Conflict Management in Eastern and Western Culture

Introduction

The conflict between individuals or parties is inevitable. Moreover, conflict is a personal issue that expresses personal beliefs and interests and it becomes a delicate issue after it affects other parties. This owes its roots to the fact that people are different and no one is a replica of the other thus, people definitely will have conflicting opinions on different issues. Furthermore, people come from different cultural backgrounds and the way of handling conflicts differs from one culture to the other. These facts make conflict management and resolution a crucial issue across borders because with the slow establishment of the global village and fast-paced industrialization, individuals have to co-exist regardless of their cultural settings and origins. Culture and the source of the conflict play a central role in handling conflict management and resolution.

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Fundamentally, conflict resolution and management involve dialogue between the affected parties. This is because without involving the affected parties, reaching conclusive mutual satisfactory results would be insurmountable. Negotiations form the springboard upon which critical analysis, espousal, rejection and compromise on some issues takes place. This calls for active involution of representatives from the warring sites if the agreement reached upon has to see the light of the day. This is a research paper dealing with conflict management in western and eastern cultures. The paper also compares and contrasts conflict management in these regions and sheds light on how cultural practices influence conflict management and resolution. Scope of conflicts and conflict management covers a wide area ranging from families, through schools to organizations. However, this paper tackles community conflict and conflict management and then proposes a conflict management program in communities.

Conflict Management

For conflict management to commence, it implies that there is a conflict, which needs a resolution. What is the cause of conflict? Conflict emanates from poor communication, poor leadership, leadership change, lack of openness and dissatisfaction among other factors (Dealing with Conflict, 2009). At this point, it is important to distinguish conflict from the competition. While competition brings out the best of an individual in a given field, conflict brings out the worst in an individual. Uncongenial competition may breed hostility leading to conflict. Conflict management thus is dealing with these conflicts to resolve, divert or minimize them. It seeks to establish a common ruling where every party gets satisfied. What is the platform of conflict management?

As mentioned above, negotiations form the platform that forms the backbone of conflict management. While some people look at negotiation as a route to express their power and ego, it is important to note that negotiations should allow individuals to voice their concerns and it is not a matter of being right or wrong, but a matter of reaching a consensus. Though there are several methods that exist to negotiating issues, the commonly used approaches are integrative and distributive. The distributive approach fosters a win-lose situation where one party has to win and the other lose. Again, the approach depends largely on the cultural background of the involved individuals. The important point to establish when executing this approach is to know exactly what you want from the negotiations. However, this is not a good approach to dealing with conflicts because, in a conflict, the involved parties feel they are right in their way of doing things.

On the other hand, the integrative approach is an interest-based negotiation where an individual’s goals get equal attention. This is a win-win approach with no trenchant winners or losers. Getting into this approach calls for a clear understanding of other people’s concerns and goals. Compromise is a key factor in this situation in the quest to establish a place for commonness. Nevertheless, regardless of the approach used in negotiation, position, compromise, argument, concession and agreement are inherent attributes of negotiation. This approach records high levels of success.

Apart from negotiation, other techniques applicable in conflict management are arbitration and mediation. However, conflicting parties resort to these two techniques after negotiations fail to materialize. Mediation involves the intervention of a third party in form of a mediator who plays an advisory role only, without decision-making powers. Mediator has to win the trust of the conflicting parties and convince them towards mutual understanding. Arbitration on the other hand involves a judge who after listening to the two sides makes a final ruling. However, the warring parties must approve the credibility of the adjudicator before accepting the final ruling. These are the universally acceptable and applicable methods of conflict management but as mentioned in this paper, different cultures adopt different methods in resolving a conflict and this leads to the next topic; conflict management in different cultures.

Western Conflict Management

According to LeBaron (2003), culture is intricate and resembles underground watercourses that run deep into people’s souls molding their precepts, ascriptions, discernments and personalities among other personal attributes that affect decision making (part 1). Culture goes beyond language, dress code or eating habits to encompass people’s unconsciousness. LeBaron (2003) concurs that cultures are constantly changing and within each culture, there are numerous perceptions. This overrides the assumption that people from a particular culture think and act the same way. This, however, does not overrule the fact that a given culture shares several common values and attributions. The differentiating factor between cultures is that one culture will see and appreciate something that the other culture does not appreciate. Elementary, differences emanate from what is important to different groups and their place in the world, that is, their identities. Culture dictates to people what is essential, normal and expected and when someone violates these expectations, conflict arises.

