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The Orientation of the Cultural Interpersonal Conflict

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Social norms are culture specific and are thought to guide behaviour appropriate for the cultural context and reduce risk of interpersonal conflict. This social coordination is facilitated by verbal and nonverbal communications cultures modulate and engage in. How we communicate, what interactions we label as conflict, and how we respond to those situations are all predetermined by our culture.

Conflict orientation

Five styles of conflict

Conflict style refers to the way an individual communicates and responds to a conflict episode over a series of interactions. Interpersonal conflict research literature recognizes models with three to five styles of conflict response. They differ by varying degrees of passivity or assertiveness in confronting and solving the problem. The three-style approach consists of control, nonconfrontation, or solution orientations, while Rahim’s five-style approach separates conflict orientations as integrating, obliging, dominating, avoiding, or compromising. These conflict orientations are compartmentalized by how motivated an individual is to satisfy concerns for self and satisfy concerns for the other.

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The dominating style falls under high self-concern and low other-concern. It is the most forceful of the five, prioritizing one’s own needs or desires with little to no regard for the other’s. This approach is like a competition, ending up with a win-lose situation. It may solve the problem, but not satisfactorily for one of the two parties.

The avoiding style shows low concern for both self and other. It presents itself in withdrawing behaviours, such as pushing the problem away or refusing to acknowledge that it exists. Someone with this conflict style will hold back their own feelings, but also will not give the other person a chance to express theirs either. This can otherwise be referred to as suppression, and makes zero effort to resolve the conflict.

The obliging style shows low concern for self but high concern for the other. This person is agreeable to the point of being permissive, indicative of a willingness to concede their own needs to accommodate for the other person’s. This is preferred for situations where the relationship is valued more than the source of the conflict. Colloquially, this style might be exemplified by a people-pleaser.

The integrating style is one of high concern for self and high concern for the other. It invites open and constructive conversation, seeking a solution that pleases both parties.

Similar to the integrating style, the compromising style pursues conflict resolution by collaboration. However, the difference here is that compromising is characteristic of intermediate self-concern and intermediate other-concern. They do not address the problem as openly or explore many alternatives like in the integrating style, rather, compromising is a give-and-take where each party mutually sacrifices so that the outcome is fair and acceptable for both. The compromising style is the middle man between obliging and dominating.

Cultural views on the conflict styles

Although the five style conflict approach was expanded from previous three or four style models to encompass more cultural variability, differences still arise in how the east and the west perceive them. For instance, in a Eurocentric view, the obliging and avoiding conflict styles have a negative connotation because they are passive and do not directly confront the issue at hand. Western countries see these conflict responses as indifferent, disengaged, or running away, which they deem unhelpful, whereas Eastern countries see them as peaceful because they are nonconfrontational. Obliging and avoiding are perceived as a way to preserve ingroup harmony and show sensitivity for the other. In line with collectivist interpretations of conflict style as presented above, the dual concern model posits that an avoiding style may be caused by high concern for others, and not from a lack thereof as thought to be by the Western point of view. Behaviours that consistent with low concern for others

Perceptions of the compromising conflict style are also affected by cultural pluralism. A Westernized view considers compromise to be practical, but lacking. They focus on the need for concessions to achieve a middle ground settlement which is less than desirable. An Eastern view considers compromise to be a show of trust, commitment to the relationship, and a positive way to develop rapport. This reflects our problem with models that come from research conducted only in North America, not multicultural.

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