Cultural Differences in Conflict Responses

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  • 0:02 Differences in Culture
  • 0:56 Body Language
  • 2:06 Vocal Cues
  • 2:55 Punishment vs. Reconciliation
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

If you've ever had a disagreement with someone, you know how much of a challenge it can be to resolve it. But what if you had completely different cultural practices? This lesson shows some of those differences.

Differences in Culture

At some level, we are all familiar with differences in cultures. Even children know that East Asian cultures bow while Western cultures shake hands, and whole classes exist for people looking to perfect their cultural knowledge of a society in which they do business. However, much of the material in those classes focuses on general social niceties. We would learn not to gesture with our left hand in the Middle Eastern societies nor to touch someone's head while visiting Southeast Asia.

However, despite our best efforts to the contrary, sometimes conflicts that cross cultural boundaries still manifest themselves. In these cases, it's very beneficial for us to not only know the behavior of the culture we are visiting but also the behaviors of our own culture. With this knowledge, we can work to make sure that our own behavior does not unintentionally cross any cultural lines.

Body Language

First, let's start with body language. Some cultures typically use very little movement of the hands and arms when talking, as any movement beyond the mundane would be interpreted as having lost control of one's own behavior. Meanwhile, some societies completely embrace movement of the hands while speaking as an indication that one is giving full attention to the matter at hand. Think about it like this - if you were in a reserved society where people didn't move their hands and arms when talking, people may think someone is crazy if they're throwing their arms every which way while talking. Likewise, if you're in a society where such behavior is the norm, someone remaining calm could be viewed as not appreciating just how important the situation is.

Other secondary body language cues also link to this. If someone is visibly upset, it could mean different things in different societies. The same look that in the United States suggests that someone should contact the manager could, in more reserved societies, work to convince someone to consider contacting the authorities.

Vocal Cues

Still, it is very much the words that we speak that have meaning. Sometimes people from different cultures have different ways of acknowledging a disagreement. Let's say you were having a problem at a hotel. In the United States, you would expect for someone to apologize profusely, offer to refund part of your stay, and promise to have someone inspect the problem right away. Someone traveling from another part of the world could very well think that the hotel was trying to cover something up in that case! That is because in many parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, hotel staff would, instead, try to minimize the issue at hand.

The prevailing idea there is that the difficulty is temporary, and as a result, not worth the time of the guest. Of course, it will be dealt with, but the staff instead seeks to push the idea out of the person's mind. As you can imagine, this has at times led to friction with Westerners who expect something to be fixed and apologies to be made!

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