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Resolving Conflict Around Diversity

Updated: May 5, 2023

Part 3 of 3 Series

Exploring two approaches to conflict resolution in intercultural contexts: This is the 3rd and final part of a brief series on resolving intercultural conflict.

In wrapping up this mini-series on intercultural conflict, it is important to revisit the idea of diversity and how striving for it may be an admirable aim of the problem-centric approach to resolving conflict in intercultural contexts—but also why, unfortunately, diversity cannot stand alone as a satisfactory resolution.

While it is not necessarily bad to set up specific systems and specialized job roles as steps toward rectifying and/or preventing a problem, it is not advisable to do so without also factoring in relationship-centric concerns.

Suppose a corporation takes steps intended to fix existing conflict and to curb future conflict, but then goes further and integrates those measures permanently into their corporate culture and “core values.” That is an indication that the problem-centric approach has taken center stage and become more significant than the elimination of the original problem. The problem has been institutionalized: Instead of resolving and preventing relational conflict, the problem-centric approach will naturally lead instead to perpetuating the problem.

Institutionalization of a problem can degenerate into a major issue, especially for corporations—where it results in formal policies, handbooks, mandates, and efficient communication of all the new documentation, as well as reporting and enforcement.

And it is not just a matter of rules and regulations and quotas and additional paperwork, but now people who are directly affected by the institutionalization of the problem. Specific roles have been created to construct pathways (like “diversity”) to theoretical success. Specially-hired officers have assumed these roles and are expected to hone their skills, to develop themselves and cultivate a competitive edge in their specific discipline, to fulfill their respective specialized responsibilities with excellence.

So suddenly—inexplicably(?)—there appear to be good reasons to procrastinate, or even to sabotage the final solving of that problem.

After all, what would happen if and when the problem ever were to be fixed and just “go away”? The problem-centric approach, if used exclusively, ultimately results in a situation where people are adversely affected, and where newer, perhaps worse, problems spring up in place of the original problem. Because, of course, now people’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake (again). Relationships are at stake (again). Conflict is bound to crop up—in fact, conflict is bound to explode exponentially!

With a problem-centric approach (particularly in primarily Innocence-Guilt–oriented cultural paradigms), North American and European corporations begin to confuse the fixing attempts for the final fix itself. They begin to consider practical steps taken toward conflict resolution as interchangeable with core values. For example, “diversity” is put on a pedestal as the aimed-for destination, instead of just a pathway to correct past injustices and prevent future injustices.

And then, when these corporations decide to expand globally, they automatically try also to “share” an institutionalized issue cross-culturally—and find it does not translate.

Corporations decide they want to go overseas, but suddenly they find themselves in an uphill battle to export an institutionalized problem (and all the systems and processes and jobs and roles and responsibilities that go with it).

Either that nonsensical export of a problem that doesn’t exist elsewhere becomes strikingly clear to everyone immediately, or the would-be multinational corporation wonders why other people in other cultures “just don’t seem to get” the need for these specific systems and particular roles that have already been engrained into their own corporate culture. “Why don’t they get it?” Unfortunately, this has happened time and time again with multinational corporations.

So when a corporation attempts to open new markets internationally but finds that certain systems and job positions get “lost in translation”—it is costly on multiple levels. Here they have intentionally integrated corrective measures into their very makeup, into their corporate culture—efficiently, thoroughly, painstakingly. They have invested all this work, all these man-hours, so much training and resources, into resolving intercultural conflict via a problem-centric approach, and they learn that not only is the problem not going away, but the method they chose to address the original problem has actually provoked a complicated plethora of brand-new, nuanced conundrums and dilemmas.

So if you think about conflict resolution in a globalized economy, you have to think very carefully about how you should integrate and how you would “export” even your conflict resolution styles.