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Western culture is a modernized culture where rationality, capitalism, laissez-faire, felicity, personal rights, science and technology takes center stage. This culture surpasses geography and race but it dominates most European countries. Since cognition and reason dominate this culture, sources of conflict are numerous given that it upholds personal rights and thus people have rights of expression. Western culture has been consented in one kind or another from daily experiences and as a maxim of diachronic thought. This culture is invariably in flux adapting to dynamics of changing times sometimes in an unpredictable manner.

Conflict resolution in western culture started immediately after World War II events that led to the emergence of massive human rights movements across Europe. In western culture, conflict resolution is an academic discipline with laid down protocols that govern its implementation. After World War II, many religious organizations pushed for reforms because they had no confidence in the judicial system. This saw the establishment of academic institutions that train individuals on how to tackle this issue. How does this culture work in relation to conflict and conflict management?

LeBaron (2003) posits that, since culture determines who people are and determines people’s values, it becomes inseparable from conflicts. This culture disregards the maxim of doing to others what you wish them to do to you and adopts the mantra of doing to people what you wish to do to them (LeBaron, 2003).

Conflict Management in Eastern Culture

Eastern culture cuts across diverse cultures and philosophical systems and it encompasses central Asia, Russia, India, Far East and the Middle East among others. Communism and socialism dominate this culture even though with globalization and industrialization these cultures are in a tight spot with people migrating all over the world. This culture adopts a win-lose approach in dealing with conflict management. For instance, the retractable stalemate between Israel and Palestine is a clear indication that no side is planning to compromise some principles that may lead to resolving the long-standing conflict. In a win-lose approach or distributive approach in conflict management, mediation does not fair well. The United States of America has tried to intervene in the Israel-Palestine conflict but this has not been successful.

Fazal (2001) points that to strike a deal and resolve this long-standing conflict, each country should be willing to compromise some stands. Unfortunately, Fazal laments that compromise is dependent on consistent economic development, a factor that is not foreseeable given that Palestine is underdeveloped compared to Israel. Moreover, the proposed move to resolve the conflict and restore peace does not address the cause of conflict, that is, the futurity of Palestinian refugees living in camps. These camps offer good operating sites for suicide bombers. Cultural influence in this case plays a vital role in determining the course taken by conflict management exercise.

The two states perceive the issue differently owing to the lose-win approach employed in resolving this conflict. While Palestinians believe that their country should be a sovereign country with equal powers like Israel, this is not the perspective held by Israel. Israel believes that to resolve the conflict, it should retain the military and nuclear power with Palestine remaining disarmed and demilitarised (Fazal, 2001). A case Palestine is not likely to accept in near future. What is the source of this stalemate and why would Israel find it difficult to accept Palestine as a sovereign state? Culture plays a key role here. Jews make the largest population of Israel and culture teaches them that the land around that place belongs to them. Consequently, Israelites feel that they should occupy and rule the land but not Palestinians who are mainly non-Jews. This takes us to the role of culture in conflict management. It also exposes the biting nature of culture in conflict management.

Comparison between Eastern and Western Conflict Management

From the above discussions, it is clear that western and eastern conflict management differs by a great margin. While western culture adopts a more integrated win-win approach in conflict management, eastern culture adopts a win-lose approach where there has to be clear-cut winners and losers. The western strategy is more elaborate and inclusive with wide consultations among the involved parties whereas eastern culture does not allow dialogue. Even if dialogue becomes an option, one party sets stipulations that the mediator has to abide by. The United States of America acts as the mediator here but Israel has stipulations that the mediator has to observe and maintain.

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However the there are common characteristics in conflict management in these two cases. For instance, there is negotiation, position, compromise, argument, concession and agreement or disagreement in both cases.

