The way India thinks about time

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 we face when engaging with wonderful INDIA.

Author: Stephen Manallack

Former President, Australia India Business Council, Victoria and Author, You Can Communicate; Riding the Elephant; Soft Skills for a Flat World (published by Tata McGraw-Hill INDIA); Communicating Your Personal Brand. Director, EastWest Academy Pty Ltd and Trainer/Speaker/Mentor in Leadership, Communication and Cross Cultural Communication. Passionate campaigner for closer western relations with India. Stephen Manallack is a specialist on “Doing Business with India” and advisor/trainer on “Cross-Cultural Understanding”. He is a Director of EastWest Academy Pty Ltd which provides strategic advice and counsel regarding business relations with India. A regular speaker in India on leadership and global communication, his most recent speaking tour included a speech to students of the elite Indian university, Amity University, in Noida. He also spoke at a major Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) global summit, the PR Consultants Association of India in Delhi, the Symbiosis University in Pune and Cross-Cultural Training for Sundaram Business Services in Chennai. He has visited India on business missions on 10 occasions and led three major trade missions there. He provides cross-cultural training – Asia and the west.

One thought on “The way India thinks about time”

  1. Hello Mr.Stephen,

    Precisely on point. One of our traits is multitasking. We are looking at every information possible at all times and we definitely know when to act. Sometimes western civilization may feel our acts overbearing and suggest us a way around. But why be in a rush when you can accomplish the same by being relaxed.

    I am keerthi Krishna and I am the (executive director tech innovation ) from FCI -First connect International . A start up built to solve business functions of western business culture who look towards India for business opportunities. A company diversified in both old ways and new adapting ways of Indian business culture.

    Let us know more.

    Sincerely ,
    Keerthikrishna (KK)

    Liked by 1 person

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