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The Intercultural Conflict Resolution Education Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5485 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Currently, conflicts are more and more present in multicultural teams for different reasons such as the globalization; therefore there is a great focus on how to resolve those conflicts in order to perform effectively. First, I think it is important to define the term “conflict”: it is ‘a disagreement that lead to tension between (or within) people’ (Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution 2011, p. 4). There are different reasons why we have conflicts. On the one hand, it may be a conflict about an issue such as about work, money, time and so on. Therefore, it will lead to a disagreement and after, it will lead people to solve the problem by negotiating an agreement. On the other hand, it may be a personal conflict in relation to the emotions and the relations. This kind of conflict will be solved thanks to a dialogue in order to achieve an understanding. In a business context, leaders have to take into account both dimensions and to deal with, because if they do not solve the issue, they will achieve short solutions and if they do not lower the tension in the case of personal conflict, there will be ongoing tensions. So, leaders need the ability to deal with both the issue and the tension to avoid new conflicts. They have also to find the central point which is considered as the point of departure for the solution (Helde M.L and Nygaard B 2012, pp. 2-4).

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A conflict resolution model is the NVC model (Rosenberg cited in Helde M.L and Nygaard B 2012, p. 14) that contains four key points in conflict resolution. The first point is the facts, the observation of what has happened. The second point is the expectations and the interpretations on what has happened without accusing the other. Third point is the emotions it means what makes me feel like. Another key point is the needs of value in terms of respect and efficiency. Moreover in the context of intercultural communication, a fifth key point is considered and corresponds to the action which means what I would want to happen in the future. It is extremely important that leaders use this process in the resolution of conflict because it means that they are able to have a dialogue by asking questions and find new perspectives for the future.

During the seminar held by Professor Bjørn Nygaard, he mentioned that there are three differentiated management according to conflict styles which are attack, run and dialogue. In a multicultural company, a leader needs to be able to master the three (Nygaard B 2012, pp. 21 – 22). Moreover, he argued that it is important to have in an organization a manager as conflict mediator to judge in the case of attack, to delegate for running or for the mediation during the dialogue. I have a personal experience to illustrate that the dialogue in the conflict management is very important. During the first course, I had to do an assignment in group with four people. We met once to discuss about the subject of the presentation and we agreed. But during the second meeting, we decided to change this subject which created a conflict with one of them, a Swiss girl. Indeed she did not agree with this modification and instead of discussing, she preferred to leave the group without explanations after what we have never seen her again because she left the program. I think it is important to have a dialogue in order to find an agreement or to put “the things on the table” to find solutions and to get everyone to agree. A link with the iceberg is interesting. Indeed, a good leader has to “dive under the surface” (Helde M.L and Nygaard B 2012, p. 11) that is to say he/she has to go below the water and so, he/she has to focus on values and needs. They argue that if the dialogue and listening is required for a problem it is not necessary to negotiate on. Therefore it is essential that a leader finds the reason of the issue in order to solve it with the appropriate way.

It is important, mainly as a leader, to be aware that there is no one model better than another to resolve the conflict but the use of a model depends on the context in which it happens. For example, the choice of one model in a high-context or a low-context (Hall 1997 cited in Lustig & Koester 2006, pp. 110-114; Schneider & Barsoux 2003, p. 44) will be different. In a culture within a low-context where people attempt to avoid conflicts, they will choose may be the strategy of running. I mention “may be” because as I said before, each solution depends on the context but also on the origin of the conflict therefore it is essential to take into account of this in order to get out of the traps. There is not a unique response to face a conflict and so in each culture, in each situation, it is especially necessary to find the starting point of the conflict and to know in which context we are in order to choose the appropriate model. I think to find this one according to both origin and context are the biggest challenge for managers. Moreover, they have to be also able to manage correctly the conflicts in order to highlight positive outcomes and to achieve goals thanks to creativity and innovation.

