Concept of time

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Cultures handle time differently. On one end of the spectrum, we have polychronic cultures, and on the other end we have monochronic cultures. The terms monochronic and polychronic have to do with how the people of one culture perceive and manage time. To polychronic cultures, time is continuous, with no particular structure. Polychronic people see time as a never-ending river, flowing from the infinite past, through the present, into the infinite future. Monochronic cultures relate to time differently. To them, time is discrete, not continuous. Monochronic cultures see time as being divided into fixed elements — seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and so on — temporal blocks that can be organized, quantified and scheduled.

The table below summarizes the essential differences:

Monochronic people Polychronic people
Do one thing at a time Do many things at once
Concentrate on the job Are highly distractible and subject to interruptions
Take time commitments (deadlines, schedules) seriously Consider time commitments an objective to be achieved, if possible
Are low-context and need information Are high-context and already have information
Are committed to the job Are committed to people and human relationships
Adhere religiously to plans Change plans often and easily
Are concerned about not disturbing others; follow rules of privacy and consideration Are more concerned with those who are closely related (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
Are accustomed to short-term relationships Have strong tendency to build lifetime relationships

Northern Europeans tend to have a monochronic view of time. Mediterranean, Latin American, and Arab cultures tend to have a polychronic view.

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