Time and cultural self-awareness (2)

As we explained in the last lesson, people from different cultures can have very different attitudes towards time.

To learn about your own cultural attitude towards time, answer the following two questions.

  1. When you have an agreement to meet someone from your own culture at a certain time, do you expect them to arrive before the stated time, exactly at the stated time, or after the stated time?
  2. What to you is a late arrival? e.g. 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 1 hour?

Your answers to those questions show you one of your fundamental attitudes towards time.

If the person you’re meeting doesn’t arrive when you expect them to, this will likely trigger an automatic reaction in you; for example, frustration, impatience — you might even feel insulted.

However, if that person is from a different culture, it is likely that the time at which they arrive is perfectly acceptable in their culture. In other words, you should not take their behaviour personally. It is simply a cultural difference.

If your culture considers time to be something valuable (e.g. “time is money”), use this knowledge to help you recognize and control your automatic reaction when your colleague or client from a different culture doesn’t arrive “on time” or doesn’t reply to your email “in a timely manner”.

If you are from a culture that has a more relaxed attitude towards time, use this knowledge to understand why a colleague or client from a different culture is impatient or frustrated or even angry that you have arrived “late” or not replied to their email “in a timely manner”.

Concepts such as “late” and “timely” are subjective and profoundly influenced by culture.

Remember that in cross-cultural situations, the other person’s behavior is almost always not personal … it’s cultural.

One way to deal with this is to clearly state your expectations around time. Stating specific expectations about time helps to prevent misunderstandings. Preventing misunderstandings helps you to create good working relationships.

Use the expressions in this mini-lesson to help prevent misunderstandings around time.

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