About cultural diversity and conflict management

ONE of the challenges facing multinational corporations (MNC) and small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) is the increasing diversity of the workforce and similarly complex prospective customers, both with disparate cultural backgrounds.

After all, language barriers, cultural nuances, and value divergence can easily cause unintended misunderstanding and low efficiency in a multinational environment. It leads to conflict among employees and profit loss in organizational productivity.

As such, in any international organization and SMEs, awareness of these issues within a multicultural environment, serves as a lubricant, which mitigates frictions, resolves conflicts, and improves overall work efficiency.

Likewise, it serves as a coagulant, which integrates the collective wisdom and strength, enhances collaboration in team work, and unites multiple cultures together between race and ethnicity, which results in a desired looping synergistic effect.

Yue Li (New York University/Marymount Manhattan College) concludes in an article she penned “Cross-Cultural Communication within American and Chinese Colleagues in Multinational Organizations” with the following recommendations:

Be open-minded

It is natural for people to judge others’ words and deeds from the standpoint of one’s own to such an extent that we may impose our standard on other social group without even being aware of the far-fetched analogy. Being open-minded allows us to “avoid the mistake of imposing our meanings on others’ behaviors and to open ourselves to learning about meanings and communication styles that differ from our own.” In essence, to understand that we may not understand, to be open-minded and accept what may differ from what we know, and to be willing to learn what we may not know.

Listen

In addition to be being open-minded, it is also indispensable to cultivate a curiosity toward divergent social groups instead of glossing it over, and be keen on listening to the other side of the story. Do not rush to a hasty conclusion before we listen to another’s voice and unique perspective. It is through respectful and careful hearing that we broaden our understanding of diverse cultures. The ultimate goal of listening is to develop a sense of cultural empathy, which would further facilitate a constructive exchange between international employees.

Agree to disagree

Being open to different cultural values and behaviors does not equate to surrendering one’s own views. It is not impossible and contradictory to affirm the values of our own while acknowledging those that differ. Former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai stated that in international matters, it is instrumental to hold on to the spirit of “agree to disagree,” to seek common ground while reserving differences. This assertion echoes Houston and Wood’s theory of “unity of contraries,” which refers to “appreciating the worth of our own patterns and beliefs and, at the same time, to respecting others and their ways of seeing and acting.”

Overstressing diversity

The United States has a reputation for being a “melting pot,” mixing people from all over the world in one large geographical location. In metropolitan cities like New York, with immigrants from Europe, Asia, Africa and other continents, people find it hard to define what particular culture belongs to such a diverse population. Some Americans, when asked “What is American culture?” might come to the conclusion that the US hardly has a culture of its own in the way that China has a distinct Chinese culture and France a decidedly French culture.

For an international company, it is desirable to acknowledge diversity so as to let employees feel at home, represented, and have the opportunity to have their unique voices heard. However, it is never in the company’s interest to overdo this strategy. Being different is intriguing and attractive, but it is shared commonality that propels agreement to be reached and objectives to be achieved.

Silence is golden

It is usually not to the Americans’ liking to endure silence in a conversation. The empty pause renders people in low context culture feeling unsure and uneasy of what is to be expected next, and whether they should change to another topic before the other party completely loses interest in talking. “Silence is deafening,” they may say.

In contrast, the Chinese, immersed in high-context culture, integrate silence into their way of talking. Unlike Americans, who value words, the Chinese think that words, often used to disguise one’s real intention, can be deceptive.

Buddhism teaches its believers through quiet meditation, in lieu of loud lecturing.