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ByMichelle LeBaron

July 2003 

Culture is an important component of conflict and also problem resolution. Cultures are choose underground rivers that run via our lives and also relationships, giving us messeras that form our perceptions, attributions, judgments, and ideas of self and also various other. Though cultures are effective, they are regularly unaware, affecting conflict and also attempts to fix conflict in imperceptible means.

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Cultures are more than language, dress, and also food personalizeds. Cultural groups may share race, ethnicity, or nationality, yet they additionally aclimb from cleavperiods of generation, sociofinancial course, sex-related orientation, capability and also disability, political and also spiritual affiliation, language, and gender -- to name only a few.

Two things are vital to remember around cultures: they are always altering, and also they relate to the symbolic measurement of life. The symbolic measurement is the location wbelow we are constantly making interpretation and enacting our identities. Cultural messeras from the groups we belong to offer us indevelopment around what is systematic or crucial, and who we are in the human being and also in relation to others -- our identities.

Cultural messperiods, sindicate, are what everyone in a group knows that outsiders do not know. They are the water fish swim in, unmindful of its result on their vision. They are a collection of lenses that shape what we check out and don"t see, how we perceive and analyze, and wright here we draw borders. In shaping our worths, cultures contain starting points and also currencies<1>. Starting points are those areas it is organic to start, whether with individual or group comes to, with the significant image or particularities. Currencies are those things we treatment about that influence and shape our interactions through others.

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How Cultures Work

Though largely below the surchallenge, societies are a shifting, dynamic collection of starting points that orient us in certain methods and ameans from various other directions. Each of us belongs to multiple societies that provide us messeras around what is normal, proper, and meant. When others perform not meet our expectations, it is frequently a cue that our social expectations are various. We might mistake distinctions between others and us for evidence of bad confidence or absence of widespread feeling on the part of others, not realizing that widespread sense is likewise cultural. What is prevalent to one team may seem strange, counterintuitive, or wrong to one more.

Cultural messperiods shape our understandings of relationships, and of how to deal with the conflict and harmony that are always existing whenever before 2 or more human being come together. Writing about or functioning throughout societies is facility, however not difficult. Here are some complications in working through cultural dimensions of dispute, and also the implications that flow from them:

Culture is multi-layered -- what you view on the surface may mask distinctions listed below the surconfront.

Thus, cultural generalizations are not the whole story, and tright here is no substitute for structure relationships and also sharing experiences, coming to know others even more deeply over time.

Culture is constantly in flux -- as conditions change, social teams adapt in dynamic and sometimes unpredictable means.

Because of this, no comprehensive summary have the right to ever be formulated about a specific group. Any attempt to understand a team should take the dimensions of time, context, and individual differences into account.

Culture is elastic -- learning the cultural norms of a offered team does not predict the actions of a member of that team, that might not concreate to norms for individual or contextual factors.

Because of this, taxonomies (e.g. "Italians think this means," or "Buddhists favor that") have restricted usage, and deserve to cause error if not checked through endure.

Culture is mainly listed below the surface, influencing identities and also meaning-making, or that we think ourselves to be and also what we treatment around -- it is not easy to accessibility these symbolic levels given that they are mostly exterior our awareness.

Because of this, it is essential to usage many type of means of discovering around the cultural dimensions of those affiliated in a problem, specifically instraight means, including stories, metaphors, and also rituals.

Cultural impacts and identities come to be necessary depending on conmessage. When an aspect of social identity is intimidated or misconstrued, it might become fairly more essential than various other cultural identities and this addressed, narrow identity might end up being the focus of stereokeying, negative forecast, and problem. This is a really common instance in intractable conflicts.

Thus, it is beneficial for human being in problem to have actually interenergetic experiences that aid them check out each various other as generally as feasible, experiences that foster the recognition of shared identities and those that are various.

Due to the fact that culture is so carefully regarded our identities (who we think we are), and also the means we make definition (what is vital to us and also how), it is constantly a aspect in dispute. Cultural awareness leads us to use the Platinum Rule in place of the Golden Rule. Rather than the maxim "Do unto others as you would certainly have actually them execute unto you," the Platinum Rule advises: "Do unto others as they would have you perform unto them."

Culture and Conflict: Connections

Cultures are installed in eincredibly problem because problems arise in human relationships. Cultures affect the means we name, framework, blame, and attempt to tame disputes. Whether a problem exists at all is a cultural question. In an interwatch conducted in Canada, an elderly Chinese male indicated he had actually experienced no conflict at all for the previous 40 years.<2> Among the possible factors for his denial was a cultural choice to check out the human being through lenses of harmony rather than dispute, as urged by his Confucian upbringing. Labeling some of our interactions as problems and also analyzing them right into smaller component components is a distinctly Western strategy that might obscure various other elements of relationships.

