Today’s colonization is much more gentle. But it is colonization.

Many organization hq’ed in Europe and the West promote “open” organizational communication, the legitimacy of conflict at work, and  the importance of solving conflict expediently and moving on. These same hq’s play down the importance of not discussing issues, discretion and solving problems by ignoring them.

In many parts of Asia and the Middle East, organizational and conflicts are resolved discretely and under the radar, to prevent loss of dignity, loss of face, and/or to prevent undermining authority. Very often disputed points are ignored and never discussed, or resolved “back room” by innuendo, silence or a carrier pigeon.

Corporate values, change consultants, OD consultants and coaches promulgate a western approach to conflict resolution. This often has disastrous results. Here are a few things folks have told me.

Som from Bangkok: “I have been taught my whole life to keep my opinions to myself and control my emotions to create harmony. I used to love this company, but in the new training program, i was forced to betray myself by “resolving a conflict”  and I feel abused. I am getting out.”

Emi from Japan: “The entire staff got along very well until the recent team development exercise to develop transparency. Now that all this damage has been done, our office is very tense. They (HR and facilitators) do not understand that when we showed our anger to one another, we may never communicate well again.

Inam from Amman: As per company policy I shared some of my thoughts with my boss. I really did not want to, but HR was really riding us to be compliant with company “values” in the way we operate. I now need to look for a new job because my boss is upset.. Everything has been ruined.

Colonization often meant severed limbs, decimated local cultures and massive executions of the vanquished. Today’s colonization is much more gentle. But it is colonization. And OD is often used as the tool of beating the locals into submission.

You can follow me @AllonShevat

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2 thoughts on “Today’s colonization is much more gentle. But it is colonization.

  1. I think what you raise here is extremely important, Allon. I also think you need to raise one or more alternatives. My own approach would be to take a “hands off” approach and focus on trying to find ways those people from different cultures can work together without trying to shoehorn them into a single, universal cultural model. But, I have very little international or global consulting experience so I don’t know if that would work or not. You’re the guru on that score so say some more.

  2. I recall my work in a multinational in the field of aluminum. Following a hostile take-over of European and Asian based installations, the company had asked me to develop and conduct its “new” leadership development program and insisted one of the sessions deal with conflict. À la USA, the HR VP wanted to run simulations in a fish-bowl format using current conflict situations since the “merger”. “We are heading for disaster with this approach”, I said” I followed with some examples of what would happen within the group and could happen after the program. “But, remarked the VP, how do we implement a common culture based on transparency, openness and frankness?” “First of all, I responded, by “common culture”, you really mean “governing culture based on the belief system of the buyer-owner”; secondly, culture is never implemented, it emerges. So, let’s talk about your question and its basic assumptions with openness and frankness.” That was a difficult conversation.

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