Case Study

In 1986, Cleveland arose to witness several shootings of innocent citizens. This resulted from government efforts to relocate its housing project in low and average earners vicinage. High racial tension and agitation ensued following the killings. Few coordinated efforts to settle the conflict followed but this was insufficient. Afterward, local authorities formed a 14-member group to quell the unrest. They gave this group the name Roundtable. The 14 members met fortnightly for four weeks addressing several issues concerning the way forward out of the stalemate. The group consisted of a city council member, a community member from the city of Cleveland, a police officer, clergy members, a Case Western Reserve University representative and representatives from the locality (Abu-Nimer, 1996, p 35).

After several meetings, this group sought to make the conflict resolution process more inclusive and they incorporated 40 additional groups. This gave birth to Race Relations Forum in the fall of 1987. Members met after every three weeks for a period of five months and made decisions based on consensus. The group allowed members to report to their respective communities and solicit opinions. The group later split into ten committees each addressing different issues that led to the unrest and the subsequent shootings. The outcome was the formation of 12 initiatives tabled to authorities for implementation. This was an integrative approach to negotiations and it proved successful in determining causes of discrimination. It also established that prohibitive approaches could not lead to longstanding solutions. This called for all-inclusive dialogue in settling pertinent issues within communities. However, this approach exposed several assumptions in dealing with conflict the western way.

From this conflict management strategy, it is clear that western culture requires the involvement of religious, civic and business organizations in resolving a conflict. This is the western way and this justifies why conflict resolution in this culture falls under academic disciplines. It took the intervention of a third party to reach a consensus on this conflict. The third-party comprised of clergy, civil societies and community leaders among other key layers who were involved. They reached the ultimate decision after rigorous consultations and analysis from the differing sides. This is typical in conflict resolution in western cultures.

The other assumption or characteristic of conflict resolution in western culture is that implementation of recommendations from the consultative groups would prevent future confrontations. These recommendations addressed primarily the cause of the confrontations. While some people felt that, these recommendations would serve to quell further confrontations in the future, other people felt that this was a short-term strategy because they did not address the issue of economic disparities between the warring groups. This highlights the complexity of conflict resolution in a capitalist culture.

The impact of culture in this case was so profound. Western culture is a capitalist setting where individualism takes the centre stage. Even though the group formed addressed and identified the root cause of the conflict, recommendations were made tied to the capitalist system prevailing in this culture. This system allows individuals to create personal wealth, which in many cases leads to disparities in economic status. The merits and demerits of western culture’s influence on conflict management came out clearly in this case. Dialogue is important in conflict resolution a fact appreciated by this culture. However, the long-term settlement of a conflict becomes difficult in the wake of freedom of expression coupled with individualism. This is the western way of managing conflict.

Impacts of Culture in Conflict Management

Regardless of the approach employed in any conflict management and resolution, culture plays a role. It may be a central role or an influencing role to determine decision-making. Why does culture have this strong influence on conflict management? Well, LeBaron (2003) posits that culture is superimposed and what may be correct with one side may be completely strange or unreasonable with the other side. Conflict essentially stems from relationships between people. Relationships rely largely on perceptions and ideas of self. Coincidentally, culture shapes these perceptions consequently affecting relationships. This forms the basis of the reason why culture leads to conflict and plays a crucial role in conflict management.

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How does culture work to bring out these outstanding effects? When one cultural side fails to meet the expectations of the other due to differing perceptions, this may lead to conflict. One side may misunderstand the eminent differences between cultures and treat them as a lack of common sense. Interestingly, this gumption is also cultural. It is interesting how people fail to appreciate differences between themselves. The fact is that not unless we accept that no culture is perfect and wholesome, we cannot appreciate the shortcomings that are prevalent across cultures. Therefore, generalizing culture does not constitute conflict resolution and the only way to establish strong relationships across cultures is to create mutual understanding accepting that different people understand issues differently.

Culture is pliant to some extent and different individuals in the same culture may behave differently. Below the cover of culture, there exist personal attributes that we cannot understand by a general study on culture. Moreover, cultural influences become relevant depending on the circumstance of its application.

