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Techniques For Resolving Cross-Cultural Disputes

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From a business perspective it’s valuable to have a workforce that is representative of the communities in which you do business.

If you are a local business, and do most of your sales to a homogeneous client base, the need for cross-cultural representation in the workforce may be less then if you are a large international/ interstate company that sells its products across cultural lines. Though this may be true, it is important to understand the benefits of cultural representation.

The value of cross-cultural representation in your workforce is that it adds to your ability to understand the product and marketing needs of your potential customers. Just like Mel Gibson in What Women Want, it is very difficult for those outside a gender, or cultural group, to know the needs of others. Though it is always dangerous to generalize when discussing specifics, it is important to understand the potential for disputes to arise in our multi-cultural work environment. These disputes may involve the ordinary disputes that we as humans get ourselves into, and they may include those that are based on ignorance and a lack of understanding of other people.

The major sources of disputes involve roles, emotions, misinformation (and misinterpretation) and values. These will all be present in the workforce, whether there is a degree of cultural integration or not. The presence of various cultures may increase the potential for the sources of conflict to come to the surface in a harmful way.

Culture can be a basis of our roles and values. A society that values the roles of women in the workforce will not see a contradiction between being a mother and a businessperson. This is an interpretation of values as applied to roles. Just as we as Americans have our value and role systems, so to do other cultures.

Think in terms of biology and you will understand the importance of diversity. Why not try to leverage the available diversity to create a competitive advantage. After all that is our responsibility as managers.


1. Don’t assume all disputes that involve people of different cultures, have a cultural component.

2. Provide a thorough explanation of the dispute resolution process. Never assume that what you are saying is being understood.

3. If feasible, draft documents in the language of all parties.

4. Provide for, or allow for, the use of interpreters.

5. Respect the other person’s point of view.

6. Ask for frequent expansion on points that you are unfamiliar with, especially if they relate to cultural issues.

7. Investigate the cultural norms of the people that are involved in the dispute. It could be a matter of misunderstanding. This is also useful for validating cultural claims.

8. Confront cultural discrimination in the workplace and show no tolerance for it.

9. Highlight the presence of the various cultures at your work and foster understanding through cultural events. Tolerance is built on understanding.

10. Recognize and investigate the cultural differences in the use of body language, emotions and problem solving.

11. Create opportunities for the parties to validate the concerns of each other. This includes the recognition and constructive expression of differences. Likewise, cultural similarities should be creatively sought out and highlighted.

12. Educate those from other cultures on the values and norms of our society, so as to diminish the potential for culture clash.

13. Be patient, flexible and willing to learn.

14. Be creative in fashioning solutions. Think out of the box and encourage input on how things are done “over there”.


These are not tools for dealing with culturally motivated disputes per se. This is an important distinction, as bigotry and emotionally anchored perceptions are the most difficult disputes to deal with. Culturally based disputes are often entrenched in long held beliefs and suspicions and often lead to violence.

The goal of this article is to outline techniques for maximizing the outcome of disputes that may involve people of different cultures.

The goal of business managers is to maximize the potential revenue of the business and minimize its costs. The pursuit of a multicultural workforce should not be viewed as anything other then good business. It is good business because it provides you with a valuable internal resource that can be leveraged to a competitive advantage. Effectively managing disputes minimizes costs. These techniques may level the playing field through fairness and accommodation of differing communication needs, thereby enriching the corporate lives of those affected. Ensuring fairness and procedural equity should not be negotiable.


This article was provided by is a website committed to making the lives of HR professionals and business managers easier. offers eight communities to address the specialties within human resources, including a section on Conflict and Dispute Resolution in our Labor Relations community. Within each community, users can access articles and research, find vendors/consultants, buy products or services and join discussion groups to learn from their peers.


Bob Delaney

Bob Delaney's outgoing and consistently positive attitude tends to irritate non-morning people, especially before their coffee. As well as being a Knowledge Manager at, Bob is an Academic Instructor at a local college where he teaches in the Post-graduate Diploma Program in Human Resources Management. His academic credentials are… MORE >

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