On dealing with conflict in the global work place

The western values which support open discussions and authenticity to manage and resolve conflicts in a win win manner are not globally scalable. There is just too much variance in how cultures perceive conflict.

Many cultures strive to solve conflicts and/or manage conflicts; many cultures view conflict as a learning and developmental experience; others view conflicts as very negative and destructive.

  • Vered from Jerusalem told me that if someone does not get emotional about an issue, “they don’t not care, so I do not trust them”.
  • Rose from Boston told me that some things are worth getting emotional about, but for most work related issues, “it is best to be expedient, and not make a  mountain out of a molehill”.
  • Corazon from Manila told me that her entire education was about controlling and subduing her emotions in situations of conflict.
  • Garth from London who has lived in Thailand for 40 years, told me that looking the other way makes the conflict go away.
  • Hank from Holland told me that in a conflict, “if you need to be very direct and even raise your voice, you do it”.
  • Olive from Germany told me that “conflict is all about getting the facts right”.
  • Tom from Philadelphia told me that “you can attack issues, not people”. (Zhou Wang from China told me he has no idea what Tom means)
  • Igor told me that the work place is a battleground between weak and strong people.

Imposition of western values on conflict management makes no sense.

Certainly in most global very diverse organizations, it is best to avoid large group sessions where many cultures meet; when a conflict is on the table and there are no shared values, everything can fall apart.

3 rules of thumb guide my work:

1) “first do no harm”-ie it is very possible that the western solution for some conflicts is worse than the disease.

2) Lots of one on one preparation is needed before each meeting.

3) Accept each culture as is, and mediate, don’t preach openness, transparency, or win win.

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