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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2 thoughts on “On dealing with conflict in the global work place

  1. Allon,

    You have hit a home run here! What a wonderfully illuminating post – very full of wisdom.

    (to put my use of wisdom in context: I have developed a model that postulates a flow from data to information to meaning to wisdom. In that flow, wisdom is taking meaning to appropriate application. It is rare to see wisdom on blog and internet postings. The good reach meaning (putting information into internal and external contexts as part of an ideation process to create an understanding of the import of the information) Few posts reach excellence, i.e. conveying wisdom.)

    Back to your post:

    I was most taken by your three rules of thumb, especially:

    “the solution for some conflicts is worse than the disease.” This is a powerful Truth! In some cases conflict is a source of needed energy in the form of eustress. A trivial example is running Running is conflict. However, the eustress and incidental benefits to cardiovascular and derivative of endorphin releases make such a conflict desired.

    A more powerful ancillary truth is that all to often, conflict “resolution” is actually conflict suppression or conflict repression. Comments by your Corazon and Garth point to or are endemic of this.

    The problem with this approach is that it can eat and destroy the “insides” of a person – physically, spiritually, and soul. Ethan Shutz – son of FIRO’s Will Shutz and CEO of the Shutz Company – presents an apropos model. In the model are several ways to communicate. One way is to repress or to not speak. This mode is destructive because the energy either gets channeled back to Self where it corrosively eats at one’s self image. Or it goes to ground, i.e. there is absent the restorative and affirming energy that comes from having one’s thoughts affirmed and valued – even in a conflictive situation. Otherwise, one’s energy continues to pump out – one sort of has a spiritual bleed-out – as in the case of one cutting one’s throat or wrist.

    I was also taken by your third rule, Allon – to mediate and not preach.

    I am reminded of a passage from Heider;’s “The Tao of Leadership”, Passage 17 “Being a Midwife”

    “…Remember that you are facilitating another person’s process. It is not your process. Do not intrude. Do not control. Do not force your own needs and insights into the foreground.
    If you do not trust a person’s process, that person will not trust you….”

    Be well, my friend.

    with love,

    Drive On!

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