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The importance of understanding perceptions of time in the cross cultural relocation context May 22nd, The importance of understanding perceptions of time in the cross cultural relocation context Okrug Gornji, May 22, Introduction Every day we are faced with confrontations between people, groups, and nations who think, feel and act differently.
At the same time, these people, groups and nations are exposed to common problems that require cooperation for finding a common solution. One of the reasons why so many solutions do not work or cannot be implemented is because differences in thinking among the partners have been ignored.
Never before had it occurred to me that apart from traditions, food, religion, education, the political and geographical climate, also the experience of time, would have a significant impact on the way we live, work, and plan for the future.
In Western European languages, we treat time as a continuum, divided into past, present and future, which makes it possible for us to feel that we can manage time, spend it, save it, or waste it. This case study will look at the most important interpretations of time and how this aspect of culture affects the success of a relocation mission.
Purpose In my field of activity — relocation - we help families coming from all over the world to find a suitable home, to register their children in the right school, to integrate into their new community.
Being aware of their interpretation of time, which in some cases is almost the opposite of our view on time, will facilitate the empathy of our relocation consultants.
During conversations with a French Executive Director, one might become gradually aware of his achievements in the past, his excellent marks in a highly respected Parisian university; to him, where you come from will have an impact on where you are going from here.
This person will be inclined to choose a traditional school for his children, a discrete but classy house for his family.
The Russian Sales Manager however, is more present and future oriented. His choices are based on getting the most out of today, which explains why a very ostentatiously luxurious house, bargained down to his budget, will make him very happy.
One family thrives on the past; the other only has eyes for achievements in the present and future. The goal of this study is to expose some of the main lines of thinking on this subject, by referring to the perception of specialists in the field, namely Geert Hofstede, Fons Trompenaars and Edward T.
The purpose is to improve the quality of relocation services, by adding this paper to the training material of the relocation consultants, and by encouraging them to adapt certain nuances in those elements of the settling in process that are influenced by cultural perceptions of time.
He found culture could be described on different levels, comparable to the layers one peels off an onion 4. The outer layers contain symbols words, gestures, and clothesheroes people who serve as models of behaviorrituals, including ways of greeting, religious ceremonies, and also discourse 5the way language is used in text and talk.
These outer layers are visible to an outside observer. The cultural meaning, however, is invisible and lies in the way these practices are interpreted by the insiders of that culture, the ones that live in the tiny heart of the onion.
Time is part of this visible daily interaction, of communication, but its interpretation lies in the heart of the onion, in the culture and the values. The cultural meaning can create a value judgment based on time.
For example, being late at a German meeting or being early at a Spanish party, are both considered inappropriate behavior in the respective countries. This last dimension is closely linked to the concept of time. In strong uncertainty avoidance societies, life is hurried, and time is money.
In weak uncertainty avoidance societies, people are able to work hard if there is a need for it, but they are not driven by an inner urge toward constant activity. Time is merely a framework to orient oneself in, but not something one is constantly watching.
After Geert Hofstede had worked with Michael Harris Bond from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who had conducted a comparison of the values of students from 10 different national or ethnic groups in the Asia-Pacific region 6he complemented his initial four dimensions with a fifth one, Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation.
The long term orientation in this chapter expresses a dynamic orientation to the future, with virtues such as perseverance and thrift.
Their studies come to the conclusion that cultures differ by the solutions they find to problems. These problems are categorized under three themes: It seems that the solution brought forward to a random problem, is different in cultures where time is experienced as a sequence of events, in a certain chronology, as opposed to cultures where time is a synchronic concept, in which the past, the present and the future are a cyclic evolution, with interaction between all three.
A third cultural guru of our times, the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall, approaches time in a similar way to Trompenaars. Chronological events belong in monochromic time, synchronic handlings take place in polychromic time. Hall found the understanding of the interpretation of time to be so vital in making communication between different cultures work, that he devoted a whole book to The Other Dimension of Time 1 and 2.
According to his book, monochromic people do one thing at a time, concentrate on the job at hand, keep an eye on the clock, and emphasize job priorities and timeliness.
At the other end of the spectrum, polychromic people do many things at the same time, are easily distracted, put relationships first and let these relationships determine their time schedule; the job will get done, but in their own time. Application If Hofstede, Trompenaars and Hall decide that the interpretation of time is fundamental for intercultural relationships, they are likely to be relevant and important for those working across cultures.Without understanding that everyone has a culture, we can have a tendency to treat culture as if it were a “thing.” this discomfort can manifest as distrust, passiveness in communication with providers, and poor compliance.
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Video created by National Research University Higher School of Economics for the course "Understanding Russians: Contexts of Intercultural Communication".
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