How do you approach conflict resolution?
Are you tactically assertive or avoidant?
And is your approach determined by personality or culture?
Over the coming weeks, I’ll discuss scientific studies dealing with the six cultural constructs, the first of which is individualism versus collectivism.
This paper by cognitive and cross-cultural psychologist, C. Dominik Guess, takes a look at conflict resolution in individualist and collectivist cultures.
Japan Collectivism vs. US Individualism
One of the studies in Guess’ paper explores how cultural background shapes the way conflict is handled – specifically, American individualism versus Japanese collectivism.
A group of researchers, led by Ohbuchi, Fukushima, and Tedeschi, gathered American and Japanese students and unleashed the power of conflict recall.
They asked participants to dig deep into their memories and recall a conflict they had experienced.
These participants were then asked to share their conflict experience – what they did, what they wanted to achieve, etc.
Using rating scales, they were asked to measure various aspects of the conflict, like goals and tactics.
In the battlefield of conflict, four major tactics emerged, each with its own arsenal of sub-tactics: conciliation, assertion, third-party intervention, and avoidance.
The Four Tactics
Let’s better understand the four tactics identified.
Conciliation – this tactic involves finding common ground. It’s a way to indirectly communicate expectations and build bridges.
Assertion – this tactic is a bold and assertive move, where you fiercely demand what you want.
Third-party intervention – this tactic involves calling in reinforcements in the form of seeking help or advice from an outsider.
Avoidance – this tactic is the ultimate passivity, dodging confrontation like a pro.
Considering these differing approaches to conflict resolution, you can imagine the cultural clash that may result.
The Results: Assertive vs. Avoidant
As you may have guessed, the American students, with their individualistic spirit, generally used assertive tactics in their conflicts.
On the flip side, the Japanese students, being the collectivist champions they are, took a more subtle approach overall.
They opted for avoidance tactics, sidestepping confrontation and prioritizing harmony in their relationships.
This may be because each group’s main goal in these conflicts also differed.
The Japanese participants prioritized their relationships, while the American participants’ goal was more often geared toward achieving a sense of justice.
While the results confirm what most would have hypothesized, considering what we already know about individualist and collectivist cultures, the research could be adapted so that the type of conflict being discussed is more uniform.
An individual’s approach (the tactics and goals) may vary based on the conflict.
As the students were allowed to choose whichever conflict they wanted to assess, their responses may have differed based upon the type they chose.
Regardless, this study may tell us something key about how individualists and collectivists approach conflict: individualists with justice in mind, and collectivists with harmony.