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Can Culture Be a Hurdle to Conflict Resolution? Analytical Essay


Introduction

According to Tidwell (2001), conflicts are bound to occur in the course of individuals interacting with each other. As a result, various strategies and techniques that are aimed at dealing with such conflicts have been developed. Bargaining and negotiation are some of the conflict resolution techniques that have been developed. The objective of these techniques is to minimise the negative consequences that may arise from such conflicts.

Bercovitch and Jackson (2009) define conflict resolution to include the various formal and informal activities that are undertaken by parties involved conflict to limit the negative effects associated with conflicts. Some of the elements that identify individuals’ commitment to resolve conflicts include treaties, agreements, and handshakes amongst others.

Negotiation is ranked as one of the most widely used methods of resolving conflicts in the international environment. Despite individuals’ commitment to resolve conflicts, negotiations may fail. There are numerous reasons that have been advanced to explain why negotiation processes fail. One of these reasons relate to existence of cultural differences.

According to Avruch (1998), ‘culture is ranked as one of the most important features of all human societies, and potentially an aspect of all social relationships’ (p.24). Avruch (1998) further asserts that culture is one of the main barriers in resolving conflicts. The effects of culture are mainly evident in resolving conflicts within the international context.

The objective of this paper is to evaluate how culture hinders conflict resolution. The two main aspects which have been analysed in the paper relates to communication and the decision making process. Additionally, the paper also evaluates how culture can be dealt with in order to enhance conflict resolution across cultures.

Definition of culture

Culture refers to beliefs, values and norms that are shared by a particular group of individuals. Carey (2006) asserts that culture can be defined to include a field of shared meanings. Culture provides individuals with a sense of identity. Understanding the prevailing cultural differences amongst individuals or parties involved in a conflict is essential in resolving conflicts.

This arises from the fact that such understanding gives the parties charged with the responsibility of resolving conflicts an idea on the most effective conflict resolution framework to adopt. Carey (2006) further opines that culture has significant influence on the nature of relationship developed between parties involved in a conflict.

The relationship between culture and conflict

The importance of cultural influences varies from one context to another. In the process of resolving conflicts, it is important for the involved parties such as the negotiators to understand the prevailing culture.

This arises from the fact that misunderstanding cultural differences may lead to stereotyping, development of negative projection hence generating conflicts. Moreover, it is paramount for the parties involved in a conflict to possess adequate interactive experiences that will enable them mutual relationships.

Tidwell (2001) asserts that violating cultural expectations in the process of resolving conflicts increases the intensity of conflict. According to LeBaron (2003), a strong and positive correlation exists between culture and conflict. Despite the high degree of correlation between culture and conflict, conflict resolution scholars have over the years ignored culture as one of the dimensions in conflict management.

Culture is strongly associated with conflicts. This arises from the fact that conflicts arise from interpersonal relationships. According to Ferraro (2008), culture has an impact on the way we attempt to resolve conflicts. Consequently, one can assert that culture is a key component in conflict resolution.

Some of the conflicts that are evident in the modern society such as the Indian-Pakistan and the Palestinian-Israel conflicts are not only about independence and territorial boundaries. However, they portray deep cultural issues such as representation, acknowledgement and representation.

Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (2012) asserts that culture cannot be separated from conflict despite the fact that it is not itself a cause of conflict. In conflicting situations, culture shapes individuals’ behaviours, attitudes and perceptions.

The high rate of ethnic and religious conflicts being experienced in the 21st century has made culture to be considered as one of the key dimensions in conflict management (Bercovitch & Jackson). Culture plays a critical role in the bargaining and negotiation processes.

Thus, it is important for negotiators to be sensitive to cultural meanings and symbols. According to Bercovitch and Jackson (2009), culture may act as a resource in resolving conflicts hence promoting peace. Conversely; culture may act as a barrier thus hindering achievement of a negotiated agreement.

Analysis of how culture hinders conflict resolution

Culture limits the communication process

Considering the role of culture in the process of resolving conflicts, it is important to integrate the most effective response plans. One of the aspects that have to be taken into account in conflict resolution relates to effective communication. However, Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (2009) are of the opinion that culture may hinder conflict resolution by limiting effective communication.

According to Jacoby (2007), managing conflicts across different cultures is a challenging task. This arises from the prevailing differences with regard to level of thinking, behaviour and language.

Parties involved in the mediation process may not understand the feelings of the parties to the conflict. This may lead to creation of confusion amongst the mediators. Conflict resolution is only possible through an effective interpersonal communication process (West & Turner 2011).

To achieve this, parties charged with the responsibility of resolving conflicts must develop adequate cultural fluency. One of the ways through which they can achieve this is by familiarising themselves with the involved cultures’ communication processes, identities, meanings and roles.

This will aid in minimising conflicts. In order to understand cultural differences, it is important to take into account four main components which include;

  1. Anticipatory capability
  2. Expressive capacity
  3. Embeddedness
  4. Navigational capacity

Anticipatory capacity refers to the process of being conversant with how culture shapes ‘common sense’. On the other hand, embeddedness entails appreciating the deep-rooted cultural assumptions while expressive capacity refers to the process of developing empathy towards other peoples’ feelings. Finally, navigation capacity entails developing a synergistic collaboration between individuals or parties involved in a conflict.

