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We all have issues about time. I tend to be a tad obsessive about being on time to the point that I have earned the name “Big Ben”. So here are some of my strategies for not getting in trouble with others on the issue of time.
Strategy One:“When in Mexico don’t do what North Americans do”
At the Mexican immigration office a few months ago an official told us to wait “Un momento (One moment) for our visa issue to be resolved!” I replied teasingly, “Dos momentos (two moments)” We both smiled because of a common understanding that it would be two hours. And it was.
Another time I was waiting in a bank line in Mexico that seemed to be taking forever. I muttered a few choice words under my breath when a Mexican woman turned to me and said, “Sir, you need to calm down”.
What about when we struggle with people in our own culture over time? It helps to have a plausible explanation for the many reasons people relate to time.
Strategy Two: Don’t be centered on what you want.
There are basically two views of time. The one, a liner view, believes that time is scarce and needs to be managed carefully. Here terms like “A waste of time”, “Time is money”, and “Time is passing too quickly” are frequently heard. This is the dominant view in the USA.
The other view is that time is plentiful and abundant. People who believe this often tell us, “Chill out” or “There are more important things than time”.
Most people can shift from one value to the other depending on the context. But others rigidly adhere to their view of time. I know a man who would not see a person if they came 5 minutes late for a business appointment. I once taught in an academic institution where the head of the department routinely came 15-20 minutes late for meetings. With ten people waiting that was a waste of 200 minutes (my values are showing here). Why did he behave this way? My theory was that he thought that we should adapt to his needs and not necessarily him to ours. We managed him by extinguishing his behavior by leaving the conference room if he had not arrived in the first ten minutes.
Strategy Three: Don’t confuse doing with being.
Time conscious people believe “I do therefore I am”. From day one it seems that the clock and a schedule ran their lives. Anything out of sync with this is considered either a waste of time or extremely annoying. They become anxious, antsy, or bored when they are not busy. They find slow vacations very difficult to tolerate and cannot wait to get back to work. The idea of being fully in the present and aimlessly dreaming or wandering through a day is quite foreign to them.
How To Keep From Going Crazy Over Time
The key to this whole discussion is for us to find ways not to drive each other crazy over the clock. Not that one time perspective is superior to the other but when perspectives clash we need attitude adjusters like,
- A belief that my time is no more important than yours.
- The practice of staying wholly in the present.
- Seeking to adapt to cultural/personality differences.
- Don’t try to change the other person.
- The use of a good dose of humor (especially laughing at ourselves) about our quirks over time.
- Avoiding binary thinking like choosing one-way of thinking over another.
- Stop trying to control others with your needs around time.
- Live by two key words. Flexibility and adaptability.
So how do you manage the cultural differences or personality quirks over time?