2.2 Categorizing and stereotypes

The categorization and the stereotypes are unavoidable and natural in everyday life. According to Lustig and Koester (2005, p. 148), ‘stereotypes are a form of generalization about some group of people’ and they occur when a person determines an outgroup category which is different from one’s own social group (Lustig and Koester, 2005, p. 149). Another reason is that people enlarge and accentuate the dissimilarities and so they see the differences clearly and more distinct. The last reason is that people assign stereotypes to the whole group and so treat the specific person as a representative member of a category. According to Plum (2008, p.75) ‘putting everything different into simplified categories is one of the way in which we manage to make sense of our everyday life, and stereotypes are unavoidable consequence of this’. It is also necessary to distinguish and define the categorization which is to make the differences, the acknowledgment and the understanding about ideas, people and then placing them into categories.

For many people stereotypes can be seen as sad, immoral or impolite and so can promote prejudice, discrimination or racism. However, stereotypes can be used in a positive way when they are good interpreted. Therefore it is important that a leader has the ability to recognize, accept, explore and aware of the existence of stereotypes which influence business interactions in order to move consciously beyond stereotypes and also to respond to the individual (Schneider and Barsoux 2003, p. 14). So leaders have to have in a first time neutral attitude towards stereotypes and construct their own opinion by observing the reality.

Although stereotypes can be rooted in personal or cultural experiences and depend on our knowledge, experiences and world view. I think that they can change or disappear with personal experience. Indeed, before coming in Sweden for my exchange, I had a lot of stereotypes about the Swedish people and when I spoke about this exchange with my surroundings, many people told me several stereotypes. But living in Sweden for three months some of my stereotypes have changed or disappeared although some others remain unchanged. For example, I thought that Swedish people were “cold” but I noticed that this is not totally true even thought they are not as warm as the people of Southern Europe. For instance, when I arrived in Kalmar, my mentor welcomed me very good. I had another stereotype about the Swedish and this one has disappeared: I thought that Swedish people were calm but I could notice at school, in the restaurant, at my room place or during the party that the Swedish population is not calm and little excited. I find as well that they speak very loudly. I thought also before coming here that Swedish people were respectful and polite and this stereotype has not changed. Indeed, all people in the street say hello, they apologize when they push somebody for instance. Of course, new stereotypes can also appear with experiences. By example, I think that it is very secure to live in Sweden because I am not afraid to come back at my apartment alone during the night. As we can see, my experience allowed me sorting the stereotypes I had about Sweden and so defining a degree of reality on which I can rely.

In conclusion, I would like to say that it is very important for a leader to be conscious that behind the stereotypes and categorization, in other words, standpoints and judgments, they have to take into account needs, values (Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution 2011 cited in Helde M.L and Nygaard B 2012, p. 12) and so to explore the part of the iceberg that is under the water and after come back at the surface for the interpretations. People are quick to over-generalise the other people from other different groups (Plum 2008, p. 76). So the stereotypes have to be first observing then interpreting and finally we can make a judgment. Moreover, I would like to end by saying that everyone needs stereotypes, use them and they have to be really careful about them.

2.3 Cultural identity

Each of us belongs to a particular group (country, religion, social, cultural,…) with several characteristics such as values, language, norms, rules, traditions that we have learned during our life. This concept is called “the cultural identity”. Culture identity is dynamic depending on the changes in the social context and on our continuous life experiences (Lustig and Koester 2006, p. 141; Plum 2008, p. 63). According to Lustig and Koester (2008, pp. 141-142), there are two others components of cultural identities. Indeed, it is also central, it means how a person sees himself/herself and it is multifaceted because we can identify ourselves in several groups. Cultural identity is constructed from interactions with other people and groups since our childhood. I support the theory with a personal explanation. Indeed, by living in Sweden, my cultural identity has been reinforced thanks to the interacting with other people. Therefore I notice that I am different and I belong to a certain group. For instance, I see myself as a white Belgian young student which traditions, norms and rules that my parents and my surrounding have communicated to me. I am proud of my culture and it is important to know who I am and I try always to share this one. It is important to be aware of this cultural identity otherwise it may involve conflict if the culture is ignored. ‘Misunderstandings can arise because we believe that we have more things in common with people from other cultures than we actually have’ (Plum, 2008, p. 86).

