Handling Disagreements

Culture is as important as personality when settling conflicts.

Everyone is different.

Many people have taken a DiSC assessment or a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator evaluation. Through those types of assessments, we learn more about ourselves and how other types of people are different and have different needs. This enhanced understanding helps us in our interpersonal interactions, especially if those interactions turn difficult. Or does it?

Most people don’t enjoy having difficult conversations. Often, when we do have these tough conversations, we start from a presumption that we come from the same frame of reference. While understanding different personality types is a good practice, it might serve us better to try first to understand the other person’s cultural reference.

For example, people from the United States are known for having direct, get-down-to-business conversations with people. Countries with similar cultures include Germany, Austria and some parts of Canada. This approach is built on the idea that being direct and forthright enhances honesty and mutual understanding. These types of cultures tend to like making things clear and believe doing so helps to develop a mutually agreeable solution that all parties understand.

But in other cultures, people may prefer to have a relationship-building conversation first and respond best to an indirect approach, even when handling disagreements. Their initial goal is to establish mutual goodwill and understanding. Middle Eastern and Asian countries are examples of cultures that may prefer this indirect style of communication.

When interacting with people from relational or indirect communication cultures, our approach may need to be adjusted if we want a mutually satisfactory resolution. Typically, indirect cultures take some time to engage in polite dialogue. This demonstrates respect for the other person.

So, when the need arises to handle a difficult situation, here are some things to consider:

  • Would a direct or indirect style work best to resolve any misunderstanding or difficulty?
  • What type of setting might best facilitate a resolution? Cultures with a direct style might not put much stock in the setting; however, indirect cultures might prefer to conduct a conversation in a relaxed office environment.
  • Does the other individual need formality or informality? People from indirect communication cultures often have a more formal approach to establishing relationships, whereas it’s often the opposite for direct communication cultures.

However, it’s also important to keep in mind that as we are trying to understand the needs of others, we should not make presumptions based on how someone appears. Consider instead the style other people present in their interactions and use their communication method as a clue to how they might best respond. For example, someone who approaches you in your role as a leader with a very conversational style may very well respond to engagement in that style. Let that person bring up the situation they want to discuss. Then respond with a similar situation you handled and talk about how it was resolved. Ask if that solution would work in this situation.

If someone approaches you saying there is a problem to discuss, it’s likely you can get right to it and propose a workable solution. The person likely will walk away pleased with the quick resolution.

Reflecting on the needs of others is an important consideration for any type of relationship. Now might be a good time to consider your members, your board and your staff. What cultural considerations do you need to be aware of to facilitate smooth working relationships? Who might need to be approached under a different presumption? Then, consider how you can adapt your style to maintain and improve these relationships, regardless of whether there’s conflict.

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