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ByMichelle LeBaron

July 2003 

Culture is an important part that conflict and conflict resolution. Cultures are prefer underground rivers that run with our lives and relationships, giving us message that shape our perceptions, attributions, judgments, and also ideas the self and also other. Though cultures are powerful, they are regularly unconscious, affecting conflict and also attempts to resolve problem in imperceptible ways.

You are watching: Conflict strategies usually relate to how people manage self-image or identity in relationships.

Cultures are an ext than language, dress, and also food customs. Social groups may share race, ethnicity, or nationality, but they additionally arise from cleavages that generation, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, ability and disability, politics and spiritual affiliation, language, and gender -- come name just a few.

Two points are necessary to remember about cultures: lock are constantly changing, and they relate come the symbolic measurement of life. The symbolic dimension is the place where we are constantly making an interpretation and enacting ours identities. Social messages from the groups we belong to offer us information about what is meaningful or important, and who we space in the world and also in relationship to others -- ours identities.

Cultural messages, simply, are what anyone in a team knows that outsiders perform not know. They are the water fish swimming in, unaware the its impact on your vision. They space a collection of lenses that form what us see and don"t see, exactly how we perceive and also interpret, and where we draw boundaries. In shaping our values, cultures contain beginning points and currencies<1>. Beginning points room those areas it is natural to begin, whether through individual or team concerns, with the big picture or particularities. Currencies are those things we care around that influence and shape our interactions v others.

Additional insights into culture and conflict are readily available by beyond Intractability project participants.

How cultures Work

Though largely listed below the surface, cultures are a shifting, dynamic set of beginning points that orient united state in certain ways and away from other directions. Every of united state belongs come multiple societies that give us messages about what is normal, appropriate, and expected. Once others execute not meet our expectations, that is regularly a cue the our social expectations room different. We may mistake differences between others and also us for evidence of bad faith or absence of typical sense top top the component of others, not realizing that common sense is likewise cultural. What is common to one group may it seems to be ~ strange, counterintuitive, or wrong to another.

Cultural messages shape our knowledge of relationships, and of exactly how to deal with the conflict and harmony that are constantly present whenever 2 or more people come together. Writing around or working across cultures is complicated, yet not impossible. Right here are part complications in functioning with social dimensions that conflict, and also the ramifications that flow from them:

Culture is multi-layered -- what you watch on the surface might mask differences listed below the surface.

Therefore, social generalizations are not the entirety story, and also there is no instead of for building relationships and sharing experiences, comes to know others much more deeply over time.

Culture is continually in flux -- as conditions change, cultural groups it is adapted in dynamic and also sometimes unpredictable ways.

Therefore, no an extensive description can ever before be formulated about a specific group. Any kind of attempt to know a team must take the size of time, context, and individual distinctions into account.

Culture is elastic -- learning the social norms the a offered group does no predict the habits of a member of the group, who may not conform to norms for individual or contextual reasons.

Therefore, taxonomies (e.g. "Italians think this way," or "Buddhists like that") have minimal use, and can lead to error if no checked through experience.

Culture is largely listed below the surface, affecting identities and also meaning-making, or that we think ourselves come be and also what we care around -- that is not straightforward to accessibility these symbolic levels because they room largely outside our awareness.

Therefore, that is important to use numerous ways that learning about the cultural dimensions that those involved in a conflict, especially indirect ways, consisting of stories, metaphors, and also rituals.

Cultural influences and identities become important depending upon context. Once an aspect of social identity is threatened or misunderstood, it may become relatively much more important 보다 other cultural identities and also this fixed, narrow identity may end up being the focus of stereotyping, an adverse projection, and conflict. This is a very common situation in intractable conflicts.

Therefore, it is helpful for world in dispute to have interactive experiences that aid them check out each various other as extensively as possible, experiences the foster the recognition of common identities and those that space different.

Since society is so carefully related to our identities (who us think we are), and also the means we make meaning (what is crucial to us and also how), it is constantly a element in conflict. Social awareness leads united state to apply the Platinum rule in place of the gold Rule. Rather than the maxim "Do depend others together you would have actually them do unto you," the Platinum dominance advises: "Do unto others as they would have actually you carry out unto them."

Culture and Conflict: Connections

Cultures are embedded in every conflict because conflicts arise in human relationships. Cultures influence the ways we name, frame, blame, and also attempt come tame conflicts. Even if it is a dispute exists at every is a cultural question. In an interview performed in Canada, one elderly Chinese man suggested he had actually experienced no problem at all for the ahead 40 years.<2> amongst the feasible reasons because that his denial was a cultural preference to see the human being through lenses that harmony rather than conflict, as urged by his Confucian upbringing. Labeling several of our interaction as disputes and analyzing them into smaller component components is a patent Western strategy that may obscure other facets of relationships.