An organization is a place where there are various identities and therefore leader has to manage people with different cultural identities that involve different ways of thinking, working, acting and he/she has to be able to deal with that. Moreover, individuals are going to identify themselves with their organization and sometimes define themselves as organizational members so they create a sense of self and they also build the organization’s identity (Marturano and Gosling 2008, p. 82). As we know, there is currently the globalization so leader has to deal with team, customers, delivers and so on with very different cultural identities and I think it is a big challenge for them. In my future, as a leader, I will have to be able to deal with these differences to be effective. Indeed I think that going against the cultural identity of somebody is a grave error because although it can evolve, the culture is deeply embedded into a person. Therefore the person may feel hurt by the non-respect of its culture which can cause a blockage in the conversation and the joint work. That is why my opinion is that leaders have to take interest and understand the cultural identities of other people to avoid hurting those people and maximizing their capacities.

Part 3: Individual: The research area of Intercultural Communication

Soderberg and Holden (2002, p. 104) affirm that ‘cross cultural management is often regarded as a methodology for handling cultural differences predominantly seen as sources of conflict, friction or miscommunication’. According to those authors, cultural differences are seen as a problem and therefore involve damages in international business but organization has to treat those differences as a competitive advantage. With the globalization and so the changes in the organization and the environment, it is necessary to redefine the concept of cross cultural management and to reformulate the theoretical approach. They argue that ‘cross cultural management is a form of knowledge work’ (Soderberg and Holden, 2002, p. 109) it means that managers have to be able to know and to manage their workers with cultural differences and also they have to learn about the productivity. Indeed, if a company wants to survive in a changing context, it has to be a learning organization to keep their competitive advantage. Therefore, today, cross cultural management can be defined as ‘the management of multiple cultures’ (Soderberg and Holden, 2002, p. 113). With the globalizing business context, it is also important to review the term “culture”. Many authors see the cultural as ‘a barrier to interaction and all-pervading source of confusion’ (Soderberg and Holden, 2002, p. 105) but with the global market expansion, it is imperative that they consider diversity as a resource and a competitive advantage to respond to the demand.

The presence of organizations in other countries is increasing and therefore, it leads to have a business with people coming from different countries. National culture is a fundamental source of identification. However this one is not given, persistent and homogeneous in the face of cross-national interactions but is socially constructed (Sackmann and Philipps, 2004, p. 374). So the researchers have to take into account this when they realize their project.

As we know, recent years have been marked by radical changes such as technology developments, new communications media, politics, economic, society. Those changes have impacted on organization life (Sackmann and Philipps, 2004, p. 375). Both authors propose different strategies to remain competitive and exploit the new opportunities in spite of changes. With the increasing presence of multicultural team, there is a need for the flexibility in the multiple cultures perspective which is an alternative research. The radical changes have also impacted the research context. Indeed with processes of internationalization and globalization it is easier for the researchers to communicate and to work together so those changes have also modified the way of working for them. So they have to be aware of cultural influences because those one may impact their results and therefore they have to choose the most adequate cultural context for their research.

Nowadays, the globalization involves the opening of the boundaries of markets and therefore a constant and growing concurrence (China, India, Brazil,…). In order to survive at this phenomenon, companies have to exercise of imagination, creativity,… to deal with this competition and to keep a competitive advantage. So, with those changes, multinational organizations have to deal with a problematic which has to include a new conceptualization of the management, an international management (Soderberg and Holden 2002, p. 104). I chose this issue because I think that it is a great problematic today for the companies. This article was written in 2002, so before the crisis, and in my opinion I think that if companies have difficulties currently, one reason is because they are not able to have a good management of multiple cultures. As a future leader, I find that this problematic is very interesting, important and I would like to have this knowledge to be able to deal with.

