Read on to learn about: How ten days is not really ten days. How Cultural Intelligence at work can help you with deadlines and make you more Zen. Behaviors to help you better understand yourself and your colleagues and how you view time.
Subjectivity of Time
Ten days on vacation versus ten days at work. Ten days is ten days. The amount of time is exactly the same. Seconds, hours, minutes, days – these are universal and objective. But ten days at work and ten days on vacation are in no way the same. In trainings when I ask “are ten days at work and ten days on vacation the same amount of time?”, the answer is always: no way in hell. That’s because something we know as objective, standard and universal – time – is, in reality, none of those things.
Time is lived and it is lived by humans and, as we know, humans are subjective beings. And because we are subjective we see time, just like all cultural concepts, from our own unique cultural and personal lens. So depending on who you are and the culture you come from, you will see time in different ways.
You set a deadline and your team/colleague doesn’t reach the deadline. On top of that, they don’t even seem worried about not reaching it.
You were already angry that they didn't reach the deadline, but when you see they aren't bothered by it, you get even more angry. Maybe you even take it to a personal level:
Not only are these thoughts probably not true but it also doesn’t help you at all to think this way.
But it's easy to take things personally and to blame. So you do. We all do it. Sometimes we even convince ourselves that it really is all their fault. But we're adults and we know that it's almost never just their fault.
It's also yours.
You ask for a document to be sent to you by Friday but you receive it the following Wednesday and it has mistakes. With the back and forth emails to correct the mistakes the document is finally ready one week late
You're furious. You needed to send the document to the client a week ago and now you feel like you have failed.
You're furious because you expected to send the document to the client at a certain time and you couldn't.
The ones who created the document assumed that no one is going to read anything on a Friday so they can still finish it on Monday. Which is what they did.
You thought, "I want to send the document out on Friday, so I expect it to be done by the Wednesday". In my head you assumed your colleagues would think the same way.
Expectations and assumptions. Both of you were working based on your own expectations and assumptions, which were very different from each other and which lead to misunderstandings and frustration. Who is to blame? In this case both were at fault since both had expectations and assumptions that we didn’t discuss with the other.
Expectations and Assumptions of Time
When I teach about the concept of time I always start by having participants brainstorm anything they associate with “time”. The results are generally like this:
According to this time is many, many things; we cannot define it because it is everything from stress to sports. So the one real thing we can say about time is that you can only live it.
And different cultures live it in different ways.
Going back to our brainstorming image, we can divide the ideas in two general concepts, and these two concepts represent the two general types of expectations and assumptions associated with time:
Like all things, everyone is somewhere on the spectrum of time – either closer to the money side, closer to the relationship side or in the middle.
Most people imagine a laid back, hippie-like friend on the "relationship" side and a stressed-out, deadline obsesses co-worker on the "money" side. But these images are stereotypes that, like all stereotypes, turn humans into caricatures with only extreme qualities. And, like always, the reality is much more detailed.
Below you’ll find a general outline of how each type is more likely to behave. When reading these lists please remember that humans are much more complex than a simple list. So, you want to keep in mind that people are simply more likely to behave one way or another way.
Time as Money
Those on the “money” side take time very seriously, their calendar is clearly broken down into monthly, weekly and daily tasks and they are reluctant to accept more than one project at the same time because for them they feel that is the best way to give the company 100% of their attention – by working on things one at a time. Deadlines are actually deadly for them – a missed deadline is a legitimate reason to freak out. So things are generally done on time, but there isn’t much flexibility. Being on time is a mark of your personality, and being late is simply rude. Actually, being “on time” sometimes means being 10 minutes early because for them time is an object, it can be controlled. Time/Money folks have a schedule and they stick to it. At meetings they like to go item by item as it is listed on the agenda. If an issue comes up that is not on the agenda they prefer to dedicate another meeting to discussing it instead of addressing it in the moment. They prefer order and logic and are accused of not paying attention to the personal side of things. In fact, they’re very good at separating the personal from the professional.
Time as Relationships
For Time/Relationship people things aren’t that black and white. That’s because they think first of the person then of the task. It’s very important for them to nurture the relationship with the person before getting to work. When asked if they can take on a project they will probably say yes even though they already have two or three other projects at the same time. But, that’s ok, because they want to help you out, they want to do what’s best for the company – this is their way of giving 100%. A deadline is a suggestion and if it’s not met then no worries, because the task will be done.. just not exactly when we first thought it would be. And why? Well, because they have other projects, for other people who they may have a more trusting relationship with, and also because things happen – things come up and we must be flexible to be able to adapt. Being late is ok because time is endless. At a meeting they don’t mind talking about things that aren’t on the agenda, in fact, they don’t mind interruptions in general. They prefer to pay attention to each individual than to focus only on the task, because tasks are done by humans and we have to address human needs first – that is the only way to ensure that tasks done. For them personal and professional are mixed and they don’t mind having a cup of coffee with their colleagues because for them that is part of working.
Working Together to Save Time
Each side approaches work with expectations and assumptions based on their concept of time. In this respect neither one is right nor wrong in their actions, but working together means having clashes of expectations and assumptions. In other words, it can be really frustrating.
So when these two personalities work together they have to actually work together – creating shared definitions, expectations and assumptions of timetables and deadlines and, at the same time, respecting each person’s natural inclination.
So, what could you have done differently to get your document when you wanted it? Before anything, you should have communicated more with them to develop a stronger relationship – and this does not mean emailing and calling to ask only about the progress of the document. You could have called instead of emailing, or even better – gotten your butt up and went down to their office with a cup of coffee/tea/water and asked if you could explain to them, in person, what you wanted. And if that's not possible then set up a Skype chat where you catch up for the first 10 minutes then talk business. You also could have talked about your personal expectations and assumptions of timelines and deadlines and asked about their workload and then negotiated a date that was reasonable for both.
Do you have to do this every time you need something? No, you just have to work harder at the beginning to create the relationship, get to know them, let them get to know you and then work to maintain the relationship. Yes, it does mean more work at the start, but it also means a lot less emails, calls and frustration because in the long run things work better.
In short, just like everything else in life, cross-cultural communication requires work and strategy to make it easy. It's the only way to make 10 days at work as close as possible to 10 days on vacation.
By: Shiva Roofeh
If you want to learn more about the concept of time then get yourself to Google and type in “monochronic” and “polychronic”.
For more strategies on how to work better with both time concepts, you can start here.
6. 3. 2
That's 6 countries, 3 languages and 2 religions. Expat, immigrant, refugee, TCK, there are lots of things you can call me, but I prefer Shiva.