In document The Complete Idiot's Guide to Difficult Conversations (Page 77-81)

Different cultural orientations toward time can be a major stumbling block in under-standing one another. The quiz below will give you some insight into your perception of time.

The Time Style Inventory

Agree Disagree I believe meetings should start and

end on time. 1 2 3 4 5

I think that being late for a scheduled

appointment is rude and disrespectful. 1 2 3 4 5 I believe in setting priorities to

get work done. 1 2 3 4 5

I believe meetings work much better if

there’s a timed agenda. 1 2 3 4 5

I’d have trouble functioning if I lost

my PDA. 1 2 3 4 5

I prefer to work on one thing at

a time. 1 2 3 4 5

Time is money. 1 2 3 4 5

I use a to-do list and check things

off as they are completed. 1 2 3 4 5

I believe that to keep people waiting

is to spend a little of their lives. 1 2 3 4 5

If the majority of your answers are 4’s and 5’s, you are considered a polychronic person. Mostly 1’s and 2’s? You’re monochronic.

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Monochronic people experience time as tangible. They believe that time is linear and can be managed, divided, spent, saved, or squandered. They respect the reality and value of their own time and believe others’ time is important, too; they are prompt for appointments and wouldn’t consider missing a deadline.

If you’re late for a meeting with a monochronic co-worker, expect that she’ll be irri-tated—or gone. She took the meeting seriously enough to be on time; if she feels you blew her off by not showing up when you agreed to, she might not wait around won-dering what happened to you. She’ll move on to the next thing in her day planner.


Polychronic people have a totally different orientation to time, viewing it as fluid and infinite. They consider time a vast, indivisible ocean, not a collection of individual water droplets. Rather than believing that everyone should be on time for a meet-ing, polychronic folks tend to think that the meeting begins when everyone is

pres-ent, whether that’s two seconds or an hour after the stated time.

In their individual offices, polychronic people work on many projects at once, moving from one to the other and back again. They may appear disorganized but, in fact, they are often as efficient as their buttoned-down monochronic co-workers who complete projects one by one on a carefully orchestrated schedule.

6]e1O\G]c0SA]7\Q]\aWRS`ObS-Arguments can flare up and clashes become ugly if differing attitudes toward time are construed as character flaws, such as laziness, or deliberate acts of discourtesy.

For example, a manager who comes from a polychronic background and supervises a group of monochronic employees may often be late to meetings with the group. It’s likely that the employees don’t understand their boss’s time style, and after a while, they may become resentful of what they consider her rudeness and lack of regard for them. After all, they reason, if she doesn’t respect their time, she doesn’t respect them.

Monochronism is a person’s ten-dency to manage activities one at a time, in sequence and on a schedule, while polychronism means a preference for manag-ing several activities at one time.

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If the behavior continues, the boss may find herself subject to sullenness or sabotage.

Efficiency plummets and effectiveness wanes, and if the issue is not confronted, she may never know why her leadership style isn’t working.

To help mitigate the problem, you might set up a time to meet with the boss (realizing she’ll probably keep you waiting) and explain why employees feel disgruntled. You could say:

“I notice that when the group comes to a meeting at the time we’ve all agreed on, you often aren’t there. Sometimes we wait as much as a half-hour, and we wonder if you’ve forgotten the meeting.

“Because we have so much to do, all this waiting makes it seem as if you don’t value our time. It feels disrespectful.

“How about this? We set a time for the meeting, and if you aren’t there within fifteen minutes, we are free to leave. Or maybe we could set a time and stay in our offices until you let us know you’re ready. That way we can continue to work and still have the meeting without wasting a lot of time.”

When the boss is from another country, steer clear of such statements as, “That’s the way we do it in this country.” That’s demeaning, and demeaning the boss, even with the best of intentions, is a bad idea.

If the boss is a reasonable person, she may welcome your suggestions, but because the boss is the boss, she may also respond with the managerial equivalent of “tough cook-ies,” and you’ll have to find another way to deal with the problem.

7abVSEV]ZSE]`ZR:ObS-Entire countries and regions generally adopt one time style or the other. The United States, the United Kingdom, and most of western Europe are distinctly monochronic, while many parts of the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America are much more polychronic.

During a business appointment in the United States, participants usually concentrate on a specific topic. They may route their calls to voice mail and close their doors to interruptions. They often use the appointment to devise strategies for meeting deadlines.

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In polychronic countries, however, an appointment may be only part of what the par-ticipants are doing at any one time. They may take and make calls during a meeting;

deal with other, unrelated problems; or chat pleasantly and sometimes at length with those who happen to walk in through the always-open door. To polychronic folks, these activities are not distractions or interruptions; they are an integral part of daily life.

Of course, if you’re a typical hard-driving Western businessperson trying to accomplish a task within a rigid time frame, you may be intensely frustrated by having to deal with someone who believes that things will unfold naturally in their own sweet time.


You can’t let your frustration get the better of you if you want to continue dealing effectively with your overseas peers. Watch your words and remember that:

U Their time sense is a difference, not a deficit. Both monochronic and polychronic styles are valid. Neither is superior in every case.

U You may have to adapt your goals. Perhaps you’ll be able to carry out only a part of your mission during the time allotted. If the relationship with your counter-part is important, you have little choice but to learn to go with the flow.

No matter where you fall on the time spectrum, be aware that much of the world is at the opposite pole.

EVObÂabVS1]\bSfb-Context refers to the environment in which communication happens. These environ-ments can be high-context or low-context, depending on the degree to which speakers and listeners use factors other than the words themselves to convey the meaning of messages.

Experts agree that the most monochronic countries in the world are Germany and Switzer-land. Many countries contend for the most polychronic.

Talking Points

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In document The Complete Idiot's Guide to Difficult Conversations (Page 77-81)