Are you busy right now? Got a job, hobbies, a relationship? Of course you do! We all do. We all have commitments.
Which is why it’s particularly annoying when we encounter that one person who never comes through. That flakey presence in our lives, someone who we want to know, but it’s tough to get any face time with.
How hard can it be to arrange a meeting with someone? You send a message in the first instance (or if you’re that person, you ring up), you wait, the person says yes or no, you set a time, a place, and voila. You’ve got a meeting. It should be that simple, right?
There’s always that one person who dithers. Who says yes then no, who changes the details, who doesn’t answer for ages. How do you deal with that person? How much patience do you give them?
Well, for starters, we have probably all done it. Why?
Whitney Johnson wrote in the Harvard Business Review that:
We overcommit ourselves. We don’t like to disappoint people, so we tell them what we think they want to hear. We feel pressure in the moment and don’t stop to consider how much pressure we’ll feel later. We don’t think through how much time things will actually take — and we don’t leave enough slack time in our days to handle the (inevitable) emergencies and delays.
It’s true: we underestimate how much time things take to do, how much time we have available, and we are living in the FOMO culture that tells us we should be up for, and saying yes to, everything.
It’s important to keep this in mind, even if it doesn’t solve our issue with a particular individual.
For that, here are my three steps:
1. Figure out your boundary
If someone’s only confirming an hour before you have to meet, and you reached out ages in advance, that’s probably a bit rude by most peoples estimates. But not necessarily everyone’s.
We all have a different idea of what’s polite, when it comes to arranging to meet up with people.
In some cultures and contexts, it is completely fine to just ‘pop over’ completely unannounced. In others, there’s a strict appointment-style policy, quietly in play.
Think about your context, and about the context of your flakey friend.
Context is always the best place to start.
And while you’re on that thought, maybe you know this person is going through it right now; they need a few extra chances to get things together. They aren’t intentionally trying to be a pain.
Have they just lost someone close to them? Or had a child? Are they struggling with work? Or with a relationship? Are they prone to being overwhelmed?
If someone is having a hard time, that doesn’t automatically excuse them from standing you up or leaving you waiting for hours on end. But it might go some way towards forgiveness, or better setting your boundaries and expectations within the relationship.
The boundary of politeness is flexible — think about the person’s context, about the value of your time, and consider where you want to draw the line. If you know they are having a hard time, that might be the moment to try and make things easier for them — to offer to go to them, or to show up at a time that suits them.
If they’re routinely acting as though your time is not worth considering, it might be time to…
2. Offer up a conversation
Are they aware of how their flakiness affects you?
If you’ve never mentioned it, then the answer is no. Ok, you might think, “Everyone should know this.” But in this case, if you care about saving the relationship, then unfortunately you absolutely cannot assume.
It might be time to pick up the phone, if you’re struggling to get them face-to-face. A phone call is so off trend, but it will go a long way towards helping ease any resentment for the flakiness. It can be as simple as, “Hey, do you have ten minutes for a call soon?”
I think a call is preferable where possible, because an email or text can easily stray into passive-aggressive territory, or feel confronting — if the other person feels bad about cancelling, they might read your message as an attack, even if it isn’t. Lily Herman writes in The Muse:
The old saying goes that you should treat others the way you want to be treated, and while you most likely wouldn’t be rude enough to constantly reschedule a meeting, you’d like people to be understanding if you did.
However, if, try as you might, they aren’t able to manage even a quick call, then the ball is probably in their court. I would simply suggest they get in touch when they are ready; something like, “I guess we’re both really busy right now — why don’t you let me know when there’s a better time, maybe in a few weeks?”.
But don’t hold your breath — if they can’t make time for a ten minute call, they might well be doing their best to never get in touch.
And if they do, and you do talk, that’s your chance to say, “I know you probably had a good reason, but actually, I was really disappointed not to see you the other day.” If they don’t care to explain, that is a bit suspect, but it might be legit.
Ask for an explanation if it’s important to you. If they don’t have one, then a straightforward, “I really don’t think that was kind,” might be in order.
Always make sure to reiterate, though, that you’re only disappointed because you do genuinely want to spend time with them — you’re eager to try again, but things would have to go differently.
3. Give them a chance to do good
Gently suggesting to someone that the ball is in their court is sometimes tough, but it might be essential. If they keep cancelling and waiting for you to reschedule, that’s too one-sided.
If they say, “Sorry, can’t make it. Let me know when you’re free next!” try to find a way to suggest that it’s their turn, by adding a bit more specificity. Something along the lines of: “No worries. I’m pretty free next week, so let me know which day or time suits you best.”
In this way, their very vague or general response has been acknowledged, but you have done your part to encourage them to be more specific — you’ve given them some parameters to work with, and the chance for them to offer up a suggestion. If the day/time comes from them, they might be more likely to stick to it.
Some people are just disorganised, or slightly chaotic! That might be part of their charm. But you’re not their mother (and even then…), so do your best to get them reciprocating, but don’t let it become all about you chasing them up, or nagging.
If they’re super used to you doing all the organisational work, this might be tricky to shift. But if you ask them to suggest a time, that’s a good first step to re-balancing the scales. Keep an open mind and give them the opportunity to do better.
And if nothing changes…?
Ultimately it’s up to you to figure out how much leeway you give a constant flake. How much energy are you willing to expend to make up the shortfall from their side?
Find your patience line in terms of the value of your time; make your feelings known; do your best to give them the chance to make up for it. And if it doesn’t seem to work, get ready to act on your own conviction.
After all: if you don’t protect your time, who will?