Culture is constantly a element in conflict, whether it dram a main role or impacts it subtly and also gently. For any conflict that touches us where that matters, wherein we make definition and host our identities, over there is constantly a social component. Intractable problems like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir are not just around territorial, boundary, and also sovereignty problems -- they space also around acknowledgement, representation, and also legitimization of various identities and also ways the living, being, and also making meaning.

Conflicts between teenagers and parents space shaped by generational culture, and conflicts between spouses or partners are affected by gender culture. In organizations, conflicts emerging from different disciplinary cultures escalate tensions in between co-workers, producing strained or inaccurate communication and stressed relationships. Culture permeates dispute no matter what -- sometimes pushing forth through intensity, other times quietly snaking along, solid announcing its existence until surprised people practically stumble top top it.

Culture is inextricable from conflict, despite it does not reason it. When differences surface in families, organizations, or communities, society is constantly present, shaping perceptions, attitudes, behaviors, and also outcomes.

When the social groups us belong to room a huge majority in our community or nation, we are less likely come be mindful of the contents of the messages they send us. Societies shared by leading groups frequently seem to it is in "natural," "normal" -- "the means things are done." we only notice the impact of societies that are different from ours own, attending to actions that we brand exotic or strange.

Though society is intertwined with conflict, some approaches to problem resolution minimize cultural issues and also influences. Since culture is prefer an iceberg -- mainly submerged -- it is important to encompass it in ours analyses and also interventions. Icebergs unacknowledged have the right to be dangerous, and also it is difficult to do choices about them if we don"t understand their dimension or place. Acknowledging culture and bringing social fluency to problems can assist all kinds of people make more intentional, adaptive choices.

Culture and Conflict: just how to Respond

Given culture"s important duty in conflicts, what have to be done to save it in mind and include the in an answer plans? cultures may act like temperamental children: complicated, elusive, and difficult to predict. Unless we develop comfort with society as an integral part of conflict, us may uncover ourselves tangled in its net of complexity, minimal by ours own social lenses. Social fluency is a key tool because that disentangling and managing multilayered, cultural conflicts.

Cultural fluency means familiarity v cultures: their natures, just how they work, and also ways castle intertwine with our relationships in time of conflict and also harmony. Social fluency method awareness of numerous dimensions of culture, including

Communication,Ways the naming, framing, and taming conflict,Approaches to definition making,Identities and also roles.

Each of these is described in more detail below.

Communication refers to different starting points around how come relate to and with others. Over there are plenty of variations top top these beginning points, and also they room outlined in information in the object Communication, Culture, and also Conflict. Some the the significant variations relate to the division between high- and low-context communications, a group devised by Edward T. Hall.<3>

In high-context communication, most of a article is conveyed through the context bordering it, rather than being named explicitly in words. The physical setting, the means things are said, and also shared understandings room relied upon come give communication meaning. Interactions attribute formalized and also stylized rituals, telegraphing principles without spelling lock out. Nonverbal cues and signals are important to comprehension of the message. The context is reliable to connect in the lack of verbal expressions, or periodically in enhancement to them. High-context communication may help save face since it is less direct than low-context communication, but it may boost the possibilities that miscommunication due to the fact that much of the intended article is unstated.

Low-context interaction emphasizes directness fairly than relying ~ above the context to communicate. Indigenous this starting point, verbal communication is details and literal, and less is conveyed in implied, indirect signals. Low-context communicators have tendency to "say what castle mean and also mean what castle say." Low-context communication may help prevent misunderstandings, yet it can also escalate conflict because it is more confrontational 보다 high-context communication.

As civilization communicate, they move along a continuum in between high- and low-context. Relying on the type of relationship, the context, and the purpose of communication, they may be an ext or less explicit and direct. In near relationships, interaction shorthand is frequently used, i m sorry makes interaction opaque to outsiders but perfectly clean to the parties. Through strangers, the same civilization may pick low-context communication.

Low- and high-context interaction refers not just to individual communication strategies, yet may be supplied to understand social groups. Generally, Western societies tend come gravitate towards low-context starting points, while Eastern and also Southern societies tend to high-context communication. In ~ these vast categories, over there are crucial differences and also many variations. Wherein high-context communication tends to be featured, the is valuable to pay certain attention come nonverbal cues and also the actions of rather who may know much more of the unstated rule governing the communication. Whereby low-context interaction is the norm, directness is most likely to be supposed in return.

There are countless other ways that communication varies throughout cultures. High- and low-context communication and also several various other dimensions room explored in Communication, Culture, and also Conflict.

