I. Definitions of Intercultural Conflict
1. Intercultural conflict is defined as the implicit or explicit emotional struggle between persons of different cultural communities over perceived or actual incompatibility of cultural ideologies and values, situational norms, goals, face-orientations, scarce resources, styles/processes, and/or outcomes in a face-to-face (or mediated) context within a sociohistorical embedded system.
2. Intercultural conflict occurs when cultural group membership factors influence how individuals approach, avoid, and manage conflict. Intercultural conflict involves a certain degree of ethnocentric perceptions and judgments.
II. A Model of Intercultural Conflict
1. Young Yum Kim has developed a model of intercultural conflict. Kim argues that intercultural conflict occurs at three interdependent and interrelated levels, including a micro, or individual level, an intermediary level, and a macro, or societal level.
a. The micro or individual level of intercultural conflict refers to each individual’s unique attitudes, dispositions, and beliefs that he or she brings to the conflict.
b. The intermediary level of intercultural conflict refers to the actual location and context of the conflict. Some environments (e.g., neighborhoods, at school, on the job) may be more likely than others to facilitate conflict.
c. The macro or societal level of intercultural conflict includes factors that probably are out of the control of the interactants. These conditions include any history of subjugation, ideological/ structural inequality, and minority group strength.
III. An Intercultural Conversation: Kim’s Model of Intercultural Conflict
1. Mike Fabion is the vice president of Acme Marketing Firm, a company his father founded. Acme is a direct marketing firm for insurance agencies. Mike is 58 years old and White. He was born and raised in Kenilworth, Illinois, a wealthy Chicago suburb. Mike has six directors under him in Acme’s organizational hierarchy. These six directors each manage and supervise about seven employees. Thus, Mike supervises about 50 employees. Once a year, Mike has one-on-one meetings with each employee. These meetings are a part of each employee’s annual evaluation. Today, Mike is meeting with Nicole Newton. Nicole is a new employee and has worked for Acme for just over a year. She was hired soon after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in communication. This will be her first evaluation meeting. She was hired as a telemarketer and hopes to move up in the organization soon. She is African American and 23 years old. She was raised in the city of Chicago, in a public-housing district. Their meeting takes place in Mike’s office. She and Mike have never met.
IV. A Culture-Based Social Ecological Conflict Model
1. This model highlights four factors that affect an intercultural conflict episode: primary orientation factors, situational appraisals, conflict processes, and conflict competence.
2. The primary orientation factors are what each individual brings to the conflict, including macro, exo, meso, and micro layers to the conflict. The macro-level factors are the larger sociocultural factors, histories, worldviews, beliefs, and values held by each individual. Exo factors include the formal institutions present in any culture, including religious institutions, governments, and health care systems, among others. Meso-level factors refer to the more immediate dimensions of a particular culture—for example, the local church group, one’s workplace setting, or even one’s extended family. The micro-level factors include the individual’s unique intrapersonal attributes, such as his or her level of individualism or collectivism.
3. While primary orientation factors are the principal influences on conflict, they affect how each individual perceives (appraises) the situation in which the conflict takes place. Macro, exo, meso, and micro levels appear here as well..
4. The micro conflict processes include those factors that emerge from the conflict interaction itself.
5. Last, the model includes conflict competence criteria and outcomes, which include effectiveness/appropriateness, productivity/satisfaction, and principled ethics. Conflict competence refers to the application of intercultural conflict knowledge. Appropriateness refers to the degree to which the individuals’ behaviors are suitable for the cultural context in which they occur. Effectiveness refers to the degree to which the individuals achieve mutually shared meaning, which leads to intercultural understanding. Productivity/satisfaction refers to the degree to which the individuals are able to create the desired images of themselves, to what extent those images are accepted by the opposing party, and the perception by both parties that a successful resolution has been reached.
6. The Culture-Based Social Ecological Model is applied to the earlier interaction between Mike Fabion and Nicole Newton.
V. Intercultural Dialogue, Conflict Resolution, and a Culture of Peace
1. Broome maintains that conflict is an unavoidable consequence of living in a culturally diverse world. But Broome also believes that among myriad cultural groups, peace is possible. He argues that successful intercultural conflict resolution requires that conflicting interactants engage in dialogue and promote a culture of peace.
2. To build and maintain peace, we must learn productive ways to handle disagreements, and we must develop norms, mechanisms, and institutions that will guide us toward resolving divisive issues without violence. A central means through which such actions can unfold is dialogue.
3. Broome traces the etymology (i.e., the origins) of the word dialogue to ancient Greece, where dia means “through or across” and logos means “words or reason.” Broome contends that via dialogue, conflicting parties can reason with each other using communication as the vehicle toward understanding and eventual conflict resolution. Via dialogue, Broome asserts, conflicting parties become aware of how they each interpret and prescribe meaning to the immediate context. Broome is careful to point out that dialogue does not rule out disagreement. Instead, via dialogue, conflicting parties begin to understand each other’s unique perspective on the issue confronting them, which can then lead to peace.
VI. The Concept of Face, Facework, and Communication Conflict Styles
1. Face refers to a person’s sense of favorable self-worth or self-image experienced during communicative situations. Face is an emotional extension of the self-concept. Face is considered a universal concept; that is, people in all cultures have a sense of face, but the specific meanings of face may vary across cultures. There are three types of face, including self-face, other-face, and mutual-face. Self-face is the concern for one’s own image, other-face is the concern for another’s image, and mutual-face is the concern for both parties’ images or the image of the relationship. One’s face can be threatened, enhanced, undermined, and bargained over both emotionally and cognitively.