There are numerous theories that have been developed to explain the relationship between culture and communication. One of these theories in the speech codes theory (Koontz & Weihrich 2010). The theory asserts that interpersonal communication is dependent on the effectiveness with which the parties involved understand the prevailing norms, values and meanings.

Additionally, the theory also postulates that culture shapes communication. According Earley and Ang (2003), speech code is composed of a system of rules, regulations, assumptions and symbols that are integrated in the communication process so as to generate meaning.

The theory further asserts that people develop speech codes by interacting in various situations. The meanings generated through such interactions are both flexible and complex. Additionally, the speech codes created varies across situations and can result in development of diverse meanings (Singh, Jain & Shakla 2010).

In addition to the above relationship, communication reflects culture. This is evidenced by the fact that speech codes are developed from culture and form the foundation for the communication process. Rahim (2011) asserts that ‘because contexts affect the meaning of communication behaviours, different cultures have distinct speech codes’ (p. 50).

Culture may hinder effective communication in the negotiation process. Tidwell (2001) asserts that effective communication must be ensured in the process of resolving conflicts. This means that conflict resolution process cannot proceed in the absence of effective communication (Tidwell 2001). Communication affects the conflict resolution process through three main ways.

First, it influences the degree of collaboration between parties involved in a conflict. This occurs through the coordination that is developed between the parties involved. Poor coordination may result in failure of the negotiation processes (Mohammed & White 2008).

Despite the negotiation process being a difficult undertaking, it can be made possible by persuading the involved parties to collaborate. This is only possible if effective communication is integrated. Finally, the will to resolve conflict is in most cases created and nurtured via effective communication.

Despite this, culture can hinder communication in a number of ways. First, culture limits the effectiveness of symbolisation and development of a world view (Carey 2006). Symbols have varied meanings across cultures. As a result, it is important for the parties involved to understand the meaning of symbols. Symbols are also used in communicating and perpetuating self-other-world conceptions and identities across generations.

For example, North Americans may relate the Nazi Swastika symbol with Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust and concentration camps. Despite the fact that culture is comprised of shared meanings which are evidenced through symbols, some cultures may interpret certain symbols differently.

Therefore, communicating across culture is a very challenging task (Koutoukidis 2013). This arises from the fact that each culture is characterised by unique symbols, rules and regulations which have to be respected and effectively interpreted in order to derive the correct meaning.

Cultural differences may also result in creation of various forms of cultural biases which may hinder the communication process. According to LeBaron (2003), what appears to be common and right in one culture may be wrong and counterintuitive in another. LeBaron (2003) further asserts that cultural differences also influence the communication process through the choice of the communication medium.

Some countries are characterised by a high-context culture while others are characterised by a low-context culture. High-context cultures are mainly evident in Central European countries, Africa, America, India, Asia and the Latin American countries. The communication process in such cultures is mainly based on the prevailing context. This means that the message is not specified.

However, the parties involved in the communication process are required to interpret and filter the meaning of the message communicated. This is attained by analysing the physical setting, analysing shared meanings, and evaluating how the message is communicated (LeBaron 2003).

LeBaron (2003) further asserts that meanings vary from one culture to another. Failure to appreciate the fact individuals’ associate different aspects with different meanings may lead to disagreements which might escalate into conflicts. As a result, the target audience has the responsibility of interpreting the message by reading between-the-lines.

In such cultures, effective interpretation of non-verbal signals is paramount in comprehending the intended message. One of the major hindrances to communication with regard to high-context cultures is that it is subject to miscommunication. This arises that most of the intended message may not be adequately communicated using non-verbal features and symbols (Bosma 2007).

On the other hand, low-context communication is mainly evident in English and German speaking countries. Low-context culture stresses on the communication process being more direct or explicit. Subsequently, verbal communication forms the basis of communication in low-context cultures.

Low-context communication is very effective in eliminating possible misunderstandings. However, one of the major limitations of low-context communication is that its confrontational nature may lead to escalation of conflict.

Influence of culture in the decision making process

Ramirez (2010) asserts that effective decision making is paramount in resolving conflicts. However, the decision making process in conflict situations is influenced by culture. This is well illustrated in low-context and high-context cultures.

For example, in low-context cultures, the decision making process is mainly based on a factual-inductive style. Additionally, the decision making process in low-context cultures is less confrontational compared to high-context cultures.

Cultural differences between low-context and high-context cultures impact the effectiveness of communication between subordinates and their superiors. This has the effect of affecting the relationship that is developed between parties involved in a conflict.

How to deal with culture in the process of resolving conflicts

In the process of resolving conflicts, it is fundamental for the parties involved to appreciate the prevailing cultural diversity. One of the ways through which this can be attained is by developing a comprehensive understanding of the individuals’ cultural traits, behaviours and ideas.

According to Bercovitch and Jackson (2009), understanding these aspects plays a critical role in the decision making process. As a result, exploring the basic cultural aspects and assumptions is essential and should not be taken for granted.

