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Most of us try to avoid getting into a conflict situation.
We view conflict as unpleasant and may find ourselves ill equipped to solve a conflict situation. Furthermore, we often see conflict as something negative, though in and of itself, conflict is neither good nor bad. Conflict can, in fact, create productive brainstorming between colleagues, result in out-of-the-box solutions, but it can also hinder collaboration and slow work processes.
Cultural conflict occurs when different cultural values and beliefs clash. Cultural conflict is more difficult to solve if we are not culturally competent and experienced in identifying the conflict and pursuant working out ways to solve it in a culturally respectful way.
When in a conflict situation with a person from another culture, ask yourself the following critical questions:
- How well do I know myself? Am I acting out of my unconscious bias? Am I less acceptable to the behavior norms of others? If this the case, learn to become mindful on how you approach a conflict situation. Good conflict management involves paying attention to the above and balancing them.
- How well do I know the other person? This can be more difficult in a culture you are not familiar with. Here again, you need to learn what the other side’s cultural values are, how they manage conflict situations, and how communication of the conflict is conveyed. In many Asian cultures non-verbal communication is the norm, and understanding the context is key to understanding the message. In these cultures, you might not even know you are in a conflict situation as the cultural value is to “save face” at all cost, which means that conflict is not conveyed by raising one’s voice or disagreeing in front of others.
There are a few key strategies that can help you improve understanding and managing conflict:
- Observe how people in the specific culture behave and how they manage disagreements.
- Consult with cultural experts to learn about the culture and the best approach to avoid a conflict situation or how to deal with one that has already occurred so as not to jeopardize the business deal.
- Read about the culture in question and find out as much as possible on what the values of the culture are as they transcend into the business culture.
The fact that we don’t always understand others does not mean that they are wrong. In culture, there is no RIGHT or WRONG, there are just different values that drive peoples’ behavior.
Becoming culturally agile is adopting a new way of behaving, it requires practice and patience, but the more you practice the better you will become.