Time & Culture

Adjusting to a different culture can be hard. When I was in college, I spent a semester in Central America doing language and cultural study as well as volunteer work. It was the first time in my life where I felt out of place because I wasn’t a member of the dominant culture. There were many adjustments I needed to make to fit in and those adjustments took time. Fortunately, the family I lived with was understanding and patient and helped me adjust.

I was reminded of my experience in a recent workshop, while doing their teach back on the culture and norms section in chapter one of The Mandt System 2.0 material, the instructor was sharing about all the obvious things like clothing, food, and holidays that are different between cultures, but then brought up time as an example of a difference that may be less obvious to some people. In some cultures, people and relationships are prioritized over being on time. So, in that culture, if I’m in the middle of a conversation with someone, I will finish that conversation even if it means I will be late for something. As an educator, the instructor talked about how being on time is built into the school culture, and that most schools have aversive consequences for being late as part of their rules. 

The example the instructor gave is when a student from another culture is late to class the common response from the teacher is often to impose an aversive consequence which can result in escalated behavior. The suggestion was not to excuse the behavior because of the cultural difference, but to look behind the behavior so that positive behavior support approaches could be used to help the student adjust to the expectation of being on time to class. 

When we look behind a behavior and try to understand it’s cause instead of simply reacting to it, we have a much better chance of responding in ways that avoid workplace conflict. Our main goal in The Mandt System is to give you tools for creating a safer workplace for everyone in your organization. Understanding the cultural differences that may result in conflict is an important part of that process.

Doug ZehrVogt, Mandt System Faculty

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