Culture USA: Time Management

The relentless soft power of time management in the United States

Los Angeles, 10:58 a.m., one morning. « Great, that was very interesting » says the person sitting across from me as he stands up from behind his desk. In American cultural code, this means our meeting is over and I have two minutes left to thank him and close. He most likely has another meeting at 11:00 a.m., and I should have started summarizing and talking about our « next steps » around 10:50 a.m.

This scenario is rather common in French-American business interactions. The French generally have a much more fluid and flexible approach to time. While Americans often appear relaxed and friendly, they actually keep an iron grip on time.

Are you joining the 10 a.m. conference call at 10:04 am? You’ll be considered late. Nobody may tell you so, but this lateness is likely to be interpreted in a negative way in the United States: lack of respect for other meeting participants, lack of professionalism, or lack of organizational skills.

Are you scheduled for a 20-minute presentation or pitch? If you go over by 2 minutes, people will think you “did not really make the time to practice”.

If you are at a networking meeting and would like to have a more in-depth discussion with one of the attendees with whom you’ve already talked for 5 to 10 minutes, it may be time to transition: « Thank you so much, it was great meeting you, would it be okay if I called you to schedule a time to get together? »

Why such a pace? Out of respect for the other person’s time, because this person may have two more people he/she absolutely wants to connect with in the 20 minutes left of this networking event, which itself will also finish on time.

The fact that people are typically very nice does not mean they don’t have something else they want to do in 10 minutes!

Time management is an invisible and relentless discipline in the United States.

Becoming aware of what is invisible at first is always the first step.


photo-manuelle-copyManuelle Charbonneau, Ph.D.


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