Ask The Experts

Managing cross cultural conflicts

Question: I have been working in this African country for almost three years now, where I live in a big Malaysian community who mostly work for the same organisation.

Generally, life here is fine and we have no issues with one another.

However, I cannot say the same for my African colleagues here as we have big problems with them. We find them arrogant, stubborn and are resistant to following our instructions.

Inevitably, we have two distinct cliques - the Malaysians and the Africans, and we do not augur well in the spirit of unity and cooperation, although we are from the same organisation.

If nothing is done, I am certain the situation will get worse, and the last thing I want to see is some kind of racial conflict. We have already tried being more accommodating to each other, however, it seems to be to no avail.

What should we do?

Answer: This is a typical case of ‘cross-cultural conflict’ that arises out of lack of understanding and miscommunication between two or more races that come from very different backgrounds in terms of culture, values, beliefs and work styles.

Somehow, when this happens it is because one party feels that their culture is better, more right, and superior and so forth and that the other party should respect and follow their way of life.

In such situations, both parties fail to see or want to make an effort to understand, accept and respect the other through patience, tolerance, compassion and flexibility. When there is no indication of this, conflict arises.

So take charge by adopting a change in your mindset and behaviour to become more accepting of them. It is beneficial to hold frequent heart-to-heart dialogues including cross-cultural ones where the agenda is to understand each other’s culture and behaviour.

In the course of doing this, I am certain many issues will get ironed out at the same time.

For new employees coming on board, it is worthwhile to educate each other on cross-cultural matters as well. Break up the cliques by ensuring that there is a healthy mix of races in any department.

Making all these efforts will display the Management’s sincerity in wanting to build a united (and not a divisive) team within the organisation.

Powerful questions you can ask yourself

• What is your vision of a united team consisting of different races?

• How will you know when such a vision is achieved?

• What will make this possible?

• Where is the first place to start?

Article by Dr Michael Heah, an ICF Master Certified Coach with