Time management in international business

There are many cultural challenges in the international business world. An important point, which many employees and managers often ignore, is the different understanding of time. Read what you should pay attention to in todays blog post!

When it comes to time, a basic distinction is made between people with a tight and people with a loose time orientation.

Tight time orientation

1. Scheduling: Time is very valuable to people with a tight time orientation. It should therefore not be wasted and well planned.

Accordingly, people have a mostly well-stocked calendar, which has appointments for the current day as well as appointments for the coming weeks or even months. As a result, people are less spontaneous and less available in the short term. This is difficult if you want to build a relationship with someone who is planning on a very short notice.

Punctuality is particularly valued in cultures with a tight time orientation. After all, every delay has an impact on the appointments that follow later in the day. Time reliability is an essential factor for building trust and important for building a positive image as a reliable and professional person.

2. Working on tasks: People with a tight time orientation are not capable of multitasking. For example, it is not liked to take a phone call during a meeting or to listen to someone while doing another task. Doing things at the same time is quickly experienced as stressful and avoided if possible.

The same applies to the completion of tasks: You determine a sequence of tasks for yourself. In the following, you try to adhere to this linear sequence strictly. Interruptions are anything but welcome, as they confuse the steps that build on one another and create uncertainty. Accordingly, a new action is only started when the previous one has ended.

For example: I write an e-mail, send the e-mail. Only then will I call my colleague. Only after the call has ended do I go to the factory hall to check if everything is alright. One after the other.

To find out whether the people in your target country maintain this style, there is a relatively simple hint: simply observe the behavior when queuing [for example at a cash register or when getting on a bus]! Do people tend to line up one after the other or do they form a large cluster around the actual goal?

Some examples for cultures with a tight time orientation: Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Finland or Japan.

Loose time orientation

1. Scheduling: People with a loose time orientation plan their time less; especially not long in advance.

In addition, punctuality is not particularly important: the focus is more on the relationship level. For example, if you meet an old friend, talking to him is usually more important than making an appointment with a person with whom you don’t have an intensive relationship. You devote time to other people to show them that they are worth a lot.

This is also the case if a person shows up unexpectedly. It would be grossly rude not to take your time. Even if you actually have something else in mind.

It is not that time is not important per se, but there are many other values ​​that are at least as important. So it happens that in South America about 15 minutes delay is quite normal. In Africa or the Middle East, people sometimes wait up to half a day for an agreed meeting.

Non-punctuality is not considered a delay in cultures with a loose time orientation. This word can sometimes not even be translated into the respective language at all because it simply does not exist. If you wait for someone who appears “too late”, you simply spontaneously focus on other things.

Long-term planning, as is common in Germany, for example, tends to be misunderstood in cultures with a loose time orientation. Those who adhere to strictly defined plans are usually considered inflexible or unrealistic. After all, something can always come up, whereby improvisation and spontaneity are required.

One possible explanation: Many Thais believe in rebirth, for example. So why rush when you have X lives left?

2. Working on tasks: It is natural for people with a loose time orientation to do many things at the same time.

Listening to a person while writing an e-mail? No problem! With people who are not used to this style, this can quickly lead to the impression that work is chaotic / inefficient and that someone is not listening properly because they are doing other things in parallel.

There is also no linear sequence of tasks. Rather, one looks spontaneously for the current urgency.

Some examples for cultures with a loose time orientation: Turkey, Malaysia, Greece or France. Of course, not everybody in these countries has this particular style, but most people tend at least in that direction.

What can you do about it?

Here, you’ll find tips and strategies for dealing with both cultural differences!


About Markus Eidam

Nach meinem insgesamt vierjährigen Aufenthalt in verschiedenen Ländern dieser Welt bin ich seit dem Jahr 2004 Geschäftsführer bei den Auslands-Experten von Eidam & Partner. In jüngeren Jahren habe ich Interkulturelle Kommunikation, Erwachsenenbildung und Psychologie studiert und mich zum Trainer, Coach und Personalfachwirt der IHK ausbilden lassen. Unser Unternehmen bietet Ihnen Interkulturelles Training, Interkulturelles Coaching, Consulting und eLearning zu 80 Zielländern.
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