Cultural Differences in Conflict Resolution – Literature review

With increasing acceptance of conflict as a component of group processes, studies have tried to find ways to manage conflict thus enhance organizational outcomes. One of the model according to which research on conflict management has proceeded is the dual concern model. According to this model, individuals manage conflict by choosing an approach that lies between two extremes – the “concern for self” and “concern for others” (Pruitt & Rubin as cited in Ma, 2007, p. 103). Based on the dual concern model, Thomas (1976) for instance identified five approaches to handling conflicts classifying them along an assertiveness-cooperativeness plane (cited in Ma, 2007, p. 103). By being assertive, one would be aiming to satisfy ones own concerns while by being cooperative, one would be attempting to satisfy the interests of other persons. The five approaches to conflict resolution according to the assertiveness-cooperativeness approach are competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding (Ma, 2007). In competing, one minds ones interests with low concern for the interests of others. Whereas in collaborating one places high concern to ones interests and the interests of others, in compromising, ones concern for self and others is moderate (Ma, 2007). In an accommodating approach, one places the interests of the others above self-interests whereas in an avoiding style, one shows concern neither for ones interests nor for the interests of the other persons (Ma, 2007).

Ma (2007) evaluated such conflict resolution styles using a sample of Chinese students. Since Chinese are depicted as collectivism-oriented (Itim International, 2011; Nardon & Steers, 2009), they are expected to avoid open confrontations to maintain strong relationships and harmony within groups. Accordingly, in a theoretical context, Chinese would exhibit avoiding, accommodating and compromising approaches to resolve conflicts. Examining such a perception, Ma (2007) found that the predominant approach was compromising with avoidance being the second most preferred approach. The least preferred method was accommodating, while more of participants chose to compete than they did collaborating, to resolve their conflicts (Ma, 2007). Such results, though supporting the theoretical conclusions, indicated that competing, an approach associated with individualistic cultures, could also be an important approach to resolve conflicts in Chinese culture, a collectivism-oriented culture.

Sadri and Rahmatian (2003) expound on the findings by Ma by comparing the preferences for conflict-resolution approaches among three cultures – European Americans, Asians and the Mexicans. In this study, the European-Americans (an individualistic culture) demonstrated a preference for assertive approaches (competing and collaboration), while the Mexicans and Asians (collectivistic cultures) showed a preference for non-assertive approaches (accommodating and avoiding). The preference to compromise was highest in the European-Americans as compared to Mexicans and Asians. In a meta-analytical review, Holt and DeVore (2005), also support the differences in conflict management approaches noted between individualistic and collectivistic cultures. In this review, the authors found out that members of individualistic cultures preferred a forcing (competing) approach to resolve conflicts while those in collectivistic cultures preferred withdrawal, compromise and problem-solving approaches.

Studies have also evaluated differences in conflict resolution approaches with regard to culture variations with refined constructs that classify individualistic or collectivistic cultures into vertical and horizontal constructs. In a vertical-individualistic (VI) culture, members perceive themselves to be unequal and independent, whereas in Vertical-collectivistic (VC) cultures, members perceive themselves to be unequal but interdependent on each other (Boros, Meslec, Curseu & Emons, 2009). Whereas in Horizontal-individualistic (HI) cultures, members perceive themselves to be equal but independent, in Horizontal-collectivistic (HC) cultures members perceive themselves to be equal and interdependent (Boros, et al., 2009). Findings on conflict resolution styles in relation to such constructs are equivocal. For instance, whereas Boros et al. (2009) find that VI cultures support mainly avoidance, Kaushal and Kwantes (2006) show that such cultures engage in competition at a significant level as well. HI is shown to support compromising approach (Boros et al., 2009), but rarely apply avoidance (Kaushal & Kwantes, 2006). Additionally, VC cultures show significant preference for different approaches such as compromise (Boros et al., 2009), competition, avoidance and accommodating (Kaushal & Kwantes, 2006). Boros et al., 2009 find HC to support compromise, while Kaushal & Kwantes (2006) do not find significant support for use of HC in any of the approaches (competing, avoidance and accommodating) they evaluated. continue to conclusion.

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