In order to develop a comprehensive understanding of another parties’ culture, negotiators should evaluate various aspects such as their artefacts, symbols and signs. These elements play an important role in communicating cultural meanings. Negotiators should also invest in mechanisms that will enable them understand their counterparts’ communication styles.

Bercovitch and Jackson (2009) are of the opinion that analysing the communication styles is important in developing a comprehensive understanding of cultural differences such as the non-verbal communication cues. Moreover, an analysis of social norms, timeliness, attitudes, shared values, rules and assumptions is also important in dealing with cultural differences (Bercovitch & Jackson 2009).

Conclusion

The above analysis reveals that culture is a key component in the process of resolving conflicts. This has been achieved by illustrating the correlation between culture and conflict. A review of previous studies reveal that conflicts emanate from human relationships which is based on the culture developed.

From the analysis, it is evident that culture can hinder the process of resolving conflicts through two main avenues. The first avenue relates to hindering communication which is one of the essential elements in resolving conflicts.

Effective communication is essential in resolving conflicts in that it contributes towards development of a high level of coordination amongst the parties involved. However, culture may limit the degree of coordination between mediators and the parties involved in the conflict.

The situation is made worse if the parties involved belong to diverse cultural backgrounds such as ethnic group, religion, level of understanding with regard to values, meanings, norms and behaviours. Failure to develop effective coordination amongst conflicting parties may lead to failure of the entire negotiation process. This highlights the importance of ensuring that effective coordination amongst the involved parties.

The paper has also reveals that conflict resolution can also be affected by the prevailing cultural differences with regard to communication. For example, some cultures are characterised by high-context communication while others are characterised by low-context communication. Such cultural variations may limit communication due to differences with regard to how the intended message is communicated and interpreted.

Additionally, culture also hinders conflict resolution by influencing the decision making process. Different cultures have adopted diverse decision making processes. Such difference affect the relationship between the parties involved and hence the effectiveness of the process.

To attain effectiveness in resolving conflicts across cultures, it is important for the parties involved to undertake a comprehensive cultural analysis. One of the aspects that mediators should focus on includes developing cultural fluency. In order to achieve this, mediators should concentrate on developing a high level of anticipatory capability, expressive capability, embeddedness and navigation capability.

By focusing on these aspects, the likelihood of achieving a positive outcome in the conflict resolution process will be increased. This arises from the fact that all the parties involved will understand and appreciate the involved parties’ cultural differences with regard to communication processes, identities, meanings and roles hence taming conflicts.

In summary, one can assert that culture should be considered as one of the most important elements in the process of resolving conflicts. Additionally, a high level of cultural awareness should be ensured when resolving conflicts across diverse cultures.

Reference List

Avruch, K 1998, Culture and conflict resolution, United States Institute of Peace Press, Washington, DC.

Bercovitch, J & Jackson, R 2009, Conflict resolution in the twenty first century: principles, methods and approaches, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Bosma, T 2007, Effective leadership practices in cross-cultural conflict resolution; a qualitative study, ProQuest, New York.

Carey, W 2006, New developments in combustion research, Nova Science Publishers, New York.

Earley, P & Ang S 2003, Cultural intelligence: individual interactions across cultures, Stanford Business Books, Stanford.

Ferraro, G 2008, Cultural anthropology, Thomson, Belmont, CA.

Jacoby, T 2007, Understanding conflicts and violence: theory and theory interdisciplinary approaches, Routledge, New York.

Koontz, H & Weihrich, H 2010, Essential of management: an international perspective, Tata McGraw-Hill, New Delhi.

Koutoukidis, G 2013, Tabbner’s nursing care: theory and practice, Churchill Livingstone, Chatswood, N.S.W.

LeBaron, M 2003, Culture and conflict. Web.

Mohammed, U & White, G 2008, ‘Culture and conflict management; style of international project managers’, International Journal of Business and Management, vol. 3, no.5, pp. 1-9.

Rahim, M 2011, Managing conflicts in organisations, Transaction, New Brunswick.

Ramirez, A 2010, ‘Impact of cultural intelligence level on conflict resolution ability: a conceptual model and research proposal’, Emerging Leadership Journeys, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 42-56.

Samovar, L, Porter, R & McDaniel, E 2009, Communication between cultures, Cengage Learning, London.

Samovar, L, Porter, R & McDaniel, E 2012, Intercultural communication: a reader, Wadsworth Cengage, Boston.

Singh, A, Jain, S & Shakla, A 2010, ‘Cross cultural conflict resolution styles; an extensive literature review’, Asian Journal Of Management Research, vol. 2, no. 5, pp. 130-147.

Tidwell, A 2001, Conflict resolved; a critical assessment of conflict resolution, Continuum, London.

West, R & Turner, H 2011, Understanding interpersonal communication: making choices in changing times, Wadsworth, Boston.

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"Can Culture Be a Hurdle to Conflict Resolution?" IvyPanda, 8 July 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/can-culture-be-a-hurdle-to-conflict-resolution/.

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