Time is the essence

By HANS HOOGERDIJK [email protected]

Hans Hoogerdijk taught International Management & Communication in Utrecht and is the co-founder of Global Management Skills that provides Management Training, Coaching and Consultancy. Customers include Fortis Bank & Insurance, ABNAMRO Bank, PGGM Investments.

Once I was standing in a queue in a supermarket to pay for my shopping.

It was a busy moment and the girl behind the till could not change my money. She needed five euros more. She looked down the row of people and saw a tourist woman with a five euro note in her hand. To my surprise she grabbed the five euro note out of her hand, gave the money to me and told the woman she would pay her back when it was her turn…

Portuguese people have a different notion of ‘time’ than British or Dutch people have. The girl solved the problem regardless of a sequence or line up: it is called synchronicity. She dealt with the problem quick and effectively. This way of problem solving would be impossible in the Netherlands. My culture deals with time chronological: very strictly and seemingly ‘organised’. This makes it hard to be creative, customer focussed or efficient in a practical way. To most British or Dutch people, the Portuguese seem to ‘take their time’ to do things. They also do different things at the same time, like attending to two customers.

Individualistic and chronological people (Dutch and British) can feel offended by this: they want personal attention and wait for their turn…

Collectivistic and synchronic cultures (Portugal) think it is an offence to keep somebody waiting (neglect!) and have enough involvement to divide their attention to more than one person. We all ‘take our own time’.

Hans Hoogerdijk can be contacted by emailing [email protected]