One of the solutions for this issue for a company is to develop a working environment that encourages the organizations to learn and to find a way which facilitates the sharing knowledge (Soderberg and Holden 2002, p. 110). Indeed if an organization wants to survive, it needs to learn (Argyris 1999; Johnson and Scholes 1999; Senge 1990 cited in Soderberg and Holden 2002, p. 110). Garvin (1998, p. 51) defines a learning organization as ‘an organization skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behaviour to reflect new knowledge and insights’. However, I think in order to face the management of multiple cultures, an important point is the intercultural communication. Indeed, often the problem in a multicultural team is the communication between the workers with different backgrounds. But the problem can also occur between the workers who work in different departments. Because of these problems, organization has to create a new form of intercultural communication know-how which is called the knowledge-creating organization (Soderberg and Holden 2002, p. 110). According to Nonaka (2007, pp. 166-168), there are three steps in the knowledge-creation process. First, the metaphor is used by individuals who are in different contexts and have different experiences in order to express something by using imagination and symbols. People put together what they know in new ways and so, they build something new. In intercultural exchange ideas between people who have distant and contradictory meanings, they are going to use the metaphor in order to connect both ideas into a single one. Therefore we can say that metaphors are useful in intercultural communication because they facilitate the understanding and the communication between them. The second step is analogy which is the process through it is possible to find similarities in contradictions. Thanks to analogy, metaphors are adjusted in order to fit the reality. The last step is the creation of a real model which is understandable for the whole organization. Thanks to this knowledge-creating process, the communication will be made correctly and so misunderstandings will be avoided.

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Nonaka (2007, pp. 168-169) says that the first step in the management of the knowledge-creating company is to build a redundant organization which promotes ongoing dialogue and communication. Indeed, thanks to redundancy, employees will have a common understanding which will facilitate the transfer of implicit knowledge which is difficult to communicate to others. In order to create a common understanding, we can notice that the communication is the best way to use and it can also lead to a new culture. Redundancy can be also created from the strategic rotation because latter is going to allow employees to have a general view and understanding about the business thanks to several visions. With this practice, intercultural communication in the case of the sub-organizational level (Sackmann and Philipps 2004, p. 368) will be facilitated because people will have knowledge about all functions in the organization and therefore the communication between employees from different departments will be fluid and understandable for everyone. I think as well and as Nonaka (2007, p. 169) that everybody in a company has to participate in the knowledge-creating process because it will facilitate the understanding of employees about new ideas or knowledge. The importance of intercultural communication is again clear in this situation. However, the creation of knowledge is provided thanks to a dynamic interaction between different levels in a company so it is necessary to keep a certain degree of differentiation among roles and responsibility.

It is also important that people interpret actively it in order to adapt themselves according to their own situations and perspectives. So, the sense for a new knowledge depends on the context in which people communicate and in which it is diffused within the company. Indeed it can lead to an ongoing gap in meaning thus it is important that a company knows how to manage a new knowledge in order to transform these misunderstandings as a wealthy origin of new knowledge. A company has to do continuously this important challenge in order to stay competitive and the challenge for the employees is to be able to reconsider all what they have been gained. I think that during a period of crisis, those challenges are primordial. Nonaka (2007, p. 171) mentions likewise that teams have a principal role in the knowledge-creating process because they are in a perpetual dialogue and interaction with each other involving an effective reflection within a shared context. Thanks to dialogue and discussion, they join and examine from various angles their different individual information and knowledge which will allow them to develop new common perspectives. Nevertheless, as we know, dialogue can imply conflict or discrepancy but they can lead to push employees to give a new approach of their knowledge.

