CQ – How are we different? Part Seven – Time Orientation

One time, I was giving a very short explanation of cultural dimensions and CQ to teens at an international Christian school as a chapel talk. A few days earlier, I had heard an American teen who was on the activities committee complain that the Korean kids never did any of the fun activities; they couldn’t build community with those kids because they were always doing homework.

Why do you think the Korean kids would not participate in fun activities with their classmates?

One of the reasons is today’s topic, a cultural dimension about time orientation.

Short-Term versus Long-Term Time Orientation is the extent to which there’s a willingness to wait for success and results. An individual or organization with a Short-Term Time Orientation may see the future as unpredictable and values immediate outcome more than long-term benefits.

An individual or organization with a Long-Term Time Orientation is much more focused upon long-term planning and is content to sacrifice short-term outcomes for long-term benefits.

Many cultures, including east Asian cultures, have a long-term time orientation. Students with a long-term time orientation will be focused on where they want to be in 10 or 20 years. They will forgo any short-term pleasures such as fun school events to do their homework and/or study for upcoming tests. They want to do well in their studies so they can get into good universities so they can get good jobs in the future. No time for fun.

Western cultures tend to be more short-term time oriented, expecting satisfaction more immediately. For example, I think the voters in western countries such as the USA and UK are so focused on the quick fix and immediate results, that the political parties are focused on today’s and tomorrow’s results, NOT what might be good for our countries in the long term.

How do you fit in with time orientation?


Short-term                             Time Orientation                      Long-term

Don’t forget – there is nothing better or worse about where you scored. And understanding your preference as compared to your colleagues or students or neighbors can be very helpful.

Look at the comparison of these countries in Short-term and Long-term time orientation. The blue bar represents China; the purple is Hungary; and the green is the US. Here the higher the number, the more long-term the orientation: China’s number is 87, Hungary’s is 58, and the USA’s is 26. What a difference between China and the US!

When I showed a similar slide as these in the chapel talk using their host country plus US and South Korea, there was a collective “aha!” It was a clear revelation to all sides that there were cultural orientations affecting their relationships.

Add to the time orientation that many of these cultures are often also collectivist and have a high power distance and you will see ideas that parents know best for the family and are thinking of the future for their children. Students then will honor their parents by working hard and focusing on the future.

When working with students and work colleagues with a Short-Term Time Orientation:

  • Prioritize “quick wins” to keep motivation up
  • Focus on the present implications

When working with students and work colleagues with a Long-Term Time Orientation:

  • Focus on the investment now for future gain
  • Emphasize the long-term implications of the current work

Understanding the idea of short- and long-term time orientation will go a long way in building community and bridges with the people you work with, whether at work, school, or in your neighborhoods.


Author: Leslie P Johnson

Christ follower, Wife, Mother, Grandmother, love children, dogs, and horses and love to hike, and I am helping develop Culturally Intelligent Communities (CIC)

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