Conflict and Conflict Management Strategies in North America and Indonesia

Term Paper, 2004

25 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. What is a conflict? Important distinctions

3. Conflict and conflict Management in North America
3.1. Cultural background to conflict management
3.1.1. North American culture
3.1.2. Norms and values Competition
3.2. Dealing with conflicts
3.2.1. Perceived conflict
3.2.2. Conflict behaviour
3.2.3. Conflict Management Specific approaches Third party assistance Adjudication Mediation

4. Conflict and conflict management in Indonesia
4.1. Cultural background to conflict management
4.1.1. Indonesian culture
4.1.2. Norms and values Harmony Hierarchy Musyawarah and mufakat
4.2. Dealing with conflicts
4.2.1. Perceived conflict
4.2.2. Conflict behaviour
4.2.3. Conflict Management Specific approaches Traditional culture in business life

5. Main differences in dealing with conflicts

6. Conclusion

7. References

1. Introduction

Through the process of globalization, managers often have to deal with people from other countries with different cultural backgrounds. This cultural background includes not only the language; it means a completely different way of feeling, thinking, behaving and as a result also conflict management. Constructive conflict management is a competence which is of particular importance in international management. Furthermore, in an intercultural context, a manager not only needs to know how to handle conflicts in general, but also how his negotiation partners usually deal with them. This is important because the right way to solve a conflict i. e. in North America is not necessarily the right way in Indonesia. When coping with conflicts in international business negotiations, international managers must be aware of the fact that appropriate ways of solving conflicts in Western cultures like North America can very often be completely unacceptable in Asian cultures like Indonesia. The aim of this paper is to analyse typical conflict management strategies in North America and Indonesia, thereby highlighting major differences in appropriate conflict management between them.

Right at the beginning it must be clear that only few literatures about culturally specific conflict management were available. A lot of information about intercultural conflict management can be found, but the only book with really detailed information about culturally specific conflict management of different cultures was “Conflict Management in the Asia Pacific.” This is the reason why this paper is partly based on the authors of this book. Moreover it is to say that the subchapter conflict management had to be analysed under different views as a consequence of the fundamental differences in the conflict management styles between North America and Indonesia.

2. What is a conflict? Important distinctions

People, and even complete societies, often think that conflicts are something negative, but this assumption is wrong (Borisoff, 1998: introduction vii). Borisoff defines conflicts “as disagreements between and among individuals.” (1998: introduction vii) People having this definition in mind often think that there can only be one winner and one looser (Borisoff, introduction vii). But a well-managed conflict can help to improve the relationships of the parties involved; moreover one can use the chance of change and can learn to get a feeling for his colleagues (Leung and Tjosvold, 1998: 2). Borisoff argues, that “the prospect of change can be a compelling and highly motivating force.” (Borisoff, introduction vii) It is thus clear that conflicts are not something negative which should be avoided. If they are managed in a proper way they lead to a positive result.

Intercultural conflicts occur when human beings from different cultures have to work together in business. Ting-Toomey defines an intercultural conflict as “the perceived or actual incompatibility of values, norms, processes, or goals between a minimum of two cultural parties over content, identity, relational, and procedural issues.” (1999: 194) Human beings from different cultures have gone through a different socialization process. They have different expectations of what behaviour is appropriate or inappropriate. The results are occurring conflicts when one or both parties behave in an inappropriate way, but those conflicts do not have to end with an unsatisfying result. The result depends on the intercultural knowledge of the parties involved. (Ting-Toomey 1999: 194-195)

Moreover Ting-Toomey defines intercultural conflict management “as the use of culture-sensitive communication skills to manage the process of conflict productively and reach important conflict goals of all parties amicably.” (1999: 219) That means that all involved parties have an eye on the cultural differences and are able to deal with them.

Culturally specific conflict management is the culturally influenced way of conflict management. This specific way of conflict management is topic of this paper. When dealing with people with the same cultural background one is not awake of the own behaviour, but if we meet people with a different cultural background we become aware of the differences. Differences in conflict management between cultures are the logical result of different traditional culturally norms and values. Especially Western and Asian cultures differ in their specific conflict management strategies as it will be analysed in the next chapters.

3. Conflict and conflict Management in North America

The next chapter deals with conflict management in North America (USA and Canada). It will be noted that North Americans perceive conflicts from a competitive side and that they act like someone who is in a win-lose sport situation. Right at the beginning it should be clear that this analysis of North American conflict management behavior is a broad generalization for a first orientation. Following this not every North American will behave in the described way.

