Estonians in cross-cultural perspective – Don’t beat around the bush! Time is money!

There are cultural variations in the way people understand and use time. Researchers have divided cultures into two groups in the way they manage time: active linear or monochrome cultures and multi-active or polychronic cultures. Our culture shapes our communication and designates what we pay attention to and what we ignore. Our perception of time is reflected in our communication style.

Most Estonians, for example, are monochromatic, so they belong to active linear cultures. This means that time is experienced and used in a linear fashion, comparable to a road stretching from the past into the future. For Estonians, time is divided into segments. Everything is expected to happen at the exact time according to the schedule and they feel satisfied when everything goes according to the carefully planned schedule. Estonians prefer to complete one task at a time, they value punctuality and adherence to schedules. Schedules are sacred and deadlines are taken very seriously. For example, if the deadline for submitting applications is said to be 4:00 PM on Monday, then it no longer makes sense to submit it five minutes later.

Estonians value their time very much.

Estonians’ perception of linear time is reflected in their communication style. People talk about it like money, they have a wide range of expressions that link time with money, like “Aeg on raha!” (time is money), “Iga minut on arvel!” (every minute counts), “Kaotama aega”. (wasting time), “Ära raiska aega!” (Don’t waste your time!) “Säästa aega!” (Save time!), “Aeg saab otsa”. (Time is up).

Estonians speak for lack of time. The rule of thumb is “Keep it short, say what’s relevant, and get to the point!” Estonians want to get results quickly and hate waiting, as this is considered a waste of time. The same goes for communication patterns. For example, if there is a pause of more than two seconds, Estonians think that people do not understand them or do not have an opinion and therefore they start to paraphrase or clarify their statements to get an answer. If they think people didn’t understand them, they try to rephrase it more briefly and make it more explicit and clear.

Active linear cultures are characterized by a direct communication style that strives to represent facts accurately and avoids emotional overtones and suggestive allusions. The cultural preference of Estonians is clear and direct (linear) communication, as evidenced by common expressions such as “Ära keeruta!” (Don’t beat around the bush), “Räägi asjast! (Get to the point). If you talk too much and write too many words, they will stop listening because they think you never get to the point and are deliberately wasting their time.

The indirect communication style in multi-active cultures (for example, in Arab countries, in Latin America) is ambiguous, persuasive and emotionally rich: “all voices together.” Estonians are not good at understanding or following the real purpose of the indirect message and perceive it as a waste of time. I have witnessed many conflicts that have arisen just because a person from another culture talks too much and too much.

Estonians, as listeners, focus on the words articulated by the speaker; They try to get the message exactly, ask questions and make short comments and feedback when they listen. The most common expressions are “mh-mh”, “ha-haa”, “ah-haa”, which means “yes” and may sound like they agree, however it really only means that they are listening, or even not really listening, but waiting his turn to speak. Estonians, as typical representatives of linear-active cultures, are used to waiting their turn to speak, and therefore they always line up and stay in line and are therefore extremely frustrated when someone does not respect this order.

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