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Making Conflict Resolution Culturally Competent?

Making Conflict Resolution Culturally Competent?

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand ways in which a conflict resolution process may need to be adapted to fit a cross-cultural conflict.

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Making Conflict Resolution Culturally Competent

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Cultures differ in the way they see the world. And gaining insight into these cultural differences can help prevent miscommunication and conflict. But what about the conflict resolution process itself? How does culture impact that process? Well, I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to take up that subject with you.

How do we make the conflict resolution process culturally competent? Now, what I mean by this is the ability to recognize when culture is playing a role and then being able to bring that up in a way that can be helpful in terms of moving the process ahead. So that's cultural competence.

And conflict resolution process needs to also adapt itself, particularly when there are one or more parties who are not US natives. So the conflict resolver needs to be aware of these differences and perhaps adapt the process. Why? Because the model of mediation here in the United States is really based on our world view and our communication style.

Now, our worldview is the way we interpret the world and decide to do things here. It's based on our beliefs and assumptions in the United States about what's right and what's normal. All worldviews are. They come out of the culture that we live in.

And the communication style, of course, it's the way we communicate here if we're a US native. And it's the way a culture considers communication to be correct and effective. So we have our own communication style and worldview built in to our US model for mediation.

So let's take a moment and look at some of the elements in that model and how we might be able to adapt them. First of all, in terms of communication style, we encourage in the mediation model a very direct style. And this comes out of our cultural viewpoint where verbal is important, and we encourage people to learn to use what we call "I" statements, to speak up and own their own feelings, their own needs, and to speak from that first person point of view.

Now, in some cultures, this would not be an effective, correct way to communicate. There are cultures that are not as direct. They are more indirect.

So the acceptance of qualifier statements instead of using an "I" statement, a party from a culture where the communication was more indirect, we call this a high context culture, as opposed to a low context culture, which uses direct communication. Someone there may use qualifying statements, such as "perhaps it would be good to consider," or ask a question, "don't you feel that?" or even kind of play down something by a giving it another just kind of disqualifier. "I may be wrong, but I think--" "but maybe--"

So those are just examples of some qualifying statements that may be a way that someone coming from a culture where communication is more indirect. And in these cultures, the nonverbal may carry more contextual meaning than the actual verbal. This may be a comfortable way to phrase things. And it also allows them to preserve more of a group harmony, which may be important in the culture. So adapting the way we phrase things and the way we consider the communication to be effective is the first step.

Then we also base our mediation model on equal status. Power distribution, we believe this is equally held. Everybody at the table gets fair share, to turn to speak and turn to listen. And this could bed at odds with a cultural viewpoint or status is of more importance. And there could be a party who feels as though someone else may speak first or need to speak first or status, role, needs to be recognized. So it's important to understand that when you are setting up guidelines.

Now, I say guidelines, because the US mediation model, we allow people to set their own guidelines and come up with their own solutions. That's part of our US mediation model. And there may be times where people from particular cultures feel a little uncomfortable with that level of ambiguity.

They would prefer, rather than guidelines, to have perhaps some rules or established procedures for how to proceed. And that may include in turn the issue of status, in terms of how power is recognized around the table. So these are a couple of examples here of how we may need to adapt to our mediation model when there are parties involved who are not US natives.

Now, I want to keep in mind that to be culturally competent, there are some principles. I'm going to give you a few principles to keep in mind. I have them listed here.

Here they are. Be flexible. I think this is very important because you're not sure perhaps what you might discover in this process with very different cultures. So listen actively. Ask questions. And recognize the complexity. There is complexity here whenever you're bringing people from different cultures with different world views to the table together.

So respect the differences. There will be differences. It's important to respect and distinguish perspectives. What are the differing perspectives of the table? And once again, we're going to be flexible here to accommodate that.

So it starts with self-awareness if we want to be culturally competent in the conflict resolution process. It starts with our own awareness of our own communication style, our own world view.

So I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial. And I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know
Communication Style

The way in which a culture or individuals consider communication to be correct/most effective.

Cultural Competency

The ability to recognize when culture may be playing a part in a conflict or communication difficulty and the ability to raise the role of culture in a way that helps overcome the problem.


The way a person interprets and makes decisions about his or her environment (world), including beliefs or assumptions about what is considered right or normal.