You have probably noticed, personally and professionally, that some people arrive five or ten minutes early for appointments. Some people arrive twenty to thirty minutes later than scheduled. It could be a cross-cultural communication issue.

Cultures organize time and space differently. A researcher named Edward Hall categorizes cultures as either monochronic or polychronic.

Monochronic orientations emphasize schedules, the compartmentalization and segmentation of measurable units of time. In these cultures, time is thought of as almost physical. We often hear terms like saving, spending, wasting and losing time. As we say, “Time is money.” Through compartmentalizing and segmenting time, a person’s day is completely planned and scheduled, including sleep, work and leisure. This is sometimes referred to as a displaced time orientation. Tardiness and missed appointments are a source of anxiety and tension.

In polychronic cultures, schedules are not as important and appointments are frequently broken. In these cultures, a person may be engaged in several activities, in the same space, and with several people simultaneously. This is sometimes referred to as a diffused time orientation. Polychronic people can do many things at once, and relationships take priority over schedules, and they can comfortably tolerate interruptions and distractions. The guiding principle, of being in the present, guides their behavior.

Try to relax, recognize it could be a cross-cultural difference, and place more concern on participation rather than punctuality.

Different cultures have a different orientation to time. Some cultures have a displaced time orientation; time is viewed as exact. Some cultures have a diffused time orientation; time is seen as approximate.