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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Win win loses in a global diversity

Because I practise OD in very globally diverse organizations, I often deal with cultures with “different views of win win”.
Most “win winners” have horrible trust breaking experiences in acute diversity. This post explains why.

Case One

The America, China and Israel site are arguing about who gets what portion of the budget. In this budget debate, the Americans suggested a win-win approach to align goals with resources. The Israel and Chinese teams read this as weakness, and haggled for hours, eventually getting a huge piece of the pie. The Americans lost trust and were furious.

Case Two

In a tough negotiation, Frieda (Canada)  made a concession and expected a concession in return. Igor (Ukraine) saw Frieda as too expedient and upped his demands. Frieda walked away from the negotiation empty handed, lost the trust of her boss, and resigned.

The Context

1. Some folks believe that striving for win win is a choice.
2. Some believe win win is a preference.
3. Some believe win win is an ideology.
4. Others believe win win is a religion.

Most in category 3 and 4 are in OD are from the West.

In acutely diverse global organizations, many staff will hold the following views, even though they wear jeans and speak English

  1. Win win is foolish.
2. If one  side offers a compromise, he is weak.
3. Win win is a privilege of the “landed gentry” and it is imposed upon less fortunate via cultural imperialism.
4. Win win is a liberal fetish; “I  prefer dealing with people who are principled and want to win at all costs”.

The conclusion

Win win is not a shared value in acute diversity. So learn to play defence, and learn that compromise is often seen as weakness and exploited.Now, make your choices and “ite sapientia-walk in wisdom.

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A Failed Apology

  • Due to a software bug, there was a three hour user outage in 2 central cities in Japan.

Engineers in Ottawa and Tel Aviv worked all night and day, for three days to get things right. Yet the situation was still not under control.

Japan Country Manager Hiroyasu Ito called the Head of R&D, James McDougal, and asked him to apologize to the customer. Ito sent a long email to James explaining how to apologize. James, ever the pragmatist, did not read the “wordy” email.

Ito called James after the apology and told him that the customer thinks that James is arrogant and that doing business with James’ company will be reconsidered.

James called in an OD consultant with global experience. He reviewed James apology which gave detail about what went wrong and the action which was be taken to rectify the problem, followed by a sincerely apology.

The consultant told James that there is no show of remorse, no humility, no humbleness. Just explanations and “I’m sorry”. This is seen as very arrogant and the way you apologize shows why your product is so shabby, in the eyes of the Japanese. The customer wants to be sure that you are awed by the failure, that you feel deep shame, and that you are committed.

“What the hell do you mean?”, asked James. “I worked with my communication coach for an hour on this apology”.

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Global OD-Lesson Sixteen: Interviewing people from cultures where people are unwilling to critique their boss

Many cultures show huge outward respect and give face to authority, making it very challenging  to gather data about what the boss is doing wrong in their opinion.

Here are some techniques for gathering  information in such circumstances.

1) Give two conflicting opinions and ask if you are right/wrong. Do this several times.

“Mr Timor has a good understanding of the product.(wait)”

“Mr Timor could understand the product better. (wait)

2) Diagnose the past via the future. The future has not happened yet, so face is not an issue.

“Next quarter, Mr Timor is going to be away for 2 months; it will be hard to sell to X because he has such important relationship with the customer”. (wait)

“Next quarter, Mr Timor is going to be away for 2 months; this may help us sell to X because someone who the customer prefers (Mr K) will handle the account ”. (wait)

3) Use people who have left the company.

  • 1) Give me names of people who left the company.
  • 2) Which of them is like you?
  • 3) What did he think of Mr Timor?

4)  Use a positive future event to gather data.

“Mr Timor’s boss may want to promote him”.

  • He should get an even bigger Sales role. Right?
  • He should move him into back office so he can give his knowledge to Finance, right?
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10 counter-intuitive leadership behaviours that create unpleasant feelings and embarrassment in very diverse global organizations

In the many years of practicing OD worldwide, my Asia and Mid East clients have taught me about ten leadership behaviors which can cause unpleasant feelings, severe embarrassment and shame.

