Before evolving an intercultural model of conflict resolution it is important to understand and identify aspects of culture that lead to creation of the framework of conflict. The cultural spectrum holds different shades for a person, a society and a nation, accordingly helping each of them to assimilate and adapt to a common identity that is defined and shaped by culture (Holliday, Hyde and Kullman, 2004).
In the process of evolving this collective identity, culture transcends its traditional role of providing an aggregate set of beliefs, customs, norms, values, ethics, traditions, moral, social and legal codes, perceptions, and philosophy, to become the overall physical framework for the society to function. Culture is strongly related with geographical setting of a place, religion, ethnicity, and race, explaining why different countries have different cultures, and also why places on seashore share common elements of culture that is quite different from culture of mountainous places.
The imprinting of culture on ways a person thinks, acts, perceives the environment and models his/her reaction is very strong and virtually indelible, determining every aspect of human behavior and giving rise to cultural identity in addition to individual and national identity. Although the classic rational choice framework says that people are independent in choice of their behavior and approach towards events, its seen that at subtle levels the structural model provided by culture acts as final determinant in predicting a person, a society and a nation.
Although culture is dynamic, evolving and continuously upgrading itself, in essence, these changes occur within the context of culture’s own timeframe. One of the most important contribution of culture to human civilization is the orientation provided towards other cultures, making the culture in question receptive, tolerant, indifferent or outright hostile towards different cultures. Societies are seldom mono-cultural, displaying a range of cultural traits, achieved through generations of trades, contact, and cross cultural mixing (Holliday, Hyde and Kullman, 2004).
However, although for people belonging to a particular culture, their culture would hardly seem complex, the cultural realities are hidden beneath the surface, difficult to observe and discern from outside. These improper understanding and imperfect perceptions of culture often give rise to conflict when different cultures are required to meet or come across. In the workshops I have attended I have come across people from various cultural background and my first attempt is always to know as much possible as about them; not their individual preferences, but their cultural orientation and philosophy.
My this approach has helped me immensely in not only developing an understanding of other cultures, but my own adaptability and flexibility in my relation towards them Conflict and Culture Conflict is an integral part of human culture. When a number of people of interact with their own individual perspectives, view points, ideologies, cultural and social backgrounds and intellectual development then differences and debates are bound to arise as a logical and inevitable consequence of the interaction (Killian and Pammer Jr. 2003, 3).
These differences, acted upon by incompatible interests of attaining personal goals, change into conflict within groups, societies and nations. (Rahim, 2001,1) The greater the diversity and richer the profile of a society, the greater is the scope and range of its embedded conflict. Therefore it is essential to educate people on understanding and handling conflict and treat as an integral component of a democratic society that is important for developing a healthy social life (Killian and Pammer Jr. 2003, 3). In every conflict, whether it is individual or at social scale, culture has always an important role to play.
Depending upon the actors involved and the context of conflict, the role of culture in conflict can be direct or subtle, but it is always present as the ultimate factor in deciding the scope of conflict, its direction or its outcome. Culture even decides the existence of conflict, for people who are embedded in the culture of seeing world as a harmonious entity, may not be aware of any conflict through their life. In all the major disputes, debates and disagreement taking place around world, differences in cultural identities and perceptions are fundamental causative factors.
A further evidence of the role that culture plays is evinced by peace and harmony existing among societies that have same culture, such as observed between USA and Britain, sharing same historical and cultural roots. Every conflict, whether it is trans-generational, geographical, religious, organizational, or personal, has a cultural component involved. People enshrined in their own culture often react with hostility against any cultural identity that appears contrary to their thought process and ideas.
It follows therefore that any effort of conflict resolution needs to incorporate cultural understanding and acknowledge the existence and necessity of diversity (ibid). Personally I have encountered cultural difference in perspective of style of communication. Some of my colleagues, belonging to different cultural background, initially took exception to the direct and frank method of communication that is followed in US, as this, according to them constitutes a mild level of effrontery. However, as they assimilated themselves with the general surrounding, they realized that the direct nature of communication is a norm, not an aberration.
Communication and Conflict Communication is important, as it is the medium of conveying message, forming the first interface in method of conflict resolution. Communication is almost always within the context of culture, and culture determines the significance of words as well as gestures and non-verbal expressions, affording people with choices of high context or low context communication, depending upon their cultural maturity and ability to handle multi-culturalism and accommodate a range of opinions and ideas other than those familiar to them (Grosse, 2002).
During the initial phase of cultural familiarity, communication takes place at low context, meaning that people rely more on direct verbal communication, which is more or less literal in nature. As the cultural relationship progresses, communication interaction moves ahead on continuum to become high context, and it becomes more interpersonal and contextual, minimizing chances of misunderstanding and confusion. Effective cross cultural communication is centered upon knowledge, empathy and intercultural sensitivity (ibid).
The correct approach in such cases is be flexible, adaptable and receptive to all views, no matter how contrary or incongruous they appear.. A positive and patient listening attitude is also valuable as it allows people to fathom emotions of others and makes them perceptible to alternate view points. Finally, the most important attribute in cross cultural communication is recognition that every culture is correct in its own context and each has to yield some ground to reach a harmonious consensus (ibid).
In my attempts to understand and know about other cultures, I have always relied on effective communication skills, that include both hearing and communicating. Personally I have felt that people from different cultures readily share their cultural background, their beliefs, customs and traditions as I myself do in a multi-cultural environment, as we all want to be well understood and appreciated. Active listening and frank communication skills have greatly helped me in establishing quick rapport in any multi-cultured environment. Discussion on mediation and skills in conflict resolution
Effective communication strategies are keys to resolve conflict by providing channels that provide expression of grievances and bring conflicting parties together. In the field of conflict management, communication strategies help through the channels of 1. Negotiation: Negotiation has emerged as an important form of conflict management within organizational and social setups. As such research in communication theory in conflict management has started to pay close attention to communication behaviors, types and strategies towards successful negotiation.
