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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.

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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Leading Culturally Diverse Teams in the Workplace

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