wikiHow to Pull Off Being Late to a Meeting

Three Methods:Grasping why latecomers irk meeting attendeesBeing late to a meeting at workBeing late to a meeting in another place

With an average of seventeen million meetings a day in America alone, there will always be some held up by the latecomer. When you're late to a meeting, it's better to rise to the occasion with grace rather than sinking into the floor, and provided you're not a habitual late-nic, a courteous and considerate approach to being late in a meeting can smooth your way in and have you quickly reinstated in everyone's good books. In this article, you'll learn how to deal appropriately with being late to a meeting.

Method 1
Grasping why latecomers irk meeting attendees

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    Understand why other meeting attendees tend to perceive the latecomer unfavorably. For many people, having a latecomer enter a meeting is an annoyance because at its most basic, it is either disruptive, or it holds up everyone else if you are a vital part of the meeting. Being on time matters because here is how lateness can be viewed by your fellow meeting attendees:
    • Lateness is viewed as discourteous, inconsiderate, and even insulting by those arranging and attending the meeting.[1]
    • If you're the CEO or a top manager, you're setting a standard by your behavior, one that can easily demoralize the staff who do show up on time.[2]
    • If you're in charge of the meeting and you're late, which in turn causes the meeting to run overtime, you won't win any popularity contests!
    • If it's a job interview, your lateness really tells the interviewers that you're not that interested in the job. Even with traffic excuses, interviewers will expect you to be better organized to avoid that early morning traffic...
    • Turning up late makes attendees feel that you value yourself over them. Cherish other people's time as much as your own, otherwise you're wasting their time and it wears thin if repeated.

Method 2
Being late to a meeting at work

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    Prepare. If you know you're going to be late to a meeting, at least prepare the things you need to have with you for the meeting. Arrange your documents, files, agenda, laptop, etc., to grab as you rush to the meeting.
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    Alert relevant people in advance. If it is possible or appropriate to do so, try to alert your tardiness in advance because this lets the meeting organizer, any presenters, and attendees know that you will be showing up, albeit late.
    • A note or call to your boss or via a colleague will be a good way to alert the meeting chair that you're still intending to come despite running late.
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    Follow your workplace culture as the cue for entering a meeting late. The formality or informality of your workplace will be a deciding factor in how you sidle into the meeting late. The most important thing is to not interrupt, but to wait for a natural pause to offer any excuses for your tardiness.
    • Be sure to turn off or silence your cell phone before entering the meeting!
    • For a formal workplace culture, it is best to try to keep your head low and be as unobtrusive as possible. Give your apology to the person chairing or leading the meeting quietly, provided it is not rude to interrupt, or where there is an appropriate pause in proceedings. A simple explanation suffices, such as "Sorry I'm late, our London client called", in order not to hold up progress of the meeting.
    • If there is a presentation underway, forget offering any apology at this stage unless your boss sidles up to you asking for a whispered excuse. Instead, slip in, sit down and be quiet until an appropriate opportunity presents itself to explain your lateness.
    • For an informal workplace culture, you might be able to inject a little humor into your late arrival, perhaps a smile and a shrug, and a quick, amusing anecdote of what delayed you. Don't overdo it though, and be prepared to settle straight into business.
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    Where it is possible or appropriate to explain your lateness, don't make up stories. Sooner or later, any cover stories will be uncovered, especially if you're not in someone's favor. And clearly, obvious lying will be picked up by all! In particular, note what does not work:
    • Saying something along the lines of: "I was doing something urgent/things would have fallen apart if I didn't stay behind". This is also known as the "putting out the fires" excuse. It annoys people because first, it smacks of the late person perceiving themselves as indispensable - and if it were really that company-preserving, why didn't all the team get asked to pitch in?! Second, if it's a constant excuse, it makes everyone hearing it suspicious that the late person is just a really bad judge of time.[3]
    • Constant lateness. It annoys your coworkers because they had to sit through the tedious start, so why can't you. If you make a habit of it, they'll make a habit of not looping you in to what you've missed. An exception might be made if you're the company's irreplaceable glue – your workplace will be sure to let you know if you're that rare, crucial person – otherwise, you're in the same boat as everyone else.
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    Do your best to contribute productively to the meeting once you are there. While it's important to slip into the meeting unobtrusively, you can redeem yourself by not being a shrinking violet during the meeting, and by participating actively. Some things to keep in mind, however:
    • Don't launch into a lengthy attack or defense on something that may very well have been explained in detail and resolved prior to your arrival. If you're not sure, preface by saying something like "I'd like to talk about X, but I'm not sure if you already broached this subject earlier." Look around to see how people react to draw your cue from.
    • Do your very best not to look bored or fidget during the rest of the meeting. That will only confirm to people that you delayed coming because you weren't interested.
    • Appear completely at ease. Do not, under any circumstances, seem frazzled or not on top of your game. Remain casual but engaged in the immediate proceedings.
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    Consider apologizing to colleagues after the meeting. Approach members of your team after the meeting and explain your situation so that they don't bad mouth you behind your back. This is important. Many a top executive candidate has been sunk by lack of conciliation. Apologize and explain that you were on an important call, etc.