Ways of naming, framing, and taming problem vary across cultural boundaries. As the instance of the elderly Chinese interviewee illustrates, not everyone agrees ~ above what constitutes a conflict. For those accustomed come subdued, patience discussion, an emotional exchange amongst family members might seem a threaten conflict. The family members themselves may look at their exchange together a normal and also desirable airing of differing views. Intractable disputes are likewise subject to different interpretations. Is an event a skirmish, a provocation, an escalation, or a just trifle, hardly worth noticing? The answer depends on perspective, context, and how identity relates come the situation.

Just as there is no consensus across cultures or instances on what constitutes a conflict or how occasions in the interaction should be framed, so over there are countless different means of thinking about how to tame it. Must those connected meet challenge to face, sharing your perspectives and stories through or there is no the assist of an outside mediator? Or must a trusted friend talk v each of those affiliated and try to assist smooth the waters? should a third party be known to the next or a stranger to those involved?

John Paul Lederach, in his publication Preparing because that Peace: Conflict revolution Across Cultures, identifies 2 third-party duties that exist in U.S. And Somali settings, respectively -- the formal mediator and the classic elder.<4> The formal mediator is generally not recognized to those involved, and he or she tries come act without favoritism or investment in any specific outcome. Traditional elders space revered for their local knowledge and relationships, and also are relied upon for direction and also advice, and also for their skills in help parties communicate with every other. The duties of insider partial (someone well-known to the parties who is familiar with the history of the situation and also the network of relationships) and outsider neutral (someone unknown to the parties who has actually no stake in the outcome or proceeding relationship through the parties) show up in a range of social contexts. Generally, insider partials often tend to be desired in traditional, high-context settings, while outside neutrals are more common in low-context settings.

These are simply some that the methods that taming dispute varies throughout cultures. 3rd parties may use various strategies through quite different goals, depending on their social sense of what is needed. In multicultural contexts, parties" expectation of how problem should be addressed might vary, additional escalating an present conflict.

Approaches come meaning-making additionally vary throughout cultures. Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars suggest that human being have a range of starting points for making feeling of your lives, including:

universalist (favoring rules, laws, and also generalizations) and also particularist (favoring exceptions, relations, and contextual evaluation)specificity (preferring clear definitions, breaking under wholes right into component parts, and measurable results) and diffuseness (focusing top top patterns, the huge picture, and process over outcome)inner direction (sees virtue in individuals who strive to realize their mindful purpose) and also outer direction (where virtue is external each of us in organic rhythms, nature, beauty, and also relationships)synchronous time (cyclical and spiraling) and also sequential time (linear and unidirectional).<5>

When us don"t understand that others may have actually quite different beginning points, problem is much more likely come occur and also to escalate. Also though the starting points themselves space neutral, an unfavorable motives are quickly attributed to who who starts from a various end of the continuum.<6>

For example, when first Nations human being sit under with federal government representatives come negotiate land insurance claims in Canada or Australia, different ideas of time might make it daunting to create rapport and make progress. First Nations world tend to see time as stretching forward and also back, binding castle in partnership with 7 generations in both directions. Your actions and also choices in the current are therefore relevant to history and to their progeny. Government negotiators acculturated to western European principles of time may find the informing of historic tales and also the factor to consider of projections generations into the future tedious and also irrelevant unless they know the sport in the method time is understood by first Nations people.

Of course, this instance draws top top generalizations that may or may not apply in a specific situation. Over there are countless different aboriginal peoples in Canada, Australia, new Zealand, the united States, and elsewhere. Each has a distinct culture, and also these societies have different relationships to time, various ideas around negotiation, and also unique identities. Federal government negotiators may also have a variety of ethno cultural identities, and may not fit the stereotype of the mrs or guy in a hurry, through a measured, pressured orientation towards time.

Examples can also be attracted from the various other three dimensions determined by Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars. When an intractable dispute has been ongoing for year or also generations, need to there be termination to global standards and also interveners, or regional rules and also practices? Those favoring a universalist beginning point are an ext likely to prefer worldwide intervention and the setup of international standards. Particularlists will be an ext comfortable with a tailor-made, home-grown technique than with the imposition of basic rules that might or may not fit their needs and also context.

Specificity and diffuseness likewise lead to conflict and also conflict escalation in plenty of instances. People, that speak in specifics, looking for useful solutions to obstacles that have the right to be implemented and measured, may find those who emphasis on process, feelings, and the large picture obstructionist and frustrating. ~ above the various other hand, those whose starting points are diffuse are an ext apt to capture the cons in the amount that is not simple to recognize by looking at the ingredient parts, and to check out the context into which specific ideas should fit.

