Sunday, October 10, 2010

This explains a lot

I tutor a young woman in Business English. She's quite fluent but needs to work on a few skill areas, especially for work. We did some talking about cultural differences in the business world, since she works with both Europeans and Americans in addition to Russians.

A recent homework assignment asked the student to rate her native culture on a scale between contrasting behavior traits. To be honest I couldn't make sense of all of the terms that the textbook gave.

One pair related to time perception. Is your culture "monochronic" or "synchronic"? What did that mean? I offered an approximate definition, but promised to find out more. A search yielded the table you can see below (after the jump).

I can think of a few situations with roommates and such where these differences were obvious. For example, a Russian friend would notice something dirty (shoes, the stovetop) and stop immediately to clean it, whereas I would put it on my to-do list to take care of when I could work it into my schedule. However, I also switch back and forth between planned activities. Uh oh! click to see table/-

Monochronic People
Polychronic People
Do one thing at a time
Do many things at once
Concentrate on the job
Highly distractible and subject to interruptions
Take time commitments seriously (deadlines, schedules)
Consider time commitments an objective to be achieved only if possible
Low-context and need information
High-context and already have information
Committed to the job
Committed to people
Adhere religiously to plans
Change plans often and easily
Concerned about not disturbing others; Follow rules of privacy and consideration
More concerned with relations (family, friends, close business associates) than with privacy
Show great respect for private property, seldom borrow or lend
Borrow and lend things often and easily
Emphasize promptness
Base promptness on the relationship
Accustomed to short-term relationships
Strong tendency to build lifetime relationships

Source: Hall & Hall (1989)


  1. I guess I am pretty darned polychronic! One of those criterion reminded me of the little conversations always going on about facebook.... Fear that they have and/or will post this information or that information.... I'm always thinking "Why would anyone care?" I have almost no interest in privacy. I always put it down to being excessively trusting, though - now it appears it may be tied to this polychronistic trait as well.

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  3. Ha, the funny thing was when I read monochronic vs. synchronic, I was pretty sure I could guess what it meant. Virtually every Latin American culture is exceedingly polychronic compared to the US. I used to get invited to Brasilian weddings, show up 15 minutes after the time on the invite, and be the first one at the church!

    I love reading your observations on Russian culture, Liz.

    - Philip

  4. Ты и Юля, конечно, классический образец для сопоставления :)
    Однако, Лиза, ты ведь не все делаешь по правилам левой колонки в таблице! ;)
    Например, читаешь сразу несколько книжек.

  5. Jan, where'd your comment go?

    I definitely like to do a lot of different things at once (недочитанные книги), but as per the left column I'm fairly "religious" about plans and time-frames, and often choose a certain task over a personal relationship if I feel strongly that I must keep my word. I don't answer the phone if I'm working, things like that.

    My student pointed out that with globalization, Russians at least have taken on more European rules for conducting business, but retain particular cultural traits on their own territory or in daily life. So it depends on the context.

    And of course there are many other factors...


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