Preventing and Addressing Cross Cultural Conflict in the Workplace | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

March 12, 2021by Vanessa Rose0

Cross cultural conflict in the workplace can arise when different perceptions around power, resources, and compatibility create competition between individuals or groups. While culture can include several different types of qualifiers, we’ll focus today on how different ethnic backgrounds can be impacted by this conflict. Organizations that are diverse and inclusive to different cultures may experience cross cultural conflict in the workplace, especially if training and company culture haven’t caught up. There are ways to prevent and manage this type of conflict and, in fact, utilize it as a growing edge for your team.

Cross Cultural Conflict in the Workplace

Cross cultural conflict in the workplace is important to address proactively to ensure the impacts don’t linger or escalate. When employees with different cultural backgrounds work together, they may notice differences in communication skill styles, work ethic, and how each member approaches collaborative projects. Under stress, these differences can erupt into conflict. But they don’t need to. Here’s how leadership can get ahead of it.

Address the Root Cause

Steps to resolve conflict in the workplace often begin with an assessment of the problem’s root cause. In a situation where cultural diversity is primed for conflict, an organization may want to look at structural issues as much as interpersonal issues. Does your company culture encourage inclusion, cultural competence, diversity of thought, and effective communication? Does your company enforce appropriate policies so that no one has to experience discrimination or harassment while on the job? Is there a clear reporting protocol for any employee who experiences discrimination or harassment and how does management handle such reports? Does your organization have enough diversity that it isn’t inherently marginalizing those who fall outside of a generalized expectation? Answering these questions honestly will give you better insight into where change is needed, which may begin with diversity training.

Acknowledge Unconscious Biases

When learning how to manage employee conflict, the importance of getting to the root cause becomes more and more clear. But what if the root cause is deeper and less identifiable than we think? It is important to remember that in the United States, expectations around professionalism are centered around white, European-American standards. From attire to communication to how we prioritize tasks, people with cultural backgrounds other than white/European-American may be perceived as being wrong, unprofessional, or problematic for doing what is seen as completely appropriate in another cultural setting. Assumptions that diversity equates to wrongness is not only fuel for conflict, it generates an unsafe work environment for anyone who doesn’t conform to limiting existing standards.

Recognizing unconscious biases that come up in this process is critical when discussing cross cultural conflict in the workplace. Organizations that hire a diverse force should reflect that diverse force in policies, procedures, and culture of the company itself. There are several benefits to this which include creating a safe environment for all employees – especially those who would be least represented and safe otherwise, cultivating productivity and collaboration between co-workers, generating innovation through new concepts and ideas, and minimizing legal issues that can arise around discrimination.

Enforce Change Where Needed

An effective conflict resolution process in the workplace is important for a functioning organization, especially if that conflict exposes more deeply problematic issues like racism, misogyny, and any kind of discrimination based on cultural background. Teaching conflict resolution skills can help, but getting to the root of any possible discriminatory beliefs in the company, and its employees, will be key for actual change. Change to this end may not be easy, but it is necessary and is a worthwhile investment. Be firm, stand by necessary changes, and continually re-assess as new feedback is received. Ensure that employees feel safe providing that feedback and don’t fear retaliation for speaking up.

Managing cross cultural conflict in the workplace can require the inclusion of many different aspects often missed by leadership without the right training. Get support from neutral and experienced professionals who can support your team with the right steps. Contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today to get the right solutions for your organization.

Vanessa Rose

Vanessa is a licensed psychotherapist and writer living in Los Angeles. When not on a mission for inner peace and conflict resolution, she enjoys making art, visiting the beach, and taking dog portraits. Always curious about self-improvement and emotional expansion, Vanessa also manages her own website which explores the unconscious and archetypal influences on how we eat, express, and relate.

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