How do we perceive time? And what does this mean for my appointments or travel schedule? In the west we see time as sequential, a straight line, whereas in India your host sees time as synchronic, they see the past, present and future as interrelated.
In a nutshell, this approach to time explains why westerners are always rushing about, completing one meeting and rushing on to the next, while your Indian host seems relaxed, not in a rush, dealing with many other things while meeting with you and so on.
Sequential cultures include the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Synchronic is definitely India and probably all Asia.
Anyone who has been at an Indian business function will see this working out – while announcements and speeches are being made, people move in and out of the room, mobile phones ring and are answered (even by presenters), private discussions take place and the scene is a moveable feast. But the western equivalent will ask for mobiles to be switched off, will collectively frown when they ring, will sit and not move – paying attention to the single topic at hand.
On returning home from one of my early trips to India, for the first month or two I told everyone about one of the “disaster” meetings I had in India – while I was presenting my proposal, my Indian colleague was constantly interrupted, taking calls, signing letters, giving instructions and so on. At any time there seemed to be four or five people in his office, all actively doing things and distracting him – or so I thought. But two months down the track I discovered that he had been paying attention, knew what I proposed and even more, wanted to go ahead. Disaster to triumph without even knowing it!
Time – just one of several major areas of cultural difference that I am collating into The India Code, a cultural guide to succeeding in India. More to come.