ULG’s Language Solutions Blog

Do You Experience Polychronic or Monochronic Time?

When do you have to wake up to get to work on time? When’s that important meeting? What time are you meeting friends for dinner? How you answer these questions will depend on whether you experience polychronic or monochronic time.

The way we perceive time seems like a concept that is constant for everyone, no matter where they are in the world. However, time and how we manage it are constructs of social expectations and are dependent upon what a culture considers good time management. How people experience time can be very different across the world.


Polychronic and Monochronic Time

The study of how time can affect different cultures is known as chronometrics, and those differences can be boiled down into two expansive categories—polychronic and monochronic.

Polychronic means a culture does many things at once. Their concept of time is free-flowing, and changes depending on each situation. Distractions and interruptions are a natural part of life, and have to be taken in stride.

On the other hand, a monochronic culture will focus on doing one thing at a time, concentrating on the job at hand without distractions, and viewing previous commitments as critical, and not optional.

Monochronic cultures also emphasize the value of being prompt no matter what, keeping to plans as best they can. Polychronic cultures value promptness differently depending on the relationship with whoever they’re meeting; they are more comfortable altering plans to fit a situation as it changes.

Because polychronic cultures often show commitment to people and relationships over just a job, many are often put into the high-context categorization of communication. Short-term relationships don’t faze monochronic cultures as much, so they are usually grouped with low-context cultures.


Time in Multinational Business

Here’s an example of how a culture’s conception of time will dictate business meetings:

In Germany, a meeting with a client is at 1 PM, and all associates meet on time. For even one person to be late would be considered incredibly rude, and would reflect poorly on the company. The meeting has a set length of time, everyone stays on subject, and it concludes in a standard fashion.

In contrast, a meeting in Mexico might be set for the same time, but if someone is late to the meeting, not much thought is given. The conversation flows naturally, with talk of both the business at hand, but also other topics that come to mind. If the meeting goes long, it goes long. It might even evolve from a business meeting into a trip to the local restaurant.

This is just one example of the differences between polychronic and monochronic cultures. Since time is central to day-to-day experiences, the chronometric preferences of a culture will vastly change how it operates with business, friendships, events, and much more. Take time to observe how your own culture reacts to time. Usually, those reactions are subconscious, and will tell you a lot more about what your culture values.

To learn about more cultural and linguistic differences across the world, explore the rest of our blog.

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