  1. When someone in a very senior position asks for an opinion,  whilst he himself is the one who is supposed to know and tell the employees what to do
  2. When a senior leader praises what a younger team member says more than he praises the younger team member’s boss.
  3. When we are asked to advocate our ideas with people senior to us.
  4. When we are pushed to “speak up” in a language in which we feel uncomfortable.
  5. When facilitators ask us to be “open”.
  6. When we laugh while we are serious.
  7. Formality is to be  put aside so we can have a discussion of equals.
  8. When there is a hidden message- If you will behave like us, you will improve.
  9. When very senior management dresses too informally.
  10. When we are forced to talk one at a time.

If you were surprised, take my test to check out your global mindset.


Dear reader, In order to clean up the spam, all blog subscriptions were deleted and a new subscription system installed. Please re register on the right side/bottom of the blog – sorry for the trouble. Allon

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Global OD-Lesson Fourteen: When speed is strategy, what does that mean for a Global OD practitioner

In many industries, a key component of strategy is speed.
When speed is strategy, quality and cost are secondary considerations; getting to the market fast takes priority. This is illustrated humorous in Gloria Ramsbottom’s Immature Product Division; their next release is sold and installed before it is developed!
When speed is strategy, communication needs to be open, transparent and expedient between people of different nationalities. There is limited time for face saving if needed, scarce time to build relationships between people with very different values.
What type of organizations can move quickly? Well, it appear that “size” counts (start-ups), the tolerance for risk counts (risk aversive cultures move slowly), and homogeneity of the culture assists greatly because there are less communication obstacles.
Yet, often large very diverse and heterogeneous global organizations need to move quickly.
In such cases, the challenge for the global OD practitioner is enormous, since speed as a major component of strategy is enabled by of the behaviours promulgated by western OD: risk taking in a safe environment, decision making on-the-fly as per situational need, trade-off between process and teamwork, surfacing bad news without loss of face, empowerment of the individual to take initiatives.
In further posts, we will examine how a global OD practitioner can deal with a diverse and large work force, when speed is strategy, without becoming a cultural imperialist.

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Global OD-Lesson Thirteen: Aligning Global Meetings to Participating Cultures


When Mike took over the Israeli, Indian and Thai development teams, he had a kickoff meeting at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel in Pathumwan.

Manager Mike from LA gave a talk about the product road map which lasted for 90 minutes. He used baseball terminology only 3 times! Then he asked: any questions, guys?

6 Israelis bombarded him with 14 questions which challenged each and every assumption upon which he has based his presentation. Mike said, “This is not the place to argue”. He then texted Allon to meet him in the lobby for lunch.

No one from the Thai group asked anything, albeit the very high level of the Bangkok algorithm team. Mike said, “Come on guys, you must have SOMETHING to ask; don’t just sit there and smile.”! Then there was a crushing silence.

2 Indians asked questions. HK asked how many developers can he now recruit and PT asked what the company was going to do to brand itself in the Delhi labour market. Mike was livid: “Hey guys, this is not a bargaining session”.

Mike had heard pushback from the Israelis, passiveness from the Thais, and “it’s all about us” from the Indians.

Allon explained to Mike:

· When Israelis argue, they show commitment. When you refused to argue with them they see you as too expedient.

· Thais are often silent when others are dominant, and thus having Thais and Israelis in the same meetings demands a different type of meeting structure. You failed to do what you needed most to do: protect them from being overwhelmed. And “any questions” does not work in Thailand because many Thais read and write English well but know that the accent is “punishing”.

· The Indians were making you aware that their job market and your requests are not yet aligned-but they were bargaining with you instead of challenging you.

Allon reminded Mike that he has asked to prepare for the meeting and Mike had said, “I do not need adult supervision”.

Mike said: “I struck out”.

Meetings in very diverse global organizations are often very poorly executed. Often they do more harm than good. The configuration of the meeting needs to be aligned culturally.