Culture is always a element in conflict, whether it plays a main role or impacts it subtly and also gently. For any kind of dispute that touches us wbelow it matters, wright here we make definition and hold our identities, tright here is always a cultural component. Intractable problems choose the Israeli-Palestinian dispute or the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir are not just around territorial, boundary, and sovereignty concerns -- they are likewise around acknowledgement, depiction, and legitimization of different identities and also means of living, being, and also making meaning.

Conflicts in between adolescents and also parents are shaped by generational culture, and also problems between spouses or partners are influenced by gender culture. In organizations, disputes emerging from different disciplinary cultures escalate tensions between co-workers, creating strained or inaccurate interaction and stressed relationships. Culture permeates conflict no matter what -- occasionally pushing forth via intensity, various other times quietly snaking along, hardly announcing its presence till surprised civilization nearly stumble on it.

Culture is inextricable from problem, though it does not cause it. When differences surface in households, establishments, or communities, culture is constantly present, shaping perceptions, attitudes, behaviors, and also outcomes.

When the social groups we belengthy to are a large majority in our community or country, we are less likely to be mindful of the content of the messages they sfinish us. Cultures common by leading teams often seem to be "organic," "normal" -- "the method things are done." We just alert the impact of cultures that are various from our very own, attfinishing to actions that we label exotic or stvariety.

Though society is linked via dispute, some approaches to conflict resolution minimize social concerns and also impacts. Due to the fact that society is favor an iceberg -- largely subcombined -- it is essential to encompass it in our analyses and interventions. Icebergs unidentified can be dangerous, and also it is difficult to make options around them if we do not recognize their dimension or area. Acknowledging culture and also bringing cultural fluency to problems deserve to help all kinds of people make more intentional, adaptive choices.

Culture and also Conflict: How to Respond

Given culture"s necessary function in problems, what should be done to keep it in mind and encompass it in response plans? Cultures may act choose temperamental children: facility, elusive, and difficult to predict. Unmuch less we construct comfort with society as an integral part of conflict, we might uncover ourselves tangled in its net of intricacy, limited by our very own social lenses. Cultural fluency is a key tool for disentangling and also controlling multilayered, social disputes.

Cultural fluency implies familiarity through cultures: their natures, exactly how they job-related, and methods they intertwine with our relationships in times of dispute and harmony. Cultural fluency suggests awareness of several dimensions of culture, including

Communication,Ways of naming, framing, and also taming conflict,Approaches to definition making,Identities and duties.

Each of these is explained in even more information listed below.

Communication describes various starting points about exactly how to relate to and also with others. Tright here are many type of variations on these beginning points, and also they are outlined in information in the topic Communication, Culture, and also Conflict. A few of the major variations relate to the division in between high- and also low-conmessage interactions, a classification devised by Edward T. Hall.<3>

In high-context interaction, most of a message is conveyed by the context neighboring it, fairly than being called explicitly in words. The physical establishing, the way points are sassist, and common understandings are relied upon to give interaction definition. Interactions feature formalized and also stylized rituals, telegraphing principles without spelling them out. Nonverbal cues and also signals are necessary to comprehension of the message. The context is trusted to communicate in the lack of verbal expressions, or periodically in enhancement to them. High-conmessage communication might help conserve face bereason it is less straight than low-conmessage interaction, yet it might boost the possibilities of misinteraction bereason much of the intended message is unstated.

Low-conmessage interaction emphasizes directness quite than relying on the context to connect. From this beginning point, verbal communication is specific and literal, and less is conveyed in implied, instraight signals. Low-conmessage communicators tfinish to "say what they mean and mean what they say." Low-context interaction may help proccasion misunderstandings, but it can additionally escalate dispute because it is even more confrontational than high-context interaction.

As people communicate, they move alengthy a continuum in between high- and low-conmessage. Depfinishing on the kind of relationship, the context, and the purpose of communication, they might be even more or much less explicit and straight. In close relationships, communication shorthand also is often offered, which provides communication opaque to outsiders but perfectly clear to the parties. With strangers, the exact same world may select low-context communication.

Low- and high-context interaction refers not only to individual communication techniques, yet might be offered to understand social groups. Generally, Western cultures tfinish to gravitate toward low-context founding points, while Eastern and Southern cultures tfinish to high-context interaction. Within these expensive categories, tright here are crucial distinctions and also many variations. Wbelow high-conmessage communication has a tendency to be featured, it is advantageous to pay specific attention to nonverbal cues and also the habits of others that might know even more of the unproclaimed rules governing the interaction. Where low-conmessage communication is the norm, directness is likely to be supposed in rerotate.

Tbelow are many kind of various other ways that interaction varies across societies. High- and also low-conmessage communication and a number of various other dimensions are explored in Communication, Culture, and also Conflict.

