Nature’s Timeline: Polychrons and Time Perception

A new factory opened up in Alaska, and several Inuits were hired on to work.

To alert everyone to the workday schedule, a whistle would ring throughout the factory.

When it was time for lunch, the whistle. Before a fifteen-minute break, whistle. When the workday was over, whistle.

By the end of the week, every single Inuit had quit. They could not abide by this angry whistle.

Their culture is not run according to a rigid schedule but rather by the tides. 

The tides are what dictate human activities, particularly harvesting mussels in the ice sheets when the tide is low.

So to the Inuits, time and human activity are determined by nature…not by man and his whistle. 

Last week, we talked about how monochrons value time as something tangible.

But for polychrons, time is valued on a whole different scale.

Polychronic Time

Consider a race track.

Several horses run on the same track at different speeds, each in their own lane.

This is similar to how polychrons view time.

Often, in a polychron’s mind, there are several simultaneous lanes on the same track: different tasks, running at the same time on their own lanes.

One lane has a work agenda, with tasks approximately scheduled.

Another has a personal agenda, with relationships being of equal import as work.

There is a push-and-pull between various mental lanes in a polychron’s timeline track.

Polychrons and Agendas

Polychrons view human relationships and quality time as more important than cost-priority issues.

If you attend a meeting in a country with a polychronic time perception, like Mexico or India, for example, you should not expect the meeting’s agenda to start on time.

Instead, what you should expect is to partake in a long period of socializing before the meeting even starts, usually over tea or coffee. 

This is to build rapport and start off on the right foot.

Before modern industrialization, this is how many European countries perceived time too.  

Running a tight ship, schedule-wise, was not so essential to the bottom line, whereas personal interaction was commonplace and just as important as the agenda.

You can still see this in the cultures of southern European countries, like Italy or Spain.

Polychrons and Deadlines/Appointments

There is no deadline obsession in polychronic cultures. 

Due to not prioritizing deadlines, other scheduled tasks are then delayed as well.

Those who expect something done in polychronic cultures take these delays easier than a monochron might. They are not put off or annoyed by the delays, because they accept this is how things go.

Though a task might go over the scheduled time in a polychronic culture, it will usually be completed…just within its own time.

Appointment times too are an approximation.

Although everyone will be seen, it likely won’t be as per schedule.

Polychron vs. Monochron

Considering these vastly different perceptions of time, you can see why polychronic and monochronic cultures might butt heads when it comes to business matters.

Next week, we’ll talk more about how to bridge the divide.

“Hawaiian Time” vs. “Haole Time”: When Monochronic and Polychronic Time Perspectives Collide

You’ve just moved to Hawaii, and your new associate wants to schedule a meetup tomorrow to go over the basics.

They tell you, “Let’s meet at 3 o’clock, ‘Hawaiian time’.”

You show up at three o’clock, on the dot. 

By 3:05, you’re looking at your watch.

By 3:15, you’re tapping your foot.

By 3:35, you’re considering throwing in the towel.

Your associate finally arrives at 3:43, looking unhurried and surprised by your clear exasperation.

When you mention the scheduled meetup time, they laugh and say, “I did say, ‘Hawaiian time’?”

Little did you know, “Hawaiian time” means “island time” – in other words, the schedule is lax, and a meeting will start whenever the attendees happen to roll on up.

Had your new associate said, “Let’s meet at three o’clock, ‘Haole time’,” you could have expected them to show up at 3 o’clock, as stipulated.

The term, “haole,” is slang for non-native Hawaiians or Caucasian Westerners, who culturally have a much stricter value of time.

This type of cultural collision is bound to occur when the time orientations and/or perspectives of associated cultures don’t align, which can happen even across different cultures in a single assimilated country, as this example illustrates.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent some time (no pun intended) discussing time orientation: past, present, future, and timeline.

These orientations fall into different time perspectives – monochronic and polychronic – and, as with time orientations, the corresponding cultural values and norms vary.

Let’s take a brief look at how.

Monochronic Cultural Proclivities

Monochronic cultures often have a linear or timeline/future orientation.

