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  • Writer's picturePooja Sachdev

ABOUT TIME


NOTE: This article was first published in Coaching Perspectives, the magazine of the Association For Coaching, in April 2024.




Do you have a client who is always late? 


I had an argument with a friend once about his consistent lateness. He’d kept me waiting at a restaurant (not for the first time) and by the time he arrived, my irritation was obvious. His view was that “it’s just dinner” and “it’s only 15 mins”. My view was that being late to meet someone is disrespectful; a sign that you do not value their time!


The truth was, I was already stressed. I had had a hectic day with back-to-back meetings, in a failed attempt to get everything done before I left the office. So, when my friend arrived late, I was fuming because those were 15 “wasted” minutes that could have been used to tick some more items off my never-ending To-Do list.


Does my stress sound relatable? 


Feeling time-pressured seems to be a constant state for many of us. Modern society and Western working norms have conditioned us to be ruled by the clock. But this isn’t universal. There are other cultures that have historically had a different approach towards time.


Monochronic and Polychronic time


In the “West” (i.e. North America and Northern/ Central Europe), we tend to view time as linear and “monochronic” i.e. one thing at a time, in order of schedule. This view sees time as a tangible commodity (‘time running out’) and a resource to be valued (often over and above other things like relationships or creativity). Time is “of the essence”, we often find ourselves saying at work! 


This perception of time imposes a higher sense of urgency around deadlines, punctuality and the pressure to stay on track with schedules. It also implies that we need to “make the best use” of time by being productive rather than just “wasting time”. The emphasis is on doing rather than being.


In other parts of the world (e.g. in South America, parts of Africa and Asia) time is conceptualised as “polychronic” i.e. with different activities happening simultaneously, in an organic, natural way. In this view, time is one of many priorities, and other things, like relationships or quality of work, might sometimes take precedence over meeting a deadline. Work meetings often start with social conversation and connection-building, rather than efficiently ‘getting to the point’.


Through a ‘polychronic’ lens, time is not seen as something that gets depleted but something that’s always there. This view allows space for more flexibility and spontaneity and being in tune with our environment.


In the case of my friend, for instance, he was delayed by an unexpected phone call from his mum (who lives abroad) and that conversation took priority over being on time for dinner (perhaps rightly so!).



Time as a cultural construct


How we understand and relate with the concept of time may depend on our culture, our upbringing, our personality, or how and where we work. 


I grew up in a culture with a polychronic view of time, but I have spent most of my adult life working in cultures where the monochronic view is dominant, and this is how I have learned to operate. It takes a conscious effort on my part to slow down and loosen my grip on time, but it feels liberating when I do!


Time is an important element of diversity, especially when we work across cultures. It’s not just about our tolerance of lateness or how we organise meetings. As Hall explores in ‘Dance of Life’, time can be a language, organizer and system that reveals how we live and feel about each other as humans.


‘Time’ in Coaching


Coaching as a profession was born out of a particular set of cultural values, often rooted in Western ideals. This is sometimes reflected in how we manage time and boundaries in sessions, and how we set goals and define progress. 


Interrogating our relationship with time can help unlock a new understanding of ourselves, our clients, our cultures and how we coach.


A few questions that might be useful to reflect on…


  • What is your relationship with time? Where does this come from?

  • How do your ideas about time inform your practice? Do they influence how you frame and interpret your client’s experiences? 

  • How does ‘time’ and ‘culture’ play into the relationship between you and your client? Is the ‘clock’ the third person in the room?

  • What is the balance between ‘being’ and ‘doing’ in your coaching practice? How do you measure progress?

  • How can we bring a more multi-dimensional and multi-cultural perspective of ‘time’ to deepen our coaching practice?


Widening our understanding of time in coaching doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the clock and appointment diary and working in a boundary-less way. 


But perhaps it can mean ‘softening’ our treatment of time as a commodity and seeing it as one of the different ways we frame our existence, rather than the only.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Pooja Sachdev is the co-author of 'Rewire: A Radical Approach to Tackling Diversity and Difference', published by Bloomsbury and described by the FT as "the most refreshing approach to diversity I have read." 


She is a coach, counsellor, consultant, and founder of Rewire Consulting. 

Specialising in organisational development, diversity & inclusion, and leadership, Rewire helps build positive work cultures that enable people, teams and organisations to fulfill their potential.


To find out more about Rewire, drop us a line via the website or LinkedIn.


 

  1. Hall, E.T. 1983. The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books/Doubleday

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