Sackmann and Philipps (2004, pp. 375-376) mention several changes in different fields. For example, in the area of technology, the computer has changed the way of working. The new communications media such as internet has facilitated the access to literature, information and interaction with colleagues. Both authors propose other strategies than Nonaka (2007) in order to remain competitive and exploit the new opportunities in the context of all those changes. Indeed they argue that company has first ‘to initiate operations in foreign locations to create international, multinational, global, or metanational firms’ (Doz and al. 2001 cited in Sackmann and Philipps 2004, p. 376), secondly ‘to acquire or merging with firms already established in desirable markets’ (Sackmann and Philipps 2004, p. 377) and thirdly to ‘form strategic alliances and networks’ (e.g. Castells 2000, vol.1 cited in Sackmann and Philipps 2004, p. 377). The role of intercultural communication in each solution makes sense because each one is a multicultural strategy and involves a cross-cultural relationship. Indeed with these strategies, company will have to manage people from around the world so with differences background embodying differences in terms of experiences, nationalities, traditions, languages,… Therefore it is necessary to take it into account. So, Nonaka (2007) is in the continuity of this article because he gives a deeper approach by proposing to build a learning organization that becomes a creating-knowledge company in order to face to globalization and so to keep competitive advantage. On the other hand, Sackmann and Philipps (2004, p. 380) propose similar advices to Nonaka (2007) in order to contribute to knowledge in multiple cultures perspective such as ‘having a shared understandings, appreciating of cultural differences and similarities, acknowledges complexity of personal identity and organizational life and identifies skills needed for work in a multicultural environment’.

As Nonaka (2007, p. 164) affirms in his paper ‘a company is not a machine but a living organism’ and I truly agree with him. I think that actually companies have to become aware of the changes in the world like technological advance and they have to develop knowledge about these changes in order to be competitive. Innovation is important in this field and will allow employees to develop new ideas or new knowledge. Therefore, it will reinvent individuals, the company and the world in a continuous process of personal and organizational self-renewal (Nonaka, 2007, p. 164). In this case, the intercultural communication will be affected within organization and worldwide. Indeed, this creating-knowledge process will involve a new language,… and therefore everybody will have to learn and understand a new common cognitive ground.

I can notice how globalization and internalization had, are having and will have an impact on the business world and more specifically on the intercultural communication. However knowledge is also involved by all changes in the world as seen before and according to Plum (2008, pp. 198-199), the knowledge we have is like a map. It is totally true in this case because knowledge changes in response to the evolution in several fields like landscapes, so we have all the time update our knowledge and therefore the intercultural communication as well.

I think that companies have to take into account strategies mentioned by every author by adapting them in their context. Indeed intercultural communication depends on the context and that is why I believe that the dynamic approach (according to the sense of Helde (2012, p. 27)) is the best way to analyze this concept. Indeed, I think that this concept is in ever-changing because essentially of complex globalization so a static approach is not appropriated in this case. However, all of strategies which are given in order to face the phenomena of globalization involve the intercultural communication and therefore we can highlight the latter’s importance. Actually the main challenge for a manager in a multicultural team is to tackle intercultural communication between employees. In each article I read about conflicts, stereotypes, management of multiple cultures, I could notice that the intercultural communication appeared as a solution or as a problematic to solve. Intercultural communication has also a great place in the company because according to Matveev (2001 cited in Matveev A.V and Milter A.G 2004, p. 107) ‘managers must be able to communicate and understand clearly what they are trying to accomplish and what their goals are’. According to all my points of view, the intercultural communication is everywhere and it is clear that it is important to keep intercultural communication as a research area.

Part 4: Individual: Personal reflection report

After having participated in this course and read several articles, I think that cultural intelligence is first, to communicate in an understandable way. Then, it is the ability to act in an appropriate way in situations where cultural differences are important. It is also a learning process which means having an open mind by being curious about those differences and the other people. Thanks to these skills, people are able to establish relationship across cultural differences. According to Plum, three dimensions compose the intercultural intelligence and they exist in a dynamic interaction. First dimension is intercultural engagement, the emotional aspect of cultural encounter in other words the motivation and attitudes towards cultural differences. Secondly, this is the cultural understanding dimension; the knowledge and the understanding about own and other cultures. Finally, the third dimension is the intercultural communication. It means the action, verbal and non-verbal communication, what people do at a cross cultural meeting.