You might find people of monochronic cultures to be more inclined toward the following:

  • Completing one task at a time
  • Focusing on the task at hand
  • Following strict deadlines or schedules
  • Requiring information and being low-context
  • Being work-oriented and committed to tasks at hand
  • Being committed to plans
  • Viewing ownership and privacy as important
  • Promoting timeliness, despite circumstances or relationships
  • Tending toward practical relationships that are often short-lived

As you can see, monochronic cultures value strict timelines more than anything, as doing so makes the trains run on time.

Conclusion: if you’re working with or in a monochronic culture, you’ll succeed in a timely manner.

Polychronic Cultural Proclivities

Polychronic cultures often have a past orientation.

You might find people of polychronic cultures to be more inclined toward the following::

  • Multitasking
  • Focusing on events occurring around them
  • Aiming for results, goals, and objectives
  • Possessing information and being high-context
  • Being relationship-oriented
  • Being flexible with plans
  • Viewing networking and community as important
  • Promoting relationships and circumstances over timeliness
  • Tending toward lifelong relationships and family ties

As you can see, relationships matter more than time in polychronic cultures.

Conclusion: if you’re working with or in a polychronic culture, you’ll succeed by preserving the relationship.

Seeing as these values and norms vary so greatly, working cross-culturally with polychronic or monochronic cultures can require some understanding and finessing.

We’ll talk more in-depth about each time perspective in the upcoming weeks.

A Cross-Cultural Look at How One’s Sense of Control Influences Life Satisfaction & Well-Being

You have a dream: you want to become a famous singer.

You’re driven by an internal locus of control, meaning you believe you control your fate.

So, you take singing lessons, seek out every opportunity to perform, and invest time and money into building your skill.

You believe that if you try, you’ll make it. Destiny is in your hands. You are responsible for your own self-fulfillment.

Now, imagine you have that same dream – to become a famous singer – but you’re driven by an external locus of control; you believe your fate is predetermined. Your destiny is out of your hands and is directed by your environment.

Although you hone your craft as well, you don’t seek out opportunities to achieve your destiny, as you believe it will come to you.

If it’s ordained in the stars, you will be self-fulfilled in time.

Which locus of control do you imagine results in a more positive subjective well-being?

Internal Locus Results

It makes sense that the way you view your own personal control over your life might impact satisfaction and well-being, and various studies confirm this.

According to the study, “Locus of control and subjective well-being – a cross-cultural study”:

“Internal locus of control has been linked with academic success (Gifford, Briceño-Perriott & Mianzo, 2006), higher self-motivation and social maturity (Nelson & Mathias, 1995), lower incidences of stress and depression (Garber & Seligman, 1980), and longer life span (Chipperfield, 1993). Psychological and physical well-being has also been shown to be moderated by perceived control (Brandstadter & Renner, 1990).”

Being that those with an internal locus believe they are the director of their own lives, this sense of control allows them some predictability, as they pursue their goals with the vision that they can achieve a specific outcome through their efforts. They’re optimistic about reaching the end goal and feel a sense of power over their own lives.

This is one reason why those with an internal locus – more often than not from individualist societies – tend to clock more positive results regarding satisfaction and subjective well-being.

However, the internal locus is a double-edged sword. Individualist societies often see higher suicide rates than collectivist societies, which may be a result of unmet ambitions and a lack of communal support.

External Locus Results

Opposite the internal locus, those with an external locus believe they have no control and, thus, there’s no predictability. Their lack of power results in anxiety, a more pessimistic view of their ability to create change, and lower subjective well-being.

A quote from that same study:

“External locus of control is correlated with higher levels of stress (Garber & Seligman, 1980), and Grob (2000) notes that stress is often caused because an individual perceives the situation as beyond his or her coping abilities; with ongoing stress having a negative effect on subjective well-being…It is noted that internals actively manipulate their environments, thus acting to take control of events and to change dissatisfactory conditions (Kulshresta & Sen, 2006). In contrast, externals feel powerless to control their successes or failures (Nielsen, 1987) and, thus, are unable to remove themselves from dissatisfactory situations (Kulshresta & Sen, 2006).”

One way in which those with an external locus – more often than not from collectivist societies – combat this insecurity is to build a strong support system structure.

This is one reason collectivist societies are built upon relationships; so that the support is there when the “environment” takes an individual down a dark road.

Both the internal and external locus are cultivated by culture.

