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Mediating Cross-Cultural Conflicts in the Classroom

Instructor: Ralica Rangelova

Rali has taught Public Speaking to college students and English as a Second Language; She has a master's degree in communication.

Explore how individuals influence groups and how groups function in a multicultural environment. See how collaboration, group facilitation, and conflict resolution skills are vital in creating a healthy and positive multicultural classroom climate.

Individual Influence in Groups

Groups represent a collection of individuals who are joined together to pursue an objective, ideal, or interest. Members can be diverse in terms of gender, age, race, language, nationality, religion, culture, education, and background. They also bring different experiences, personal traits, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. All these differences influence how groups work, meet deadlines, follow leadership, collaborate, and communicate.

Additionally, each group has its own culture. Behaviors and psychological processes occurring within a group form its dynamics. All members work together and contribute to a common goal by conforming to these dynamics. Nonetheless, it takes work to get all members on the same page because everybody carries their own values and preferences, which sometimes contradict those established by the group. If one person does not understand the group's goal, they can slow down the group or even prevent them from reaching their goal.

Groups in Multicultural Environments

Groups are already complicated with members of different ages, genders, and personalities. Things get even trickier when those individuals are from different countries. Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory is an excellent way to look at cultural differences. According to his theory, every country has a preference for one of two contrasting behaviors: individualism-collectivism; high-low power distance; high-low uncertainty avoidance; masculinity-femininity; long-short term orientation; and indulgence-restraint. These factors determine an individual's predisposition to certain behaviors and attitudes.

Contrasting Behaviors

For instance, individualists tend to emphasize individual identity, rights, and achievements, while collectivists place more importance on the group's interests and loyalty to the group. Both groups need different amounts of information and time to make a decision. Collectivists avoid conflict to preserve harmony, while individualists embrace conflict. Power distance determines to what degree members expect and accept hierarchical order. Countries high in masculinity have a preference for achievement, assertiveness, and rewards; its opposite, femininity, favors modesty, cooperation, and quality of life. And to top it off, group members have to overcome language barriers.

It is easy to see how what is appropriate in one culture may be inappropriate in another and lead to frustration and misunderstanding. Time concepts, deadlines, proper communication, personal space, rules, and so on translate to different things to different people. Due to their variety in viewpoints and experiences, diverse groups have more advantages and resources to reach objectives. However, group leaders have to be aware of the cultural differences and nurture understanding and inclusiveness to avoid conflicts and distractions.

Building Inclusive and Healthy Learning Community

Multicultural groups have a strong potential for success. A cross-cultural classroom is a great opportunity for students to learn so much about the rest of the world and exchange experience and ideas. The opportunity is there; however, it is the instructor's job to find a way to realize it and provide a life-changing experience to students. There are three steps to success: teaching collaboration, group facilitation, and conflict resolution.

Collaboration

Collaboration is about helping students understand, trust, and support each other. To help them understand each other, it is your job as an instructor to investigate and recognize cultural differences. Then, create opportunities for individuals and work together, explore their strengths, and appreciate their peculiarities.

Be mindful of team composition. The more you know about each culture in your classroom, the more effective you will be. Carefully select members with contrasting values and find a way to distribute responsibilities to help individuals appreciate and respect their differences through tasks. Cultural events are a fun way to introduce new cultures and get everyone involved. They will help prevent culture clashes and will allow students to see the differences but also find similarities. Once they understand and trust each other, your group members will be able to support each other and progress.

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