Inner-directed people tend to feeling confident the they can affect change, believing the they are "the masters of your fate, the captains of your souls."<7> lock focus more on product 보다 process. Imagine your frustration when confronted with outer-directed people, whose attention goes to nurturing relationships, living in harmony through nature, going with the flow, and paying attention to processes rather 보다 products. Similar to each that the above sets of beginning points, neither is appropriate or wrong; they are merely different. A emphasis on process is helpful, but not if it completely fails to ignore outcomes. A emphasis on outcomes is useful, however it is also important to screen the tone and also direction the the process. Social fluency way being aware of different sets of beginning points, and having a way to speak in both dialects, helping translate between them once they are making conflict worse.

These continua are not absolute, nor carry out they define human connections broadly. Castle are ideas to what could be happening when human being are in conflict over lengthy periods that time. We space meaning-making creatures, informing stories and creating understandings that preserve our sense of self and also relate to our purpose. As we involved realize this, we deserve to look into the procedure of an interpretation making for those in a conflict and also find means to aid them do their meaning-making processes and conclusions much more apparent to every other.

This deserve to be done by storytelling and by the production of shared stories, story that are co-constructed to do room because that multiple points of watch within them. Often, civilization in conflict tell stories that sound as though both cannot be true. Stare conflict-resolution approaches aid them leave their worry with truth and also being best on the sideline for a time, transforming their attention rather to story in which they can both see themselves.

Another way to explore definition making is through metaphors. Metaphors room compact, strict packaged word images that convey a good deal of info in shorthand form. For example, in trying out how a conflict began, one side may talk about its beginnings being hidden in the fog of time prior to there to be boundaries and roads and written laws. The other might see it together the offspring of a vexatious lawsuit started in 1946. Neither is dorn -- the issue may well have deep roots, and also the lawsuit was surely a component of the evolution of the conflict. Together the 2 sides talk around their metaphors, the much more diffuse beginning point wrapped up in the fog of time meets the much more specific one, attached to a specific legal action. Together the 2 talk, castle deepen their knowledge of each other in context, and learn more about their corresponding roles and also identities.

Identities and roles describe conceptions that the self. Am i an individual unit, autonomous, a cost-free agent, at some point responsible because that myself? Or am I an initial and foremost a member that a group, weighing choices and actions by how the group will perceive them and be affected by them? Those who check out themselves together separate people likely come from societies anthropologists contact individualist. Those for whom team allegiance is main usually come from settings anthropologists speak to collectivist, or communitarian.

In collectivist settings, the complying with values tend to it is in privileged:

cooperationfilial piety (respect for and also deference towards elders)participation in common progressreputation of the groupinterdependence

In individualist settings, the adhering to values have tendency to it is in privileged:

competitionindependenceindividual achievementpersonal growth and fulfillmentself-reliance

When individualist and also communitarian beginning points affect those on either side of a conflict, escalation might result. Individualists might see no problem with "no stop barred" confrontation, if communitarian counterparts shrink from bringing dishonor or face-loss to their group by behaving in unseemly ways. Individualists may expect to make agreements v communitarians, and may feeling betrayed as soon as the latter show that they need to take your understandings ago to a bigger public or group before they can concerned closure. In the end, one must remember that, just like other patterns described, most world are not purely individualist or communitarian. Rather, world tend to have individualist or communitarian starting points, depending upon one"s upbringing, experience, and the context of the situation.


There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to dispute resolution, since society is constantly a factor. Social fluency is because of this a core competency because that those who intervene in conflicts or simply want come function an ext effectively in their very own lives and also situations. Social fluency entails recognizing and acting respectfully from the understanding that communication, methods of naming, framing, and also taming conflict, ideologies to meaning-making, and also identities and roles vary across cultures.

<1> See additionally the essays on cultural and Worldview Frames and also Communication tools for Understanding social Differences.

<2> LeBaron, Michelle and also Bruce Grundison. 1993. Conflict and Culture: study in Five areas in british Columbia, Canada. Victoria, brother Columbia: college of Victoria academy for problem Resolution.

<3> Hall, Edward T. 1976. Beyond Culture. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

<4> Lederach, john Paul. 1995. Preparing because that Peace. Conflict change Across Cultures. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse university Press, pp. 94.

<5> Hampden-Turner, Charles and Fons Trompenaars. 2000. Building Cross social Competence. How to create Wealth from conflicting Values. new Haven and also London: Yale college Press.

<6> over there is likewise the collection of essays on frame which is very closely related to the idea of an interpretation making.

<7> Ibid., 244.

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Use the following to cite this article:LeBaron, Michelle. "Culture and Conflict." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Male Burgess and also Heidi Burgess. Dispute Information Consortium, university of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 http://www.brickandmortarphilly.com/essay/culture-conflict>.