Next week, we’ll talk about the ways in which a culture’s locus of control is illustrated in media and daily life.

Primary and Secondary Control: How Cultures Control Their Fate

We’ve been talking about the locus of control over the past few weeks.

Specifically, we’ve discussed the external locus – believing outcomes are determined by environmental factors – and the internal locus – believing fate is in our hands.

Regardless of whether someone has an external or internal locus, each tries to control their fate but in different ways and to varying degrees.

They do so by primary or secondary control efforts, the first of which is active, and the second of which is passive.

Let’s take a look at how these active/passive traits unfold in the workplace.

Primary Control

Those from individualist cultures often demonstrate an internal locus of control.

Individualists believe they control their own fate.

Being as such, they demonstrate active primary control.

Primary control is a trait found in those who directly intervene in affairs, in order to command control over his/her environment or standing

For instance, Sally wants a promotion, so Sally does whatever she can to get what she wants. She works late hours, beats deadlines, invests time into learning new skills, meets and exceeds expectations. She may even try to grease the wheels with superiors and use her networking skills to expand her reach.

Sally doesn’t just wait for the job to fall into her lap. She believes success comes with work, and that if she demonstrates primary control over her environment, she will achieve her end goal.

Sally uses primary control to command her fate.

Secondary Control

Being that those with an external locus – most often from collectivist cultures – do not believe they control their fate, you might think they don’t try to at all.

But they do. Passively.

Secondary control is a trait found in those who align themselves with individuals or groups with established power.

Collectivists prefer secondary control, as their cultural values lean hard on avoiding conflict and the submission of personal control.

For instance, Dan wants to be well-regarded within the company. His colleague, Steve, is already well-regarded. Steve is also part of The Elite, an exceptional group within the company.

So, what does Dan do to get a leg-up? Dan befriends Steve. He works on becoming a member of The Elite. In doing so, he is molding relationships and changing the way higher-ups and colleagues regard him within the company.

Although the individual isn’t as active as Sally in controlling his fate, he is still trying to command passive control by building his image and the right relationships that might aid or change his environment.

Whether someone demonstrates primary or secondary control is largely based on the culture within which they live. But both types of control are seen in all cultures.

Contracts in China: How Relationship-Based Cultures View Contractual Obligations

When you do business in China, you may come across a common contractual clause.

This clause stipulates that if issues arise, the contracted parties will discuss them and the contract may potentially be redrafted.

China is a relationship-based culture.

Someone from a rule-based culture, like most Western societies, will likely take issue with this clause.

Contracts are supposed to be black-and-white. They are supposed to be unambiguous. They are supposed to regulate specifically every aspect of the business relationship.

Contracts exist to effectively end the negotiation stage and begin working together.

The clause makes it clear that the contractual agreement may be renegotiated at any time. That means, for instance, when the parties do face a dispute, it might not go to court in the city in which the contract stipulates, but rather in a city court where the established law may work in the other party’s favor.

So, why even negotiate a contract in China? If it’s so ambiguous, what does the contract stand for?

Relationship-based Values vs. Rule-based Values

The relationship-based culture of China values a mutually beneficial and respectful business relationship. The contract is symbolic as such.

The contract signifies that personal relationships exist amongst the parties, therefore future disagreements may be negotiated.

While in Western cultures, a signed contract might mark the end of the negotiation process, in China – and in other relationship-based cultures – it marks the beginning.

You might think you’ve nailed down prices, but even those can be renegotiated days or weeks after signing.

Although those from Western cultures might see such a contract as pointless, its signing is still very important in relationship-based cultures.

In fact, it’s so important, that a contract signed with a Chinese company traditionally involves a luncheon or ceremony when making it official.

As soon as a contract is signed, it signifies that the two parties – especially the leaders – are publicly friends and will be respectful of their business relationship.

Relationships-to-Home Life

Relationship-based societies also view work life and personal life as inseparable to the point that “personal relations” and “business relations” are concepts that don’t exist in these societies.

That’s because company rules are dominated by relationships, particularly if an employee’s in-group is their family or tribe.

This means that if you have a conflict with an employee, it can often extend to a conflict with his/her family, kin, or any other member of his/her in-group.

Next week, we’ll discuss how this situation might manifest, along with other conflicts that crop up in business in relationship-based cultures.