In this third blog post about the ten value orientations of Cultural Intelligence (CQ)1Go to https://senduwiki.org/_media/summary_of_the_10_cultural_value_orientations_in_the_cq_assessment.docx to see a summary of all 10 CQ cultural value orientations., I want to look at cultural values related to time and planning.

Time is like a river

Time is like a river we all travel. How we view time and how we plan its use can be compared to canoeing a river. For instance, our uncertainty-avoidance orientation may affect whether we portage around rapids or enjoy the thrill of running them. Whether we are short-term or long-term oriented will determine whether we do day trips or week-long trips. Our monochronic or polychronic orientation will show itself in whether we focus on reaching the destination. Or is swimming, fishing, or photography along the way just as important?

When I was in high school and college, I led canoe trips for a camp in Maine. On these trips, I observed conflicts from variations in these orientations in the different personalities of the campers. In multicultural teams ministering cross-culturally, conflicts also surface from these different orientations. After a description of each orientation, I will offer a suggestion and a question for reflection. Your comments are welcome.

Low Uncertainty Avoidance and High Uncertainty Avoidance:

How you respond to ambiguity is a good indication of where you fall along the spectrum of this cultural value orientation. If you are comfortable with ambiguity and not planning everything in detail, then you are on the low-uncertainty-avoidance side. But if you make a spreadsheet before you go shopping, you are probably at the other end of the spectrum. Both extremes can lead to frustration. We don’t know the future so we cannot eliminate all uncertainty. Good planning for contingencies may help reduce anxiety, helping high-uncertainty-avoidance people move forward. Low-uncertainty-avoidance people bring flexibility and adaptability to move from planning to implementation.

When planning events, a ministry team can benefit from the strengths of both sides of the uncertainty-avoidance spectrum. Assign the planning of crucial details to people with high-uncertainty-avoidance. They will think through contingencies and options should initial assumptions fall through. A low-uncertainty-avoidance person would be able to reduce tension when last-minute changes need to be made. For instance, recall the tension you felt the last time when technology didn’t work as it should – even though it was tested ahead of time. Low-uncertainty-avoidance people can often adapt to these situations with less stress.

How have you benefited from members of your team with a different uncertainty-avoidance orientation?

Short-Term and Long-Term

If you find yourself repeating the phrase, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” you are probably long-term oriented. Emphasis is on planning for results over the long haul. You measure success by whether your work will remain for many years.

Others focus on short-term results in the next few weeks, months, or at most, a year. The rapid rate of change in today’s world leads short-term oriented people to focus on the immediate future. They argue that long-term goals may be irrelevant two to five years from now.

During the COVID-19 shelter-in-place situation, we probably have a lot of frustrated long-term oriented people.2The COVID-19 situation also relates to the uncertainty-avoidance orientation as well. Uncertainty is unavoidable now! Short-term planning is all that is possible in our current context. Yet long-term oriented people will have hope that a degree of normalcy will return and they will plan for that day. Meanwhile, our teammates with a short-term orientation can help us focus on the next 14 days (the time of quarantine or current restriction time frame).

How have you needed to adapt your long-term or short-term orientation in your host culture?

Monochronic/Linear and Polychronic/ Non-Linear:

Among cultural values related to time and planning, this pair of orientations is often a major cause of frustration in cross-cultural relationships. The monochronic/linear person values punctuality, and follows an orderly agenda, checking off one task at a time. In contrast, the polychronic/non-linear person values what is currently happening more than the clock. If the current event is not finished, then the next event will be delayed regardless of the time on the clock.

In monochronic cultures, people keep work and recreation or family time separate. They do not do both at the same time. But in polychronic cultures, these are often blended. Polychronic people are usually OK with interruptions. Check out a longer blog post by my colleague about this ability of polychronic-oriented people to multitask.

Changing cultural orientations

These cultural orientations are changing throughout the world due to globalization. Dr. Duane Elmer wrote in 2002:

It is my observation that much of the Two-Thirds World is becoming more like the West and much of the West is becoming more like the Two-Thirds World. For example, younger generation Americans are less time-oriented and more event-oriented. Two-Thirds World people, with exposure to the West, are becoming more time-oriented.3Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Connections, p. 118.

In my context, meetings, classes, worship services rarely start on time with everyone present. This is annoying to monochronic/linear people (like me). For monochronic people, frustration increases when there are multiple services, classes, or meetings on the same day. Allowing more time between events is one way of coping. But there will still be people that come late no matter how long the break is. Polychronic people will wonder why we should be ruled by the clock. Now both orientations value the event. But we need to develop coping skills in cultural contexts where the dominant orientation is different than ours. I have found it helpful to start classes with a low key connecting time that will not be disrupted by latecomers.

How are you learning to cope with monochronic/linear and polychronic/non-linear cultures in your context?

There are different ways people and cultures approach canoeing the river of time. Cultural values related to time and planning are part of what makes this world so diverse and so interesting. Let us learn to travel in the harmony of the gospel on the journey.