Sequential or Synchronic?
Nobody, not even the greatest minds to have ever lived, really understands what time is but we can observe that people from different cultures view and perceive time differently.
Some cultures think of time sequentially - as a line with one event occurring after another. Time is also seen as a commodity that can be bought and sold or to "spend," "save," or "waste”. This ‘time is money’ attitude means that people feel that being on time is very important as it shows politeness and respect.
Other cultures view time synchronically - as a constant flow or cycle to be lived in the moment, and as something that cannot be controlled or commodified.
Think of the misunderstandings that can happen when one culture views arriving late for a meeting as bad planning or bad manners, while another culture thinks making “being on time” important, as immature impatience.
In sequential cultures, business people give full attention to one task until completed and then begin another. In many other parts of the world, where we find sequential cultures, people regularly do several tasks at the same time.
In synchronic cultures (including South America, southern Europe and Asia) the flow of time is viewed as circular - with the past, present, and future all inter-related.
Frederick Taylor, who was possibly the most influential business manager of the last century, was famous for managing by use of his watch. He is the man we can thank for invented ‘time and motion studies’ to control employees down to the second!
Organizations in the United States-businesses, government, and schools keep time by the calendar and the clock. Being “on time” is seen as a sign of dependability and of good organizational skills. Other cultures may keep time by the seasons and the moon, the sun, internal “body clocks,” or a personal feeling that “the time is right”
In North American where the prevailing attitude is “time is money” business people are often frustrated in negotiations with people who take a much more relaxed approach to time. Part of the problem is that people in many other cultures want to establish a personal relationship before they decide whether to do business with each other (High Context). The problem of time is made worse because various cultures mentally measure time differently. Most people in English speaking or North European cultures measure time in five-minute blocks. Someone who’s five minutes late to an appointment or a job interview feels compelled to apologize. If somebody is is running half an hour late, they will call to inform somebody that they will be late and the person waiting will expect to be told about the likely delay as well. This is because there is an understanding that maybe the person waiting has another appointment and do not want to be late themselves as they will be held responsible. But in the other cultures, 15 minutes or half an hour may be the smallest block of time. To someone who unconsciously measures time in 15-minute blocks, being 45 minutes late is no worse than being 15 minutes late is to someone who is measuring time in smaller blocks.
Time seen as a line
Finish one task before start another
Time seen as a commodity
Time is Money
Being ‘on time’ very important
Time seen as circular
Being late not so important
Do many things at once