Ways of naming, framing, and taming conflict differ across social boundaries. As the example of the elderly Chinese interviewee illustrates, not everyone agrees on what constitutes a conflict. For those accustomed to subdued, calm conversation, an emotional exadjust among family members members may seem a threatening dispute. The household members themselves might look at their exreadjust as a normal and preferable airing of differing views. Intractable disputes are additionally topic to various interpretations. Is an occasion a skirmish, a provocation, an escalation, or a mere trifle, hardly worth noticing? The answer counts on perspective, conmessage, and how identification relates to the instance.

Just as there is no consensus throughout cultures or cases on what constitutes a problem or how events in the interaction need to be framed, so tright here are many type of various methods of reasoning around how to tame it. Should those affiliated fulfill confront to face, sharing their perspectives and also stories with or without the assist of an exterior mediator? Or should a trusted friend talk through each of those associated and also try to assist smooth the waters? Should a third party be known to the parties or a stranger to those involved?

John Paul Lederach, in his book Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transdevelopment Across Cultures, identifies 2 third-party functions that exist in UNITED STATE and Somali settings, respectively -- the formal mediator and the traditional elder.<4> The formal mediator is mostly not recognized to those affiliated, and also he or she tries to act without favoritism or investment in any type of certain outcome. Timeless elders are revered for their neighborhood knowledge and relationships, and also are relied upon for direction and advice, and also for their abilities in helping parties communicate through each various other. The duties of insider partial (someone well-known to the parties who is acquainted via the history of the instance and also the webs of relationships) and outsider neutral (someone unrecognized to the parties who has actually no stake in the outcome or continuing partnership via the parties) show up in a selection of social contexts. Typically, insider partials tfinish to be wanted in typical, high-context settings, while external neutrals are more common in low-context settings.

These are simply some of the ways that taming dispute varies throughout cultures. Third parties may usage various techniques with quite various goals, depending upon their social feeling of what is essential. In multisocial contexts, parties" expectations of exactly how problem need to be addressed may vary, better escalating an existing dispute.

Approaches to meaning-making also differ throughout societies. Hampden-Turner and also Trompenaars suggest that world have actually a variety of beginning points for making feeling of their stays, including:

universalist (favoring rules, regulations, and also generalizations) and particularist (favoring exceptions, relationships, and contextual evaluation)specificity (preferring explicit meanings, breaking down wholes into component parts, and also measurable results) and also diffuseness (focusing on trends, the huge photo, and also process over outcome)inner direction (sees virtue in individuals who strive to realize their conscious purpose) and also external direction (wright here virtue is external each of us in natural rhythms, nature, beauty, and relationships)synchronous time (cyclical and also spiraling) and also sequential time (straight and also unidirectional).<5>

When we don"t understand that others may have actually fairly different starting points, problem is even more likely to take place and also to escalate. Even though the beginning points themselves are neutral, negative motives are quickly attributed to someone who starts from a different finish of the continuum.<6>

For example, as soon as First Nations human being sit dvery own via government representatives to negotiate land clintends in Canada or Australia, various ideas of time may make it challenging to develop rapport and also make progression. First Nations people tfinish to check out time as stretching forward and earlier, binding them in partnership through seven generations in both directions. Their actions and also selections in the present are thus relevant to background and to their progeny. Government negotiators acculturated to Western European ideas of time might discover the informing of historic tales and the consideration of projections generations right into the future tedious and irpertinent unmuch less they understand also the variations in the method time is construed by First Nations human being.

Of course, this example draws on generalizations that might or might not use in a specific situation. Tbelow are many different Aboriginal individuals in Canada, Australia, New Zealand also, the United States, and in other places. Each has actually a distinctive culture, and these cultures have actually various relationships to time, various principles around negotiation, and distinct identities. Government negotiators may also have actually a selection of ethno social identities, and also might not fit the stereokind of the woman or man in a hurry, through a measured, pressured orientation toward time.

Instances deserve to likewise be attracted from the other 3 dimensions identified by Hampden-Turner and also Trompenaars. When an intractable conflict has actually been recurring for years or even generations, have to tright here be recourse to international standards and interveners, or local rules and also practices? Those favoring a universalist founding point are more likely to choose worldwide intervention and the establishing of international criteria. Particularlists will certainly be even more comfortable via a tailor-made, home-grvery own strategy than via the implace of general rules that may or may not fit their demands and context.

Specificity and diffuseness also cause problem and dispute escalation in many type of instances. People, who speak in specifics, in search of valuable remedies to difficulties that deserve to be enforced and also measured, might uncover those that emphasis on procedure, feelings, and the big image obstructionist and also frustrating. On the other hand, those whose founding points are diffuse are even more apt to capture the flaw in the amount that is not simple to detect by looking at the component parts, and also to watch the conmessage right into which particular ideas have to fit.