For example: After Mike’s lecture, each country sits in a small group and prepares two questions for Mike in English. These questions are filtered by Mike and Allon. Two tells the Israelis-2 not 200; 2 tells the Thais, 2 not 0. And the filtering allows re-framing the questions from the Indian team, i.e, 2 questions and not one bargaining session.

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Listening to feedback from clients who are saving your face


Takahashi invited me for supper after the lecture on “Interfaces between R&D and Customer Service: A Cultural Perspective”.

He and I had dined several times before; the ice between us was thawed.

Takahashi had spent 2 years in the States as a young boy, so his English sounded good yet I knew he was traditional.

After an hour, Takahashi had not said a word about my lecture and I was concerned. Naturally, I wanted to ask “how was it” but I knew Takahashi was a face saver and he will give me negative feedback in a year from now, if not in two years. Israelis are in a hurry; not Japanese.

So, here is what I did.

1) “Takahasi-san, the subject today was very complex and I am not sure my lecture was clear enough.” Then I waited.

2) “Takahasi-san, my power point slides appeared a bit crowded. I am always worried how much detail to provide in Japan.” Then I waited.

3) Takahashi –san, I need to give this lecture in Taipei in a week, what can I change?

Takahasi looked at me and asked me, “How good is their English, Shevat-san?” I knew I was in close to the issue, and I answered, “Like Japan”.

Takahashi then said: “Your lecture was excellent Shevat-san because although you are from OD, you understand technical domain. You also understand Japan. You also have lots of global experience. I suggest you “talk slower so people can understand you. Thank you”

What  can be learnt from this?

1) Some clients save your face-be aware. And too much face means-look for what’s wrong.

2) Make deprecating statements and wait for a response.

3) Look for hints, body language, eye contact and the unsaid.

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Doing OD in a face saving culture

Hank is a client of mine from Holland. I know him from McGill University. We met in a Chinese history class in the sixties. He tracked me down because he knows I do global OD.

Hank leads a global Sales Forces in China for a Dutch company. Two of his key and most talented, well connected subordinates (A from Sales of Next Generation Products and B from Account Management) do not cooperate. No information is shared. No leads are shared. Both A and B bad mouth one another to the clients. Sales have plummeted.

Hank summed up what he w\anted. “Dez guys behavior vill kill us. Fix it qvickly”

So, I was asked to improve the way the subordinate work together. The subordinates (Mr. A and Mr. B) speak some English. My Chinese is poor (I would say horrendous). Yet we manage to communicate, at times using a translator.

I have spent about 50 hours each with A and B to build a personal credit line. We have had lots of informal time together. They know about my kids and grand-kids . I know about their family. We are not friends. Yet they trust me. I have helped them with issues they have with Hank (I have arranged business class tickets for their wives for non-business related travel and helped them hire people that D did not want to hire.)

Hank has told me that “we have no more time for process; these two bums must cooperate now”.

Here is the conversation I had with A and B. It reflects a different way of doing OD. Some may claim it is not OD. It is- but not Western OD.

1) I (Allon) have a problem.

2) Hank hired me to improve the way we work.

3) There are rumors that there is no information sharing.

4) There are badmouthing rumors. Maybe some clients are playing games.

5) I need help because I am failing.

6) Can you help me?

Within a week, Hank sent me a bottle of wine. A and B were working well together.

Some folks may ask: why did Hank not do the work himself? I suggest that if you asking this question, start brushing up on the intricacies of developing a global mindset

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Global OD-Lesson Nine: What may be a major difference between a global and traditional od consultant

The traditional OD consultant facilitates open dialogue between organizational factions to reach cooperation, achieve transparency, and ensure that mutual dependencies are acknowledged and fulfilled.

The Global OD consultant lessens dysfunctional friction between different organizational factions by translating intent to all sides, using discrete or open communication channels as appropriate.
To ensure that mutual dependencies are acknowledged and fulfilled, the Global OD consultant emphasizes appropriate staffing, appropriate structure, and establishment of personal relationships, which try to transcend huge cultural gaps.

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