Even though culture does not cause conflict, it is irresolvable from it. Culture and conflict touch the same critical frontiers in human lives and that is relationships. It becomes difficult to solve a problem without knowing its root cause and this calls for a strong understanding of culture and bringing its conflicts to fluency.

Proposed Cultural Management Program

The first step in managing conflict is to establish its cause. This prepares the parties involved to establish their role in the conflict. It is important to note at this point that, how a party reacts or not reacts to a conflict determines largely the outcome of that conflict management. After this, it is advisable to identify the stage at which the conflict is. There are several stages of conflict. A conflict may be latent, open or aftermath conflict. Different levels of conflict call for different approaches. Identifying the approach to use in conflict management follows. This may be a win-win approach or a win-lose approach. Regardless of the approach used, it is important to state clearly, what an individual expects from the resolution reached.

The second critical part is to manage and resolve the crisis and this takes place in different stages and employs different approaches. The first one is collective bargaining. In this strategy, there is an agreed mechanism to chart the way forward out of the stalemate. This cushions decision-making from antagonistic parties and gives each side an opportunity to voice their concerns. This is more of the democratic system and the majority rule wins.

The other strategy entails conciliation. Parties would opt for this move after a failed collective bargaining attempt. Conciliation brings these parties together once again and a mediator tries to solve the persistent differences between these groups.

However, negotiations form the backbone of these processes. Mediation and arbitration follow as the final resort after the failure of negotiations to settle differences. There are important issues to note here, however. The third party in any conflict resolution may act in different capacities. For instance, the United States of America acts in two capacities in Somalia conflicts. First, she acts as a conventional mediator who favors no side and only brokers a resolution. She also acts as a traditional elder who is full of knowledge and sagacity. Communication strategies amongst involved individuals are very important. There are two forms of communication strategies. This depends on the nature of the conflict and the involved parties. High context communication is applicable where involved parties are not open to each other. Low context communication applies in cases where individuals are in open relationships. Western cultures prefer low-context communication while eastern culture leans on high-context communication.

In summary, the mediators should follow the following measures: introduce and validate credibility, steer the negotiation process, establish a final ruling after consultations (Billikopf, 2009).

Conclusion

Conflict is inevitable in human relationships. This is because people have different likes and dislikes together with opinions. The moment one party fails to recognize or appreciate the values upheld by the other party then conflicts result. This is only part of the sources of conflict and others include poor communication, poor leadership and differing interests among others. The presence of conflict calls for a way out and this leads to the establishment of conflict management and resolution.

Conflict management is essentially making a resolution about a conflict existing between two parties. Conflict management takes many dimensions but some common characteristics of a resolution are eminent. They are negotiation, position, compromise, argument, concession and agreement or disagreement. These dominating factors cut across any form of conflict management. However, negotiations form the mainstay of any conflict management program. If negotiations do not resolve the issue, then the involved parties may opt for mediation, which includes a third party. After mediation fails, parties may move for arbitration where an adjudicator settles the case after listening to opinions from both sides.

From the research carried out in this paper, it emerged that western and eastern conflict management strategies differ a great deal. Western conflict management adopts a win-win strategy where every party wins in the final settlement. Eastern conflict management adopts a win-lose strategy where there are clear-cut winners and losers. The eastern approach is more inclusive and individuals exchange ideas appreciating differences that exist across cultures. The research established that the western approach records high chances of success compared to the eastern approach. This was evident from the case studies discussed in this research paper.

However, there is no all-inclusive strategy for managing conflicts. This is because conflicts result mainly from cultural differences and influences. Culture plays a central role in conflict and conflict management because it defines our perceptions and values which in turn determines our relationships. Nevertheless, regardless of the intricate nature of culture, conflict management strategies are available and people can adopt them in resolving their conflicts.

Reference

Abu- Nimer. (1996). Conflict resolution approaches: Western and Middle Eastern lessons and possibilities. 2009. Web.

Billikopf, G. (2009). Conflict Management Skills. Web.

Dealing with Conflict. (2009). Web.

Fazal, M. (2001). A Peaceful Resolution of the Israel Palestinian Conflict. 2009. Web.

LeBaron, M. (2003). Culture and Conflict. 2009. Web.

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