Does Culture Make Conflict Work for You?

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Whether it’s at home, in the workplace, or in society, culture is an important part of a living system of conflict decision-making. Culture represents the accepted conflict resolution processes, behavioral norms, general values, and world views of a specific group of people.

Because of culture’s ubiquity, it has an enormous impact on whether conflict creates or destroys value for you. Ideally, culture helps its individuals resolve conflict and create value. However, culture can lay a foundation for failure. It can sacrifice making good decisions for quick decisions, or making creative decisions for “this is how we’ve always done it” decisions.

Conflict between cultures is often portrayed as “us” versus “them.” People draw distinctions between themselves and others through differences and similarities. Sometimes cultural differences are significant and sometimes they are small. If you can identify which differences and similarities help or hinder good decision-making, you can turn potential cultural conflicts into valuable opportunities.

A few things you can do to help make culture work for you:

1. Be culturally aware

Be aware of how culture impacts you and those around you. The impact is sometimes hard to see, sometimes hard to acknowledge, and sometimes both. Be wary of extolling the virtues of a culture at the expense of downplaying or ignoring its vices, and vice versa (such as vilifying its vices while downplaying its virtues).

2. Expand your cultural knowledge

Culture, like speaking a language, has degrees of proficiency. You might be a native speaker of a culture you grew up in, it might be like a second language to you, or it could be completely foreign. Culture is something you can learn about and be conscious of.

3. Expect to make mistakes

You, and others, will make mistakes. You will do this both with cultures you identify with as well as cultures unfamiliar and foreign to you. Expect to make mistakes, plan in advance for how to correct and mitigate those mistakes, and give grace to others that make mistakes.

4. Make cultural shifts

Cultural shifts are necessary when a cultural system fails at turning conflict into opportunities for value creation. Cultural shifts can be extremely difficult when cultural norms are self-propagating. However, changing certain aspects of culture can be easier if you are in a culture that embraces change. Remember, culture both shapes and is shaped by the people that are part of that culture.

Ultimately, you will experience culture in many different places: with your family, friends, work, society, etc. So, as you think about the cultures that you traverse, in what ways do those cultures make conflict work for you, or against you?

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