Inner-directed civilization tfinish to feel confident that they have the right to affect change, believing that they are "the masters of their fate, the captains of their souls."<7> They focus even more on product than procedure. Imagine their frustration when faced with outer-directed people, whose attention goes to nurturing relationships, living in harmony with nature, going through the flow, and paying attention to procedures rather than products. Similar to each of the above sets of founding points, neither is right or wrong; they are simply various. A focus on procedure is helpful, but not if it totally fails to disregard outcomes. A focus on outcomes is useful, yet it is likewise essential to monitor the tone and direction of the process. Cultural fluency means being mindful of different sets of founding points, and also having a way to soptimal in both dialects, helping analyze between them once they are making problem worse.

These continua are not absolute, nor do they describe humale relationships extensively. They are clues to what could be happening once civilization are in problem over long periods of time. We are meaning-making creatures, telling stories and creating understandings that maintain our sense of self and also relate to our purpose. As we come to realize this, we deserve to look into the procedure of interpretation making for those in a dispute and also find methods to aid them make their meaning-making procedures and conclusions even more apparent to each other.

This can be done by storyinforming and by the creation of common stories, stories that are co-created to make room for multiple points of view within them. Often, people in problem tell stories that sound as though both cannot be true. Narrative conflict-resolution viewpoints aid them leave their issue through fact and also being right on the sideline for a time, turning their attention instead to stories in which they can both check out themselves.

Another way to check out meaning making is through metaphors. Metaphors are compact, tightly packaged word photos that convey an excellent deal of indevelopment in shorthand also develop. For instance, in experimenting how a conflict began, one side might talk around its beginnings being buried in the mists of time before tbelow were borders and roads and also created regulations. The various other might watch it as the offspring of a vexatious lawsuit begun in 1946. Neither is wrong -- the worry may well have deep roots, and the lawsuit was sucount a component of the evolution of the conflict. As the 2 sides talk about their metaphors, the even more diffuse beginning point wrapped up in the mists of time meets the even more specific one, attached to a specific legal activity. As the two talk, they deepen their understanding of each various other in context, and learn more about their respective functions and identities.

Identities and also roles refer to conceptions of the self. Am I an individual unit, autonomous, a free agent, eventually responsible for myself? Or am I initially and forea lot of a member of a group, weighing options and actions by exactly how the team will perceive them and also be impacted by them? Those who view themselves as sepaprice people likely come from societies anthropologists call individualist. Those for whom team allegiance is major usually come from settings anthropologists contact collectivist, or communitarian.

In collectivist settings, the following worths tfinish to be privileged:

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

In individualist settings, the complying with values tfinish to be privileged:

competitionindependenceindividual achievementpersonal growth and fulfillmentself-reliance

When individualist and also communitarian beginning points influence those on either side of a problem, escalation might result. Individualists may check out no trouble through "no holds barred" confrontation, while communitarian counterparts shrink from bringing dishonor or face-loss to their group by behaving in unseemly methods. Individualists may mean to make agreements with communitarians, and also might feel betrayed as soon as the last suggest that they need to take their understandings earlier to a bigger public or team prior to they deserve to pertained to closure. In the end, one must remember that, as with various other fads described, the majority of civilization are not pucount individualist or communitarian. Rather, human being tfinish to have actually individualist or communitarian beginning points, relying on one"s upbringing, suffer, and also the conmessage of the situation.


Tright here is no one-size-fits-all approach to problem resolution, since culture is always a factor. Cultural fluency is therefore a core competency for those that intervene in conflicts or ssuggest want to attribute more successfully in their very own stays and instances. Cultural fluency entails recognizing and acting respecttotally from the knowledge that communication, ways of naming, framing, and also taming conflict, philosophies to meaning-making, and also identities and also duties vary throughout cultures.

<1> See likewise the essays on Cultural and Worldcheck out Frames and also Communication Tools for Understanding Cultural Differences.

<2> LeBaron, Michelle and also Bruce Grundiboy. 1993. Conflict and also Culture: Research in Five Communities in British Columbia, Canada. Victoria, British Columbia: University of Victoria Institute for Dispute Resolution.

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

<4> Lederach, John Paul. 1995. Preparing for Peace. Conflict Transdevelopment Across Cultures. Syracuse, NY: Syracusage University Press, pp. 94.

<5> Hampden-Turner, Charles and Fons Trompenaars. 2000. Building Cross Cultural Competence. How to Create Wealth from Conflicting Values. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

<6> There is likewise the collection of esclaims on framing which is closely related to the concept of definition making.

<7> Ibid., 244.

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Use the complying with to point out this article:LeBaron, Michelle. "Culture and Conflict." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and also Heidi Citizen. Conflict Information Consortium, College of Coloracarry out, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 http://www.brickandmortarphilly.com/essay/culture-conflict>.