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Conflict Across Cultures

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Conflict Across Cultures

A Unique Experience of Bridging Differences

Intercultural Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Intercultural conflicts often seem intractable – but they don't have to be. This book explains why.

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Editorial Rating



  • Applicable


On April 29, 1992, a California jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of using excessive force against Rodney King, an African-American motorist whom they had severely beaten after a high-speed car chase. The beating had been caught on camera and televised. The not-guilty verdict sparked four days of massive rioting by blacks in Los Angeles. To help quell the mayhem, King appealed for public order by asking, “Can we all get along?” Unfortunately, “getting along” is never easy, particularly when cultures come into conflict, as embodied by the white law enforcement officers and the black driver. Considering the number of such seemingly intractable conflicts around the world, many contend that they simply cannot be resolved. This book claims otherwise, at least for smaller-scale disagreements where members of different cultures can sit down with each other to iron things out. Michelle LeBaron and Venashri Pillay explain the potential of “building relationships” as a solution to conflict. They focus on using knowledge and understanding to bridge cultural chasms, and report on international studies and case histories. They also explain the psychology of conflict and cultural assumptions. getAbstract applauds the authors for their insightful analysis and intelligent approach, and recommends this book to human resource managers and others who work with employees from a variety of cultural backgrounds.


Different Cultures are Like Different Musical Instruments

Consider a symphony orchestra. The instruments in the orchestra, from drums to trumpets to violins to tubas, could not be more diverse, nor the sounds they make more different. Yet beautiful music results when they play together. Of course, the conductor must use leadership to bring the individual symphony members together. The members of various cultures – who may be as different from one another as pianos and piccolos – can also use their differences to create harmony. They require intelligent leadership that identifies their common goals, such as the desire to end a dispute.

"Conflict and Culture"

To begin, define the nature of the issues that emerge when cultures conflict:

  • Conflict is a "difference...between two or more people that touches them in a significant way."
  • Culture is the "shared, often unspoken understandings in a group." Culture is "meaning-making" – that is, people's important priorities, the choices that bind them together with other members of their group.

Cultural differences can take many forms. Ethnicity and nationality are obvious dividers. But so...

About the Authors

Michelle LeBaron is a professor at the University of British Columbia, where she directs UBC's Program on Dispute Resolution. Venashri Pillay is a research professional in South Africa, where she studies conflict and resolution activities in Africa.

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