If you are addressing intercultural conflict, then you cannot take a mono-cultural approach to resolve that conflict. That is another reason why a problem-centric approach (the natural inclination for Innocence-Guilt–oriented people) cannot stand alone if other cultural worldviews are part of the equation. When two-thirds of the world naturally tends to focus on the relationship-centric aspects of conflict, it follows that it would be wise to consider and utilize aspects of both those approaches.

For example, in matters of racial reconciliation and injustices related to differences in gender or abilities—the idea of “diversity” / “diversification” is much more problem-centric than the relationship-centric idea of “inclusion” / “inclusiveness.”

There have been efforts to pair diversity and inclusion as a tandem approach to rectifying and preventing conflicts pertaining to ethnic and socioeconomic and other differences. But the combination of these two may be “too little, too late.” Why? Because the institutionalization of the problem has already developed so broadly and deeply. There are now very sophisticated lobby groups and networks and fundraising channels, major legislation. There are all these wheels already turning, all these puzzle pieces intricately pieced together, and all these people employed in furthering the cause!

That overabundance of legislation is also a typical Innocence-Guilt–oriented response—where people say, “Well, we’ve got a problem; we need to put a policy or a procedure in place to make the problem go away.” And the belief is that policies and procedures are imperative, so that people will know that, if they behave poorly, if they do not conform, then they will be punished. They will receive consequences—a warning, a pay cut, a performance reprimand, etc..

Historically, with a problem-centric approach, many laws were created—laws were created primarily to eliminate the root problems. But at the same time, the laws themselves made it difficult for people even to relate to one another.

Some 400-500 laws related to the problem—legislation surrounding the different types of diversity—all those laws were put in place with the best of intentions. But even a passion for justice and the most virtuous intentions cannot take into account that multi-faceted intercultural problems must be tackled from a relationship-centric point of view as well as from a problem-centric point of view.

There are various scenarios where this disconnect manifests itself, situations where attempts to remove the root problem actually undermine any hope of repairing the relationships. For instance, a problem-centric approach and mandated diversity can in fact undo relational progress in HR, in performance management, in policies and procedures for dealing with grievances, the way harassment is handled, and so forth.

Too often in organizations, schools, and corporations, people misbehave—but the absolute first response—especially if that organization is more Innocence-Guilt–oriented in its heritage, as well as individual accountability–oriented—is to apply the age-old adage, “Action…reaction.” They think,

“People are misbehaving; therefore, let’s create a policy, so they will just stop misbehaving.”

Of course, that thinking is founded upon a fallacy, because creating a policy to curb poor behaviors means making the assumption that, once someone has been informed that something is now deemed inappropriate behavior, and informed that there will be dire consequences if that behavior continues—then that someone will “of course” decide to stop that behavior. And that is just not always the case.

Inclusiveness emphasizes the importance of relationships, ways we work together, what understandings and misunderstandings might jeopardize or advance relationships, how do we work together in the future and move forward. A focus on inclusivity reveals a recognition that “Oh, it is actually about relationship.”

Relationships—people—are why conflicts matter so much to us in the first place, right?

Shouldn’t we therefore incorporate relationship-centric factors into our approach to resolving relational conflict? It really is about relationships. It is about people. How we reconcile to one another, and how we work together and relate to one another in positive ways moving forward.

As was recommended in the previous articles (i.e., Parts 1 and 2 re: intercultural conflict resolution), further reading on the 12 Dimensions of Culture and Three Colors of Worldview would help in developing some groundwork understanding for how people from different sociocultural backgrounds deal differently with conflict, particularly in cross-cultural scenarios.


How do I find out my own Colors of Worldview?

For those who want to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Innocence-Guilt cultural paradigm, KnowledgeWorkx will be publishing several articles over the next few weeks that will explore all three of the Colors of Worldview in-depth. In fact, if you would like to learn about your own color(s), check out this opportunity to discover your own Three Colors of Worldview profile, and get a personalized report:


This series : Part 1 Part 2 Part 3


Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.



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