Negotiation, as a part of managing conflict, requires interested parties to trade proposals for settlement that include, out of court settlements, business contracts, collective bargaining contract etc (Womack, 1990, 32). As Womack further elaborates, generally the process of negotiation proceeds through motives that are both competitive and cooperative. The approach of communication in the entire process of negotiation is concerned with the messages that are transferred among negotiators and the concerned parties.
Communication intervenes in the process of negotiation through its both verbal and nonverbal forms and constitutes the entire base on which the goals and terms of the bargain are negotiated. Communication plays the central role in not only developing the relationship among the parties in conflict, but also in determining its direction. It is also central in every form of bargaining process, whether the bargaining is done for organizational form of conflict management, involves conflict resolution, negotiation on legal agreements or for negotiation in inter-group an intra group conflict.
The entire role of communication in negotiation processes and strategies is quite vast and it ranges from defining the conflict issues, selection and implementation of strategies to presenting and defending the viable alternatives and finally helping in reaching on a solution (Womack, 1990, 35). 2. Third party intervention: Third party intervention in conflict situation is a tricky and challenging situation. It is considered as one of those areas that offers real test to the communication skills of the intervening person.
Although mediation requires a neutral and third party to bring the disputants on the resolving chairs and solve the conflict, the mediator per se, has no authority and commanding power to force the parties into acquiescing to an agreement. At the best, the mediator can use persuasive and convincing dialogues through which the involved parties voluntarily agree to reach at accord through advises, admonishments, ideas, and views of the mediator and break into meaningful dialogue with each other (Burrel, 1990, 54).
Its easy to see that this entire procedure requires very high level of communication skills on the part of the mediator to successfully negotiate agreement among the conflicting parties. I have had the opportunity to mediate in certain cases of cultural misunderstanding in the workshop. I tried to resolve the dispute by completely understanding the issue of contention, and the respective approaches that each party had taken on the issue.
Thereafter I clarified the entire situation to them, explaining in the process that their respective approaches where natural consequences of their cultural training and application of that training on the issue in hand. In the process I encouraged them to understand and appreciate each other’s cultural understanding and orientation, they were successful in settling the conflict. Designing a process of Intercultural aspects of conflict resolution In the course to evolve a systematic cultural response to conflict, the first step is to breed familiarity among cultures that adds plurality and multicultural dimension to broaden existing views.
In the process of evolving cultural familiarity communication, approaches towards conflict, cultural interpretation of life and identities and roles are identified as essential parameters (Carbaugh, 1990). Out of these, role and range of communication has already been discussed. Now it is time to look at rest of three factors. Responses towards a conflict situation are largely culture dependent, guided by the ways each culture has systemized itself towards conflict.
Direct and straightforward ways of approaching conflict, generally acceptable in western society, may seem threatening and offensive in eastern cultures accustomed to third party negotiations. Similarly, cultures that follow calm and reasonable response to conflict, may feel intimidated by emotional and passionate response to conflict situation (Carbaugh, 1990). Cultural interpretation of life sets the starting point for people that forms basis of their thinking, values and philosophy, eventually deciding the role they would play in every conflict and their outcome they come across.
It is the cultural orientation that makes societies disciplined or diffused, generalized or specific, value oriented or bohemian, and cooperative or isolated (Carbaugh, 1990). Hence cultural conflict resolution ultimately depends on the depth of understanding attained through interaction. Intercultural differences are very real forces in an environment where multiple cultures are interacting and coordinating on day to day basis.
From my learning and observation the nature intercultural differences and their consequences on organizational and group efficiency, these differences can be resolved by taking a more comprehensive, collective and adaptive view of situation, that includes our own cultural vulnerabilities when placed in an unfamiliar social structure. As the workshop trainings and experience has demonstrated, it is very important to know the cultural background of people with whom we interact, fully understand the points where our mutual cultural understanding differ and recognize where they converge.
Finally we should also develop a mutual sense of regard and appreciation for our combined cultural diversity. One of the revealing experiences that I have undergone relates to issue of timeliness. While in western culture, schedules are strictly followed and meetings start exactly on designated time, it is normal in many cultures to digress in time by a limited margin. Thus, in a multi-cultured environment, cultural ignorance can lead to conflict on such simple issue of scheduled arrival, while cultural knowledge and understanding would help in ‘looking’ at from other person’s cultural lens.
Given the range and depth of cultural impact on overall personal behavior and communication style of people, there are numerous situations where cultural ignorance can directly put people against each other. Hence we should always strive to learn as much about other cultures as possible and continue to update our knowledge. References Burrel, N. A, 1990. Theory and Research in Conflict Management. edit M. Afzalur Rahim – editor. Praeger Publishers. :New York Rahim, M. A (2001), Managing Conflict in Organizations. Contributors: M. Afzalur: Quorum Books. Westport, CT Handbook of Conflict Management. (2003) . Jerri Killian ,William J.
Pammer Jr. (edits): Marcel Dekker. New York. Womack, D. F, 1990. Theory and Research in Conflict Management. edit M. Afzalur Rahim – editor. Praeger Publishers. :New York. Leborn, M. 2003. Culture and Conflict. Accessed online on 17. 11. 2007. http://www. beyondintractability. org/essay/culture_conflict/ Grosse, C. U. 2002. Managing Communication within Virtual Intercultural Teams Business Communication Quarterly, Vol. 65, 2002. Holliday, A. , Hyde, M. ,, Kullman, J. 2004. Intercultural Communication: An Advanced Resource Book; Routledge, Carbaugh, D. 1990 Cultural Communication and Intercultural Contact; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.