Workplace Conflict In Asia: Business IS Personal

Culture can have a strong influence on how we handle conflict. When working in multicultural teams our cultural differences can impact our work relationships and project success. Learning how to manage conflict when working across cultures can help build trust, cooperation and efficiency.

I recently delivered a cultural team building training for an international mining company. I was well prepped in advance by Gwenda, the Australian HR Manager, when she said, “Our project team won’t talk to each other!

“In our Singapore office we have a global team mostly from Australia, the USA, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore. I am receiving complaints from all sides. The bottom line is the Australians and Americans feel the Asians don’t speak up, are not assertive, and lack in accountability. And the Asians feel the Westerners are rude, pushy, and do not care about their opinions.”

“It sounds like we are talking about day-to-day work problems and conflicts among team members that are preventing them from reaching their goals and getting the job done,” I responded.

“Exactly! We need to create a unified team so we can get our projects back on track. I need to get the Australians and Americans to dial-it-down, be more patient and listen better. And I need the Asians to have the confidence to speak up, take charge and even understand that it is okay to disagree with the Westerners,” said Gwenda.

Here are 5 tips to help you handle conflict more effectively in Asia:

1. Forming a good relationship with each team member is essential to conducting business in Asia. Your Asian counterparts must genuinely like and feel at ease with you which leads to better management of conflict and rarely letting conflict get out of control.

2. In severe situations, a third party can also relay messages and act as a mediator, to enable negotiations to take place without the injured parties having to look one another in the eye.

3. Using ”We” instead of ”I” is another tactic to encourage harmony, appealing to Asians dedication for the group rather than the individual. The use of ”We” suggests group responsibility rather than the personal disapproval of the manager concerned.

4. Conflicts are handled in privacy. Most Asians do not engage in public confrontation. Settling any disputes in privacy is much valued.

5. Keep your cool at all times. Managing your cool means you are able to control your emotions rather than your emotions controlling you. This is a necessary characteristic of a good manager.

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