Time in negotiations: do you belong to M or P time culture?

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There are so many aspects of negotiations, such as culture, power, ethics, communication, information, but I’ve never consider time being one them. I became aware of the importance of time in cross-cultural international business negotiation (IBN) during enhancement workshop “Strategic negotiation skills” held in Washington, DC and facilitated by Humphrey alumna Shanta Nagrendam.

time in negotiations

Why is time so important in IBN? Time influences punctuality at the meeting and the pace of negotiations. For IBNs it is crucially important to understand cross-cultural differences regarding time perception.

According to American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher Edward T. Hall  time is structured in two modes: monochronic cultures (M-time) and polychronic cultures (P-time).

The first, M-time cultures concentrate on one thing at time in a clear timeline; they set deadlines, schedule meetings and agendas weeks in advance; they value punctuality and being late for meetings is insulting and disrespectful. M-time culture is represented in countries such as USA, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavian countries, Western Europe, Singapore etc.

On the opposite side, P-time cultures, prefer doing many things simultaneously, by the order of their preference, without advance planning; they put emphasis on people rather than the deal itself. Countries belonging to this time category are all Latin American, African, Eastern European countries, South East Asian etc.

When M and P-time cultures negotiate between each other, frustration and irritation are common feelings on both sides. People coming from M-time cultures expect meetings to start and finish on time, whilst P-time people will change plans and agenda according to the daily events. The other side will find it irritating, and P-time people will find them to be too rigid and pushy.

Understanding with whom you are dealing with, can save you time and energy in negotiations. In that respect, researchers from Chinese Shandong University suggest several tips for IBNs regarding time in negotiations:

  1. Taking time to get to know the other party is crucial, as more time is needed than in domestic environment.
  2. Before participating in a negotiation, learn the basics about the behavioral norms of the other side’s culture regarding meetings, punctuality and planning.
  3. If possible, negotiate at home where you have a competitive advantage in controlling time over your foreign partner.
  4. Never tell the other side when you are leaving because this gives them control over your time, and it is strongly suggested to buy an open ticket.
  5. Allow yourself more time than envisioned. Patience is an asset for negotiation which can be challenging with time pressure. For example, in the U.S. – Vietnamese peace talks in Paris, the Vietnamese were at a time advantage because they had rented a villa with a 2.5 year lease, whereas the US side rented hotel rooms on a weekly basis. This gave more leverage to the Vietnamese side.
  6. Do not assume that the other side shares your time pattern. Therefore, it is recommended to set realistic deadlines and dates.
  7. In IBN environment it is strongly suggested that negotiations extends beyond the contract signature. As for many cultures there is no clear timeframe defined by the signature itself, and relationships are given more emphasis.

To learn more on M-time and P-time cultures, I suggest the following article: http://www.academia.edu/255939/From_Polychronicity_to_Multitasking_The_Warping_of_Time_Across_Disciplinary_Boundaries

Humphrey fellows at Strategic Negotiation Skills workshop
Humphrey fellows at Strategic Negotiation Skills workshop