3.1. Cultural background to conflict management

3.1.1. North American culture

North America is an individualistic culture. Before bringing evidence for this statement is should be clear what is meant by individualistic and culture. According to Hofstede (2001: 5) culture is the collective programming of the mind which lies between human nature and personality. Human nature is everything which is common between humans; it represents the basic mental software. It can not be learned since it is inherited through the genes. Examples for human nature are abilities like love, anger or happiness. In contrast to this personality is a combination of different mental programs which are unique for every individual. Personality consists of inherited and through culture learned traits. Following this it is clear where culture lies, but Hofstede can not answer the question where the boarders between these three points are. It is impossible to define the word culture with all aspects, but this is enough for a first understanding.

Individualistic cultures tend to see the “I” over the group. According to Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars they value “competition, self-reliance, self-interest and personal growth and fulfilment.” (2000: 68)

Between 1968 and 1972 Hofstede analysed intern of the company IBM the individualism rate of 53 states of the world. America marked the first place, Canada the fourth and fifth together with the Netherlands (2000: 70-71). Even if one can argue that the employees of IBM are not representative enough for complete countries one can recognize tendencies. Hofstede´s work shows that especially North America has really strong tendencies to individualism.

3.1.2. Norms and values Competition

For North Americans competition is something which they take pleasure in, value and which belongs to their live. They have developed this behavior through different factors. One reason is the Judeo-Christian religion; God wants man to be good, to control the globe and to battle evil (Wall and Stark, 1998: 304).

Another reason is the history of the North Americans (Wall and Stark, 1998: 304-305, Lewis, 1997: 165). In the eighteenth and nineteenth century the continent was settled by the pioneers, in this time man could claim new land which had to be protected against other pioneers. Through taming the new land competition was becoming more important in three different ways. Firstly, people with different opinions about the correct way of living had to deal with each other, mainly along the coasts and rivers. They “’ironed out’” (Wall and Stark, 1998: 305) their problems in a competitive manner. Secondly, they developed a competitive feeling for the new land; they wanted to overcome every area. These efforts had a lot success, which strengthened the feeling for competition, too. The third point was the competition against the Native Americans and the beasts. Even these efforts ended very successfully and all three ways together built the basic for the strong feeling for competition in North America (Wall and Stark, 1998: 305).

Moreover the wars of America strengthened their feeling for competition because most of the wars ended with a positive result for the country. Examples are the revolutionary and the Spanish-American War (Wall and Stark, 1998: 305).

The fourth important factor is the American economy (Wall and Stark, 1998: 306 Lewis, 1997: 166 Knower, Spemann and Würtele, 2000: 296). For Americans everybody has the opportunity to make a carrier, it is only the question who is the first and best (Lewis, 1997: 166).

It is to say that even sport strengthens the feeling for competition in America. When American sport teams play against each other they have only one thing in mind: to win (Stewart and Bennett, 1991: 80). They do not care about the interests of the other team.

Additionally, the last point is the complete political system (Wall and Stark, 1998: 307-308). The power of the government is separated into three different parts (federal, state/province, local), which overlap in some questions of power. Moreover every level of the government is broken into executive, legislative and judicial sections. Competition between these different parts is wanted and makes sure, that no political level becomes too powerful (Wall and Stark, 1998: 307).

Summing it all up it is thus clear that competition belongs to the culture of American people since the beginning. Knowing that is the precondition for being able to understand North American conflict management.

3.2. Dealing with conflicts

3.2.1. Perceived conflict

In North America it needs much time from competition into a conflict (Wall and Stark, 1998: 308-310). One reason for that is that Americans do not make a strong difference between competition and conflict, for them conflict is only a higher form of competition. Picture 1 shows that there is an overlap between these two processes.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Wall and Stark, 1998: 309

Moreover one can see that North Americans view interactions (e.g. which company gets the deal) more as competitions in contrast to East Asians who perceive those disagreements as conflicts.


Excerpt out of 25 pages


Conflict and Conflict Management Strategies in North America and Indonesia
Hamburg University of Applied Sciences  (Economics)
Intercultural Communication
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
605 KB
- Analysis of conflict management in North America and Indonesia - Analysis of possible problems of contact - Offers problem solution
Conflict, Management, Strategies, North, America, Indonesia, Intercultural, Communication
Quote paper
René Kautz (Author), 2004, Conflict and Conflict Management Strategies in North America and Indonesia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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