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Conflict in multicultural teams

How we approach conflict can also be traced back to differences in our cultural values. Here we learn to recognise three significant conflict styles.
JULIA: Thank you, Jessica, for presenting that report. Puva, will you follow up? Good. Now, let’s move on and have a look at the market analysis for the new restaurant client. Ming, did you do the update?
MING: I have updated it.
It’s displaying on the screen now.
JULIA: No, these graphs don’t capture what we want. There’s too much going on. It’s too much in there.
MING: I can explain this.
JULIA: No, these graphs need to explain themselves. I can’t send them to the client if they don’t explain themselves.
TOM: I think the two graphs on the left are basically the same info. We can get rid of one of them.
CAT: Yeah, that could work.
TOM: Yeah.
PUVA: The client might find it useful to see both graphs.
JULIA: No, they’re too similar. Next time, make sure you only include the key information and no duplication.
MING: Sorry, I need to go to my next meeting.

How we approach conflict can be traced back to differences in our cultural values and beliefs.

Some cultures accept confrontation, while other cultures prefer group harmony.

Intercultural conflict experts Dr Stella Ting-Toomey and Dr John G. Oetzel identify three broad patterns of approaching conflict:

1. Avoiding

Collectivist cultures that value interpersonal harmony and stability tend to have norms for conflict-avoiding behaviour (such as pretending, giving in, withdrawing, and delaying).

In a meeting, someone who has an avoiding conflict style probably wouldn’t express negative emotions or voice their opposition to a teammate’s idea, as that may upset the harmony in the group and cause others to ‘lose face’.

2. Competing

Individualist cultures that value autonomy and achievement tend to have norms for competing behaviours (such as defending your position, aggression, coercing or dominating).

In a meeting, someone who has a competing conflict style would probably be willing to challenge ideas, with less regard for keeping harmony in the group.

3. Collaborating

A third conflict style, which tends to be found in individualist cultures more than collectivist cultures, is to take a cooperative approach (such as apologising, remaining calm, integrating and compromising).

Someone who has a collaborating conflict style may take a problem-solving approach to different views.

But your conflict style also depends on the context of the interaction. A manager may have a different conflict style towards the people who report to them, compared to their peers.

Your task

Watch the video and identify the types of conflict styles present in the team.

Discuss your observations in the comments with other learners.

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