2. Facework refers to the communicative strategies employed to manage one’s own face or to support or challenge another’s face. Facework can be employed to initiate, manage, or terminate conflict. Three general types of facework strategies that are used in intercultural conflict. These include dominating, avoiding, and integrating facework
3. Whereas facework is employed to manage and uphold face during conflict, conflict interaction styles refer to ways individuals manage the actual conflict. How people manage communication during conflict differs considerably across cultures
a. One’s conflict interaction style is based on two communication dimensions. The first is the degree to which a person asserts a self-face need, that is, seeks to satisfy his or her own interests during conflict. The second is the degree to which a person is cooperative (i.e., observes an other-face need) and seeks to incorporate the interests of the other.
b. The combination of assertiveness, or self-face need, and cooperativeness, or other-face need, defines five primary communication styles of managing conflict and three secondary styles. The five primary styles are dominating, integrating, obliging, avoiding, and compromising. The three secondary styles include emotional expression, third-party help, and neglect (see Figure 10.3).
VII. An Intercultural Conversation: Dominating and Third-Party Conflict Styles
1. Kevin, who grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, is a student at the University of Wisconsin. Kevin is enrolled in an introductory communication course. The professor has assigned Kevin and Kokkeong, an international exchange student from Malaysia, to work on a project together. The professor has given them the option of either submitting a paper or giving a presentation. Kevin and Kokkeong disagree on which option to pursue. Kevin prefers the presentation option, while Kokkeong prefers the paper option
VIII. The Intercultural Style Inventory (ICS)
1. The ICS Inventory is a theoretical model and assessment tool used by professional mediators and trainers to diagnose and manage intercultural conflicts. According to the model, the dynamics of conflict revolve around two fundamental features of all conflict: disagreement and emotional reaction. Disagreement would be considered the cognitive component of conflict. A second fundamental feature of conflict is the affective or emotional response to the disagreement.
2. Conflict style, then, is the behavioral component of conflict that follows from the cognitive (i.e., disagreement) and affective (i.e., negative emotional reaction) dimensions of conflict.
3. According to the ICS Inventory, during conflict, the extent to which an individual is either direct or indirect and emotionally expressive or emotionally restrained defines his or her intercultural conflict style, of which there are four types, independent of culture, including (a) discussion, (b) engagement, (c) accommodation, and (d) dynamic.
VIII. Individualistic and Collectivistic Approaches to Conflict
1. Persons from individualistic cultures approach conflict differently than persons from collectivistic cultures. Individualists tend to follow an outcome-oriented approach to intercultural conflict. Collectivists, on the other hand, tend to follow a process-oriented approach. The outcome-oriented approach preferred by individualists emphasizes the importance of asserting their self identity in the conflict and the accomplishment of perceived tangible outcomes or goals. The process-oriented approach preferred by collectivists focuses on mutual-face or group-face interests. These interests are sought prior to, or in lieu of, any tangible outcomes or goals
IX. Conflict Resolution in High- Versus Low-Context Cultures
2. In low-context cultures, such as the United States, individuals are more likely to separate the conflict issue from the persons involved. In high-context cultures, such as China, the conflict issue and the persons involved are typically connected. For example, to directly disagree with someone may be seen as losing face, and is perceived as insulting. Persons in low-context cultures tend to be more direct and explicit in their dealings with conflict, whereas persons in high-context cultures prefer implicit communication. Persons from low-context cultures prefer solution-oriented conflict resolution styles, whereas persons from high-context cultures prefer nonconfrontational styles.
X. Resolving Cross Cultural Conflict: A Contingency Model
1. Recall from earlier in this chapter that cross-cultural conflict often results from the incompatibility of cultural ideologies and values. How many wives should a man have? Is it acceptable to abort a child because she is female? Is a dinner of dog meat acceptable? Is direct eye contact with someone of higher status OK? When individuals experience and respond to cross-cultural conflict, they are faced with a dilemma. To what extent do they adapt to the other person’s cultural ideologies and values, and to what extent do they adhere to their own culture’s ideologies and values?
2. Kohls and Buller point out that there are several communication strategies one can use when addressing cross-cultural conflicts. These include avoiding, forcing, education/persuasion, infiltration, negotiation/compromise, accommodation, and collaboration/problem-solving.
3. Regarding the seven communicative strategies outlined just now, Kohls and Buller argue that the specific strategy one uses in cross-cultural conflict is contingent on at least three factors, including (a) the central values at stake in the conflict (i.e., centrality) and the degree to which such values are held by the majority (i.e., consensus), (b) the individual’s ability to resolve the conflict, and (c) the degree of urgency in resolving the conflict.
4. Not all conflicts are equal in terms of the centrality of the cultural values at stake and the consensus with which they are held. For example, in the brief examples cited above, not making direct eye contact with a superior certainly does not hold the same importance as aborting a fetus because she is female. Cultural values vary along a continuum of cultural centrality. Some values are at the core of a culture (i.e., central) while others are peripheral.
5. In managing cross-cultural conflict, one must assess the centrality of the conflicting values in gauging what kind of communicative strategy to adopt. Peripheral values may have to be sacrificed in order to maintain cross-cultural relationships, while central values may need to be defended at the cost of the relationship. Related to the centrality of values is the degree to which the majority holds the particular value as central to their culture (i.e., consensus). Kohls and Buller maintain that if a value is at stake but is not widely held by the majority, it may be considered less important and more easily sacrificed. Finally, the third factor is urgency. This refers to the timeline that is needed to resolve the conflict. In some cases, there will be pressure, perhaps even a deadline, for which the conflict needs to be resolved quickly. In other cases, the conflicting parties may have sufficient time to resolve it
6. Kohls and Buller’s contingency model can be applied to a number of cross-cultural conflicts which are presented in the chapter.