When we enter into contact with people from different cultural backgrounds, we may experience some conflicts, as a result of unfamiliar cultural dimensions which could lead to miscommunication and negative perceptions. These are primarily due to mismatched expectations about the other interlocutor. Indeed, we may have certain expectations about cultural norms, values or behaviours, and when we notice that those of the other person differ greatly from ours, and we do not like nor want to conceive these differences, then we may experience a whole gamut of negative emotions (e.g. annoyance, irritation, anger). The different world views of the other may generate in us an internal sense of ambiguity and uncertainty and if we do not know how to deal with such contrasting feelings, then we may enter into conflict with the Other (different from me). Other factors that can trigger intercultural conflicts may be differences in the use of language (including nonverbal communication), in the need to preserve face and identity and in the display of emotions. The ways in which we deal with these conflicts can be different and the degree of directness we use in such conflicts is influenced by our cultural values and beliefs. In fact, if we are used to adopt a direct style of communication, we may be more inclined to use discussion (restraining our emotions) or engage (expressing our emotions) in the conflict. Whereas, if our preferred communication style is indirect the we tend be accommodating (restraining our emotions) or dynamic (expressing our emotions). So, when we deal with intercultural conflicts, both the cognitive and the emotive spheres are involved.
So, how can we manage successfully intercultural conflicts?
The key seems to be the development of intercultural conflict competence. Namely, “ the mindful management of emotional frustrations and conflict interaction struggles due to primarily cultural, linguistic or ethnic group membership differences” (Ting-Toomey). More specifically, we need to:
- widen our cultural sensitivity, (being aware of conflict scripts and styles in other cultural settings) and suspend negative evaluations;
- be mindful of the impact of our personal and cultural communication expectations, conflict communication style, cognitions and emotional display in conflict situations;
- be constructive in our conflict communication, by using skilful language, verbal and non-verbal behaviour, respectful dialogue skills;
- develop communication adaptability, by being flexible, adapting our conflict style to the other, using where possible their first language.
So, being culturally sensitive, mindful of differences, constructive and adaptable can help solve intercultural conflicts. If you have tried adopting these strategies and are still not quite sure how to deal with them, then the support of a professional expert in Intercultural Counselling can surely provide you with further guidance on how to manage this type of conflicts.
- Jackson, J. (2014). Introducing Language and Intercultural Communication. Chap. 10, Managing language and intercultural conflict. pp. 249-271 Abingdon: Routledge.
- Ting-Toomey, S. (1999) Communicating across Cultures. London: Guilford Press.
- Schmidt, P.L. (2007) In Search of Intercultural Understanding. Vienna: Meridian World Press.
- Morn, R.T., Remington-Abramson, N. & Moran, S.V. (2014) Managing Cultural Differences. 9th Edition. Abingdon: Routledge.