I wrote in my logbook that I find that our class is a perfect example of intercultural communication and so a good way of improving and learning about my cultural intelligence skill. Indeed we are a multicultural group composed by 13 people coming from all around the world. Every day I am trying to improve my cultural intelligence by my vocabulary, my understandings, my communication and so on. I think that I could not better improve and explore my cultural intelligence because I met people from different cultural background and I learned to open my mind to another cultures and to communicate with the good way with them what I have never done before. However I think also it is important to consider everybody. Indeed, I learned and I am learning about and from the people who have different points of view and a different way of doing and thinking. I think that nowadays it is really important because the world is changing and expanding so quickly that the mix of different cultures will grow in the future. Because of this phenomenon, the cultural intelligence skill is primordial especially in the field I am expecting to work. So, I can affirm that my experience in Sweden is the best way that I could choose to improve my cultural intelligence and to realize this challenge.

When I read the Plum’s book “Cultural intelligence”, I had a question in my mind about: “is it an advantage to grow up or to live in a heterogeneous environment to be more intercultural intelligent?” and I wrote directly this reflexion in my logbook for my take home examination. I could not answer and during the seminar with Yael Tågerud, we discussed about this and I find a response to my reflexion. I think that growing up or living in a heterogeneous environment, does not mean that people are more culturally intelligent. There are several reasons for my point of view. First, I think that the fact that parents have different cultural backgrounds does not necessarily mean that the child grows up identifying the two backgrounds and differencing them. It may be that the child integrates both parents’ cultures into only one that can be called “third culture” which for the child feels one whole. Another reason is the fact that parents have different cultural backgrounds does not automatically mean that the child grows up understanding the advantages of the diversity. It may be, for example, that the child refuses (more or less consciously) identifying himself/herself with the culture of one of the parents. The growing up environment may be also very unreflective, thus not giving the child an opportunity to take advantages of the diversity. Last reason is that living in a heterogeneous environment may give the opportunity for stereotypes to get reinforced. Therefore, it is only through the combination between awareness, mindfulness and motivational elements that may allow the heterogeneous experience to become an advantage. By those three components, the exposure to heterogeneous cultural environments enhances the development of cultural intelligence and intercultural communication skills, compared to living in a homogenous environment without opportunities to learn about other cultures.

I wrote also in my logbook in link with this that I think that being in a multicultural class and so, in a heterogeneous environment, I have the possibility to develop my own cultural intelligent during this course. As I am awareness and mindfulness about this opportunity, I am taking the advantage about this diversity and so, I may become more intercultural intelligent than people who live in a homogeneous environment. However, I am not a perfect cultural intelligent because I am beginning to improve this skill, I have just learned about that since one month but I can affirm that I have already made a good way. Indeed I learned, for instance, during my assignment about the verbal and non-verbal communication and with the subjects of other groups how I have to communicate, how I have to act appropriately with the other cultures and how much it is important to make myself understood in order to avoid misunderstandings, conflicts,… By following this course, I think that I am opening my mind to different cultures and I am curious about this. I want always to know more, I read every time about this subject. That is why I want to continue and I will do my thesis about this subject. I wrote also in my logbook how much it is important to explore the other cultures to become intercultural intelligent. By exploring, we can realize what is important for a different culture, what is wrong or right,… and so act in an appropriately way with other cultures.

Honestly, before this course, if you asked me how I have to deal with an intercultural conflict, I could not answer and say something. But, I learned a lot about this subject. Indeed, I will take the time to understand what is happening and what is wrong. However, it is not always easy to figure it out. Therefore I will take into account all different opinions, all points of view and all differences between people, I will try to understand and consider them. In order to solve the conflict, I find that it is important to create a new goal to go through the conflict and to move on. Sometimes, using the humor is a good way to solve the problem but I think we


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