top of page
  • Writer's pictureRegina Reinhardt

Room for Improvement

Coaching global managers, I often am asked ‘What should I do differently or be aware of, when working with people in a different culture?’ Of course, there are do-and-don’t checklists for adapting to different cultures, and you can follow trainings on culturally-appropriate behaviors. What if we took a different approach and focused on improving what we already do well – on what we can learn from each other?

Let's start by exploring two cross-cultural value differences, which I believe are potential areas for improvement and growth in our own behavior.

Perception of Time

When you work in Western time zones, in major international cities, or in globally-present corporate cultures, time is mostly perceived as the equivalent of money – a precious resource never to be wasted. Meetings are planned to the minute; schedules are fully packed days ahead. Being late is not an option, as it is perceived as unprofessional or a loss of face, and can lead to missing out on profitable business opportunities. In a nutshell, time has to be controlled, no matter what!

People in controlled time cultures, typically become very skilled at

  • being reliable – specific time arrangements are to be respected as promises

  • committing – being punctual or even coming early and waiting

  • showing respect – for other peoples' time, not wasting it by running late

Things are quite different in fluid-time cultures. In the MENA region, similarly to Latin America or Southern Europe, time is perceived as fluid, not to be controlled. Like a river flowing through a village, it is steered by nature such as animals, weather conditions, water quality and so on. The river simply is a tool to swim in, a source of nutrition or a meeting point; nobody expects people to control the entire life of a river. Likewise, time is a tool used for making mutual appointments. Life happens and therefore it’s ok to run late, postpone or even reschedule last minute. Time and date are understood as guides rather than something that has to be controlled.

People living and working in communities with fluid-time culture are like surfers on virtual rivers. They typically become very skilled at

  • trusting the right thing will happen when the time is right – inshallah!

  • staying flexible and showing readiness to reschedule meetings, instead of clinging to a plan

  • prioritizing relationships and people over business matters

What Comes First, The Relationship or The Business?

Trust is crucial for doing business in the MENA as well as Western areas of our globe, no doubt. Trust-building, however, can be done in two fundamentally different ways.

In Western task-oriented cultures, trust is mostly gained through delivering quality, acting reliably, subscribing to punctuality and performing with consistent excellency. It’s no more important than having a well-known family name, being a member of the party in power, being wealthy or having obtained a position in the army. Education is generally accessible, and jobs are available, hence for the majority, a strong education and profound personal commitment are the starting points for a promising career.

Benefits of task-oriented cultures include