How to prepare for meetings with your international audience. Part 1: Time perspective

There are many things that can go wrong with meetings attended by your international partners, customers or colleagues. From time management through negotiation techniques to greeting habits – each culture may have different perspectives and behavioural patterns. Luckily, there are a couple of ways in which you can prepare for differences and similarities between you and your international audience. The step number one is to be aware of different time perspectives across the cultures.

Time orientation

The way your business partners or customers abroad view time will have an influence on your mutual relationship and communication. To work successfully with different cultures, you’ll need to consider the time perspective of your audience.

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Linear time

This is the most common way of perceiving time in the English and German speaking countries. Germany, Austria , the US, UK, Netherlands and Scandinavian countries will view time as a valuable and important commodity that can’t be wasted. Time literally is the money there. As result, these cultures prefer to work on one thing at a time to fully focus on the task at hand.  Meetings are expected to start punctually and adhering to the schedule is one of the top priorities in the business life.  Linear cultures perceive time as a simple line with the beginning and the end. The past is already behind, present can still be fully exploited and future can be planned. Your audience, business partners and customers from these cultures usually won’t tolerate interruptions, last minute changes or delays.

Cyclical time

Asian and African cultures usually perceive time in a cyclical way: each day the sun rises and sets, the same seasons occur every year, and everything around passes by to be replaced by new creatures again. There seems to be a plenty of time for everything, and no human being can control or fully plan the days ahead. What does it mean for your business? First of all, your Asian or African partners may need more time to take the right decision, even if you have already negotiated the best solutions during your meeting. Because the time is viewed as a repetitive cycle, also business opportunities or any other events in life might be deemed as repetitive. Future and past are more important than presence, that’s why your partners and customers may need to carefully consider all potential consequences before they take any decision. To prepare for the meeting with these cultures, remember to pay attention to indirect communication and observe nonverbal behaviour which may tell more than the words. Punctuality is very important and any face-to-face interactions will be valued more than e-mails or video conferences.

Flexible time

Some cultures tend to have a more relaxed view on time and consider it as something that can be easily adjusted and stretched. Schedules and punctuality are not of the utmost importance, as the present is usually more important than any appointments and deadlines scheduled in the future. Observing the schedule in business life, especially with partners from the linear cultures, shouldn’t be a problem for the flexible time cultures, if such an attitude is required. Southern Americans, Southern Europeans (Spaniards, Greeks, Italians) and Arabs are good examples of people from cultures with the flexible time orientation. The main focus here lies on the present, rather than on the future (linear cultures). Relationships and human feelings tend to be valued more than schedules or plans. What does it mean for your business? Be aware that your meeting may start later than planned and you may not be able to discuss everything in great detail. Give time frames rather than exact time points for any meetings or calls. The same applies to deadlines. It’s better to state that the delivery is due e.g. between Monday and Wednesday, rather than give the precise time and day.

Being aware of the time perspective of you partners and colleagues will help you prepare for your meetings and avoid disappointments. The right strategies for discussing the deadline and scheduling appointments will ensure that your collaboration runs smoothly, regardless of the time orientation of your international audience.

If you want to find out more about time perspective and communicating with business people from across the world, check out our online Intercultural Business Communication course.

About the author: Dorota Pawlak
Dorota Pawlak is the owner and managing director of Polish Localisation. She enjoys helping business enter new markets and is passionate about cultures, languages and technology.

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