to the company in this situation to do that. Either they had never faced that situation before, or they just don’t think that way.

Another time, I showed up with two colleagues for a meeting that turned out to be a no-show. No one in the office we were visiting knew where the person was.

On the trip back to my office, my colleagues and I wondered what I would hear back from the person who no-showed us.

Would he say, “I thought you would confirm”? Is that how he operates—no confirmation, no meeting?

If he said “you didn’t confirm” would he be doing so as an attempt to shift the blame to me? Or would he take the blame?

He sent me an apologetic e-mail saying he had been working very late the night before on a major project, saw me on the calendar for the next morning, decided to send me a note to reschedule our meeting so he could sleep in, and then forgot to send me the note. It’s not a great reason, but I was grateful he told the truth and didn’t try to blame anyone else.

I’ve had a long-time pet peeve with RSVPs. It’s customary to ask people to RSVP by a certain date so the host can plan for the number of attendees. When I get an invitation (a wedding, for example), I look at the invite, I look at my calendar and, if I have no conflict, I put the event on my calendar and send back my RSVP right away. If it’s a particularly busy week, I reply by that weekend. If it comes via snail mail while I’m away, I RSVP as soon as I return, which is still always well before the requested RSVP date.

Many people don’t do that. In fact, most don’t. If there is a “Please RSVP by” date, they wait until very close to that date.

When I have hosted events, I have found the lack of timely replies frustrating. I don’t get why people need to wait until the last minute. Are they simply not organized? It seems to me it takes more organizational skill to remember to RSVP if you are waiting for the deadline than it is send it back right away. Are they waiting for a better offer to come around? I doubt that’s the case with weddings.

I think people give way too much time to RSVP, but when I’ve suggested giving less time I’ve been told, “That’s not how you do it. People need time.” And maybe that’s the case for some people. They might need to make certain arrangements before they can commit, for example finding a babysitter.

And then there are the people who don’t RSVP by the requested date. Or they don’t reply at all. That seems to me to be lack of organizational ability. It also seems rude to me, but it’s healthier (and results in more happiness from less frustration) for me to give them the benefit of the doubt—to take the position that they mean well and are simply not able to respond in a timely fashion.

On a different note relating to calendars, early this year I had an interesting learning experience from something I was invited to. I am part of a best-practices group that meets monthly. For the first two years, our group met from 8:30am-10:00am on a certain day each month. We were all encouraged to arrive by 8:15am to network, and I nearly always arrived by 8:15am.

I missed a couple of meetings, as nearly everyone did, due to other obligations, such as out of town conflicts. I missed the meeting last November and the group decided to change the start time of the meetings to 8:00am. We didn’t meet in December and when I showed up for the January meeting at 8:15am, I was surprised to see everyone there, with the meeting already underway.

Nobody had told me about the decision to change the start time. We get an agenda via e-mail before each month’s meeting and at the top of the agenda is the date and time of the upcoming meeting. I read the agendas, but didn’t think to carefully read the date and time because I already had the meeting on my calendar as a monthly recurring event. Lesson learned: Carefully review what you are sent before a meeting.

That story reminds me a bit of the test my dad gave me when I was a kid. It had two pages of math problems. At the top of the first page, the instructions explained the goal of the test was to answer all the questions as quickly as possible, and to read through the whole test before beginning.

I took great pride in my math skills and when my dad asked if I was ready, I eagerly said, “Yes,” and proceeded to plow through the test. When I finished the last question, I read a sentence at the bottom of that said, “Now that you have read through the whole test, you don’t have to answer any of the questions. Just put your name on the top of the first page and hand it back to the person who gave it to you.” Lesson learned. Read instructions. It saves you time and effort.

People usually mean well and aren’t trying to annoy you by how they act. And while your way may be right for you, that doesn’t mean it’s right for them. In fact, it probably isn’t, and the sooner you let go of the fantasy that you can get people to do things your way, the happier you and they will be. One place I learned that for sure is in marriage. It’s especially important point to learn: doing things differently is not only normal, but helps make a great team.

How do you deal with the difference between your way of doing things and other people’s? Please join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,

David

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