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Difficult Times … or a time to address Time?

How often have we used or heard the expression ‘difficult times’ in the past 9 months? Certainly, it is true that COVID, BREXIT and a dramatic US election have led to probably the most challenging year, commercially and in some cases tragically, since the end of 2nd World War. Hindsight is and will forever be a fine thing, but there is a growing sense and belief in the prediction that the UK will, by 2021 look very different; a new ‘normal’.

The major commercial feature of the COVID Lockdown world has been the ubiquitous, daily regime of conference calls, webinars and live online communication. Avoided by many in the past, it is ironically an absolute reflection of the change that the situation has forced upon us. Privileged as we are in International Culture Pilot (iCP) to deal with many established international friends and contacts abroad, specifically in the Middle East, we are fortunate to gather and gauge some of the reaction to this ‘new normal’ from a range of different cultures.

For almost as long as the Middle East and Western cultures have met or collided, one of the seemingly impenetrable differences is the Western treatment, management of, or obsession with time. To our friends in the East, time is a gift given by Allah to use wisely and for the greater good, but essentially as we choose. It is finite, being limited by our time on this earth and an uncontrollable privilege, governed by the cycle of the sun, moon and seasons (the Hijra lunar calendar).

Yet in the West, we appear to wish for time to be infinite, seeking to achieve far more than is probably possible,
thereby making the calendar and the diary an obsession that governs our existence. We transmit this urgency and our culture of self-imposed deadlines, even if it is alien to other cultures.

So, what if this ‘new normal’ has lead us to a greater appreciation of the privilege, generosity or freedom of time ? And as we review our behaviour of change (Zoom culture) have we perhaps, inadvertently found a key that has let us reassess our lifestyles and brings us closer. If so, then our friends in the Middle East would encourage us to maintain the following:

  • How much more often are we opening a conversation with ‘what time is it with you?’ Have we learned, finally to respect that international time differences matter; that a call after 1800 is a disruption of personal time?
  • Managing time was always a skill, but is it now more a question of balance than an obsessive pursuit of deadlines, set only by ourselves?
  • Might ‘take your time’ now be a genuine, caring and understanding answer that respects the current circumstances, health and priorities, expressing trust that the task will be completed as soon as is possible?
  • Does ‘any time’ actually now mean that we will interrupt the current task to speak, because we care or we have promised to do so; or at very least that we will send a short SMS to confirm when we will reply?

Conversely, have we all re-learned the value of mutual respect and genuine care for others, encouraging some seemingly simple, improved behaviours:

  • Being on time is a new, inescapable, important discipline, because being late is now a very evident, visible ‘offence’ always demanding an apology to a group and an excuse; a new mutual respect maybe?
  • Keeping to time has become essential; it is selfish to use too much of it for ourselves during an online call and is it not evident how much more concise (or not) we have become? Have we perhaps also recognised (if only from the reactions of the camera based audiences) the limited value of, or interest level in lengthy, complex PowerPoint presentations?
  • Is having quality time for family, exercise, enjoyment no longer akin to a crime, but an activity recognised and to be commended as important for health of mind and body? Quality time for friends or taking the time to nurture friendship remains key to the Middle Eastern culture.
  • Is ‘sorry, I have not had the time’ still seen as inefficient or incompetent? Or is it now simply an honest and perhaps respected admission that the 24hrs in the day (the great global leveler) were, despite the best effort, not enough to complete the task? Or may we even admit that a personal issue took priority?In conclusion has any waste of time, much maligned in both cultures both in the past and now, been recognised as the ultimate analysis of any activity to be avoided? From commuting to work, to lengthy meetings, to just waiting without any concurrent activity; perhaps we have recognised that time is that precious, personal privilege of 24hrs in a single day, to which no one, irrespective of colour, creed or culture can or should assume access. If so then surely this ‘new normal’ might be one to be as welcomed by us, as it will be by our friends in the Middle East, where, no matter what the latest BREXIT and COVID developments or national election results, the new moon will rise, God willing, welcoming Jumada Al Awal (the first arid month) on 17 December 2020.
  • International Culture Pilot iCP is a Middle East focused business partner, guiding, supporting or enhancing the market entry of Western Companies or Organisations into the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region. Aiming to apply the best business development, sales and training practices – uniquely under the banner from qahwa (coffee) to contract – the multi-skilled team embeds as the cultural filter and process pilot in the management, sales, bid or operational teams from initial cultural briefing & training – throughout the life-cycle of a regional campaign, major project, programme or Tender bid – to the establishment of a regional presence or contract delivery.

    Jan H de Haldevang jan@internationalculturepilot.com Mobile: 07748 692691

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