We don't all see time in the same way, and mismatches can cause misunderstanding, disputes, confusion. When I learned about this diversity of time orientation, aspects of many conflicts I saw as both a mediator and as a practicing lawyer made more sense.
I first became aware of time frame orientation many years ago when I took the Johnson O'Connor assessment and then referred at least 20 other people to their testing labs. Then, for a number of years, I administered The Highlands Ability Battery (THAB) to many clients, both individually and in group settings. (THAB is based on Johnson O'Connor.) As a result of these experiences, I came to appreciate very highly the value of knowing a client's time perspective or orientation.
What is time frame orientation? (Note: What Johnson O'Connor calls foresight is the same is what Highlands labels time frame orientation.) THAB's definition at the company's Web site:
Measures the individual's comfort with future projects and goals. People are divided into short-term. mid-term and long-term time frames. An individual with short-term orientation will want to work with tasks and problems that can be finished within a short period--i.e. in a few months. An individual with mid-term orientation will seek tasks and problems that have implications for other projects over a longer period--i.e. one-four years, An individual with long-term orientation prefers to work on long-term projects [five to 20 years out] that require strategic planning and execution of more distant goals.
In short, THAB sees the ability as the measure of how naturally you consider the impact of present actions on future plans. You can see where a difference in time frame orientation could have a marked effect on how a lawyer most effectively works with a client, both in the process of the lawyer-client relationship, and in the actual content of the case. For example, a person who scores in the long-term orientation range may have a problem bringing matters to closure; for them, there is always tomorrow so they may procrastinate or not focus on today.
In addition to these assessments, a couple of books can give you insight into how our notions of time are very individual.
First is The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life. For a short peek into the focus of the book, watch this video about past, present or future orientation. I am not sold on all that is presented in the book or the video, but the time lenses covered are certainly another good way of reminding ourselves of time diversity. (H/T: Scoop.it Science-News.)
Second is a book not yet available in the US titled Time Warped. Click to read more about the author Claudia Hammond's theories about time in "Every second counts" (The Guardian), an article to which I linked earlier this week. Excerpt:
[Hammond] also looks at our sense of time aesthetically and discovered that people visualise time in offbeat ways. Some see it as curling around like a Slinky or a roll of wallpaper; others may view days of the week as rectangles. ...
Many other resources exist to help us consider how our clients may differ from us or each other in how they see time. The Highlands/Johnson O'Connor assessment and regulatory focus theory have both helped me to listen to clients with a sharper and wiser ear, and to see that sometimes time perspective is the essence of a dispute. Sometimes these differences are all that stand in the way of a resolution to a conflict.
And often understanding the time perspective of a client can help a lawyer to address a legal matter in a way most suited, productive, and efficient for that particular client.
In short, as I have said so many times here and at Brains on Purpose, one size does not fit all. Learn your time orientation; then learn your client's. In highlighting the role of time, time can be saved.
Of course, recognizing this diversity, saving time may not be what some of your clients desire. For some, doing so may not be a priority, even if it is for you. Or vice versa. Once in a while, maybe often, there might need to be a negotiation of time frame differences between you and your client. Recognizing that differences exist will alert you to mismatches that you can be discussed.
What rocks your client's clock?
Note: Click to take a sample of THAB.
Note (added June 3, 2012): Another review of Time Warped: "Time Warped, By Claudia Hammond" (The Independent).
Image credit: Wikipedia.