Despite the intellectual understanding that conflict is a reality and is a natural process that occurs often, for most conflict has a negative connotation (Earnest & McCaslin, 1994). In intercultural relations much of the negativity comes from fear and anxiety in dealing with unfamiliar situations and people. Gudykunst & Kim (1997) note this in their description of the concept of the “stranger.” They explain that “when we are confronted with cultural differences we tend to view people from other cultures as strangers” (p. 14). The discomfort brought on by communicating with strangers compels an individual to reduce the anxiety level through the attainment of various forms of information about the stranger or the situation. It is here where miscommunication often takes place as the various approaches for inquiring about one another are impacted by culture.
In the U.S. the preferred method for attaining information and resolving conflicts is a direct one-on-one approach. However, in the majority of the world using a direct approach is rude and those that use it labeled as immature (Elmer, 1993). Additionally, most U.S. organizations list trust and behavioral integrity as non-negotiable values. These values are associated with a positive corporate climate brought about by forthrightness in communication. Nevertheless, an individual using this same direct approach in other cultures, especially in conflict situations, risks personal credibility and is perceived as untrustworthy (Elmer, 1993). Fortunately, the issue is not trust, rather it is the concept of separateness and individuality. Western cultures tend to separate the individual from any perceived problem, in other cultures no such separation exists thus the idea, behavior, or problem and the person are one. Instead of developing trust the use of direct communication in many cultures only brings shame and humiliation.
Earnest, G. W., & McCaslin, N. L. (1994). Extension administrators approach to conflict management: A study of relationships between conflict management styles and personality type. Journal of Agricultural Education, 35(3), 18-22.
Elmer, D. (1993). Cross-cultural conflict: Building relationships for effective ministry. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Gudykunst, W. B., Kim, Y. Y. (1997). Communicating with strangers: An approach to intercultural communication. New York: Random House.