Global Culture: How Much Time Have You Got?

February 3, 2010 — 2 Comments

Where Are You On The Continuum?

Worldviews, or orientations, held by differing cultures vary widely. Time is an essentially universal concept, however the nature and essence of time can be strikingly different across cultures.  If observed and leveraged, each orientation offers pearls of wisdom worth considering and leveraging in your multi-cultural communications.

In cultures where time is considered scarce, it is similar to a valuable commodity – it is carefully saved and allocated judiciously.  From a scarcity perspective, it is viewed as critical to plan, delegate, learn to say no, and set strict priorities. As a global leader, you may communicate with cultures that view time as scarce and it is critical that you value time and maintain an efficient and practical pace within all interactions. Be clear on goals and priorities, apply timelines, clarify ownership, and always communicate effectively and efficiently.

Where time is viewed as abundant, the pace of life is much slower. Relationships are critical, and little will be accomplished without the time invested to create a trust environment. The human interaction is the single most valuable aspect of a business transaction, even to the exclusion of achieving business goals. For many cultures where time is perceived as abundant, interactions are seen as something to be unwrapped or unfolded slowly in order to know your counterparts, make well-considered decisions, contemplate the implications, and ponder the potential outcomes. Understand when you are working with cultures that perceive time as abundant, you may not accomplish everything you set out to do in the course of a meeting, quarter, or even year! Take the time, lay the foundation, and make an effort to build relationships based on trust – it will be invaluable to getting things done! Be cognizant of the fact that your concept of time may not be theirs, and allow plenty of time to get things done.

Time is seen in a different light by Western and Eastern cultures in particular (but certainly not exclusively), and even within these groupings time assumes unique aspects from country to country. For example, the United States and Mexico employ time in such diametrically opposing manners that it has a very high potential to cause friction, particularly in business scenarios. In Western Europe, the Swiss attitude toward time bears little resemblance to that of its neighbor, Italy; while the Thais do not evaluate the passing of time in the same way the Japanese do.  As you distinguish your own orientation toward time, recognize that your staff, counterparts, and colleagues from other nations are highly likely to understand time from a very different worldview. If you adjust accordingly, you will have a significantly higher success rates than if you consider only your own perspective. Take the chance – discover new options, shift perspectives, and leverage differing orientations to facilitate both your personal, and your organizations success!

For the next several weeks, I will be discussing specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders, Time Management: Past, Present, and Future Orientations.



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Sheri is The Global Coach, founder of Luminosity Global Consulting Group, Global Executive Coach, Speaker, Writer and Global Business and Cultural Expert.

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