Posting by Ade Tuty Anggriany | 11:42 AM

1. Culture and Conflict: How to Respond

Given culture's important role in conflicts, what should be done to keep it in mind and include it in response plans? Cultures may act like temperamental children: complicated, elusive, and difficult to predict. Unless we develop comfort with culture as an integral part of conflict, we may find ourselves tangled in its net of complexity, limited by our own cultural lenses. Cultural fluency is a key tool for disentangling and managing multilayered, cultural conflicts.

Cultural fluency means familiarity with cultures: their natures, how they work, and ways they intertwine with our relationships in times of conflict and harmony. Cultural fluency means awareness of several dimensions of culture, including

Each of these is described in more detail below.

a) Communication,

Communication refers to different starting points about how to relate to and with others. There are many variations on these starting points, and they are outlined in detail in the topic Communication, Culture, and Conflict. Some of the major variations relate to the division between high- and low-context communications, a classification devised by Edward T. Hall.

In high-context communication, most of a message is conveyed by the context surrounding it, rather than being named explicitly in words. The physical setting, the way things are said, and shared understandings are relied upon to give communication meaning. Interactions feature formalized and stylized rituals, telegraphing ideas without spelling them out. Nonverbal cues and signals are essential to comprehension of the message. The context is trusted to communicate in the absence of verbal expressions, or sometimes in addition to them. High-context communication may help save face because it is less direct than low-context communication, but it may increase the possibilities of miscommunication because much of the intended message is unstated.

Low-context communication emphasizes directness rather than relying on the context to communicate. From this starting point, verbal communication is specific and literal, and less is conveyed in implied, indirect signals. Low-context communicators tend to "say what they mean and mean what they say." Low-context communication may help prevent misunderstandings, but it can also escalate conflict because it is more confrontational than high-context communication.

As people communicate, they move along a continuum between high- and low-context. Depending on the kind of relationship, the context, and the purpose of communication, they may be more or less explicit and direct. In close relationships, communication shorthand is often used, which makes communication opaque to outsiders but perfectly clear to the parties. With strangers, the same people may choose low-context communication.

Low- and high-context communication refers not only to individual communication strategies, but may be used to understand cultural groups. Generally, Western cultures tend to gravitate toward low-context starting points, while Eastern and Southern cultures tend to high-context communication. Within these huge categories, there are important differences and many variations. Where high-context communication tends to be featured, it is useful to pay specific attention to nonverbal cues and the behavior of others who may know more of the unstated rules governing the communication. Where low-context communication is the norm, directness is likely to be expected in return.

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