Method 3
Being late to a meeting in another place

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    Acknowledge that you are going to be late the moment you're aware of it. If you find yourself suddenly stuck in traffic, the best business etiquette is to call the person or their administrative assistant, apologize and ask:
    • If it is okay for you to still come in and keep the appointment, even though you're going to be 15 or more minutes late. It is vital to estimate a reasonable time for your late arrival, as this allows the receptionist to check the diary to see whether or not your being late will cause other things to be out of schedule.
    • If you're going to be late by half an hour or more, ask for a rescheduling of the appointment or if it's still okay to come.
    • Take your cue from their answers. Either turn up as fast as you can, or turn up on time for the rescheduled appointment.
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    Apologize to the person in charge of the meeting as soon as you arrive. Give a short, factual reason for your late arrival and let them know that you are now keen to get down to business.


  • Do not make this S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) If you are a tardy person, try showing up on time. Take measures to prevent future lateness. Punctuality is important and if you are regularly late to meetings, it's time to assess why you are sabotaging yourself.
  • Your team will normally cover for you once on principle, as they have done something similar at one point or another but do not count on your team to cover for you all the time, especially not if you're the boss, or you've pulled the lateness stunt one times too many.
  • As part of improving your meeting attendance, try:
    • Setting your alarm and your computer clocks.
    • Sending yourself reminders.
    • Setting your watch ahead by 15 minutes. If the 15 minutes deal does not work, consider a job without a time parameter.
    • Allowing for adequate transition time between your activities, so that you don't end up being late by default. Plan in time buffers around meetings.
  • If your lateness to the meeting is so bad, resort to the "not turning up at all" ploy. This should only be used in a dire emergency, as repeated uses of it will be viewed poorly. Remember too, that use of this ploy when you don't really have a real crisis on hand (for example, sudden illness, family emergency, traffic accident, etc.), risks reducing the number of times people will cut you slack for when you really do experience an emergency situation.


  • If you're late, and you're making a direct report, that means the direct report is late too. Not a good look.
  • If you're a repeat offender at turning up to meetings late, your team will end up bitter and angry. Inevitably, they will turn against you and make it their personal goal to see you slip up on your excuses.
  • There are some meetings where being late will probably lose you the opportunity. Generally, interviews and auditions wait for nobody, and give a very poor impression of your ability to be punctual. People don't like seeing lack of punctuality at the outset, before they really know you.
  • It's also not a good idea to keep important people waiting, such as the President, Prime Minister, or royalty. Unless you're a King or President yourself...

Things You'll Need

  • Everything that you should have at the meeting - reports, agenda, pens, paper, etc. - don't add poor preparation to the tardiness!
  • Prior research on timetables, distances, etc. to get to a meeting when you've never been to the location before
  • Phone or email messaging ability

Sources and Citations

  1. John Hersey, Being late to business meetings shows lack of integrity,
  2. John Hersey, Being late to business meetings shows lack of integrity,
  3. Toni Bowers, What's with people who are chronically late to meetings?,

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