“Culture is to a human-being what water is to a fish - he is in it without realising.” (Hofstede)
In the following document I will analyze challenges and outline strategies to cope with possible conflicts for cases, where a monochronic person (typically Western European or American) is moving to a polychronic culture (typically Latin American, Mediterranean or Arabic).
In such a situation, conflicts are inevitable. In order to prevent cultural misunderstandings, the person must become aware of his own culture first, then grasp the culture of the host country in order to develop cultural awareness and intelligence. The following document attempts to illustrate the cultural values and characteristics that this person will most likely encounter in the polychronic environment, important measures on how to prevent conflicts and guidelines on how to negotiate a possible conflict.
The polychronic and traditional culture
Polychronic cultures perceive time to be fluid, not determinant on people’s actions. These cultures schedule their lives according to immediate needs, in contrast to monochronic cultures, where time is controlled in a rigid manner and deadlines determine when things get done. In polychronic and traditional cultures, relationships are very important - great emphasis is placed on the family and social groups. In contrast, Western cultures tend to underscore individualism and personal happiness. The concept of polychronic cultures is closely connected to high -context cultures, which, according to Hofstede, is more often found in traditional cultures.
The concepts as presented above have a number of implications that non-polychronic people need to be aware of in order to communicate efficiently with a polychronic and traditional culture. The remainder of this section will summarise the characteristics that need to be taken into consideration. Unless stated otherwise, definitions are taken from Hall (1984). “Polychronic culture” shall refer to the culture being analysed (i.e. the polychronic and traditional culture) and “monochronic culture” to the person sent to the new cultural environment (i.e. person who pays little attention to being ‘in sync’).
Time: Polychronic cultures experience time to be fluid. Therefore, fixing an appointment is not binding and being late for a meeting is generally accepted. Polychronic people are subtle towards the concept of time; the emphasis is not in quantifying it, but in completing tasks.
Context: In general, polychronic cultures do largely overlap with high-context cultures. Therefore, people will rely less on verbal communication and more on the context of nonverbal actions. There is less emphasis on the written word and environmental settings convey meanings.
Not surprisingly, people communicate through implicit messages and are sensitive to conflict expressed in another’s verbal communication. Less content is verbally or formally expressed, as there is a signification use of non-verbal elements, such as voice tone, facial expressions, gestures and eye movements.
Collectivism: According to Hofstede, traditional cultures rank high on collectivism, i.e. the “We-conscious” is higher than personal fulfilment. In a collectivist culture, one’s identity is rooted in social contexts and developing good relationships is important. People are deeply immersed in each other’s businesses and feel a compulsion to keep in touch.
Consequently, relationships have an immediate effect on how things get done. There is a strong awareness of insiders and outsiders and people are served in order of personal relationship (e.g. queuing becomes a secondary concept). People are more important than schedules and individual emotion is often suppressed to secure the group harmony.
 HALL, Edward T., 1984, p.41ff
 OLWENY, M. R. O., 1992, p.26
 BOVÉE, Courtland L. and Thill, John V., 1999, p.69
 HALL, Edward T., 1984, p.46ff
 THOMAS, David C. and Inkson, Kerr, 2004, p.116
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- monochronic polychronic challenges strategies cross-cultural communication negotiation conflicts misunderstanding guidelines analysis