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Introducing monochronic and polychronic time

This video discusses cultural preferences on monochromic (linear, sequential, analogue) and polychromic (concurrent, multi-tasking, digital) time cont

This video discusses cultural preferences on monochromic (linear, sequential, analogue) and polychromic (concurrent, multi-tasking, digital) time contrasts. These are shown in individualist, collectivistic and specialized cultures.

Time expectations across cultures are very complex. Hall’s chronemics provided the very helpful demarcation between M-time and P-time, which helps explain many cross-cultural expectations, miscommunications, and frustrations.

M-time (Monochronic) orientations typically:

  • Emphasize linear, step-wise sequencing (like an analog clock)
  • Prefer doing one thing at a time or meeting with one person at a time, with preference for clear beginnings and endings
  • Fit well with low-context, individual- and task-oriented cultures
  • Prefer process thinking, specified procedures, clear tasks, goals, objective or measurable outcomes.
This is increasingly adopted in the world of business or the service industry (like having to wait in a queue, and the implementation of a yellow line to wait in line behind). This type of behavior aims to be effective and can be very efficient in controllable contexts
P-time (Polychronic) orientations typically:
  • Emphasize holistic, polyphonic, synchronous action (like a digital clock)
  • Prefer doing multiple things (dynamic schedules), responding to a diversity of inputs, or relating to several people at the same time
  • Fit high-context, group- and relationship-oriented cultures
As with HC and LC, no culture fully implementsM-time or P-time across the board. A Chinese bank follows line-up M-time while a wet-market keeps multiple customers happy with P-time concurrent customer service.
It’s no longer about differences between East and West, North and South (our former geographic descriptions or stereotypes are being challenged). Waiters at sit-down restaurants anywhere in the world have to satisfy customers at different tables concurrently, while even localized fast-food restaurants takes order by queuing up. Older people in most cultures might prefer slower M-time sequences of activities, but youth around the world tend to be more accustomed to faster P-time plurality. Globalization, new media, and digital apps as pushing people everywhere toward more multi-tasking, so whatever your orientation was before, most of us have to learn to deal with things differently.
Take some time to recall which time modes you most frequently encounter. We hope that these M- and P-time constructs help better prepare you for which ever styles this changing world exposes you to.

Additional resources:

As a review and expansion of this step, you might find the “Characteristics and Behaviors” of M- and P-time assessment helpful at these sites:

The Concept of Time

Your Time or My Time

We also recommend the download of Jeff Burglund’s “Time (Chronemics)” entry in the Sage Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication Competence

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Intercultural Communication: Dynamics of cultural identities in global interaction

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