Intercultural conflict – taking the bull by the horns

Intercultural conflict – taking the bull by the horns

The East is doing more business with the West than ever before – with joint ventures now accounting for more than a third of China’s direct foreign investment. Increasing collaboration between businesses from opposite corners of the globe is always to be celebrated, of course. But managing teams comprised of people from very different cultural backgrounds isn’t always easy. Unresolved misunderstandings can lead to missed deadlines and sometimes jobs that simply do not get delivered.


Indirect and direct conflict managementinterculturalskills jobisjob Intercultural conflict – taking the bull by the horns

It is widely acknowledged that there are fundamental cultural differences underpinning between the way in which the West and East approach conflict management. In the East, personal relationships are seen as essential to achieving business goals and dealing with conflict, wherever it arises. In the West, mixing the professional and the personal is seen as an impediment to entrepreneurial success, if anything, and should definitely not become an element of conflict resolution. We just want to get the job done. These two very different approaches have been labelled as ‘indirect’ and ‘direct conflict management’. And to become a truly culturally ambidextrous business person, it helps to understand how they both work.

Western business people are more likely to place less importance on getting along well with those that they work with. They don’t feel that it’s necessary to like a counterpart or colleague in order to work with them. East Asians prize interpersonal harmony, respect and empathy highly and deliver their best to the individuals and teams that they find pleasant to do business with. When things go wrong, they’re happy to discuss it. Third-party intervention should not be a last minute resort either; because saving face is key to successful conflict resolution in the East, they can be called on as soon as possible.

Key takeaways

  • In East Asian cultures, people and work are seen as parts of a whole, not separate elements
  • If unresolved, indirect conflict can escalate into public shaming! Be careful…
  • Apologies are not offered as admissions of guilt, but expressions of genuine remorse intended to restore harmony

In conclusion, if your company or team are working with a team from the other side of the world, keenly observing the small things will help you to get the big things in place. Look out for signals that things aren’t going as planned, or that someone vital to the success of the project isn’t happy. Ask a third party to mediate – as soon as you can.


Esperanto – the international language

Esperanto – the international language

On the 26th July1887, under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto (one who hopes), the Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist Ludwik Zamenhof published Unua Libra, a book about a new auxiliary language – Esperanto, which he hoped would become a widely-adopted means of international communication.

In this book, he outlined his three goals for Esperanto:

  1. To render the study of the language so easy as to make its acquisition mere play to the learner.
  2. To enable the learner to make direct use of his knowledge with persons of any nationality, whether the language be universally accepted or not; in other words, the language is to be directly a means of international communication.
  3. To find some means of overcoming the natural indifference of mankind, and disposing them, in the quickest manner possible, and en masse, to learn and use the proposed language as a living one, and not only in last extremities, and with the key at hand.

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Zamenhof’s aspirations for Esperanto were ambitious, but it is probably the most successful constructed language in the world. It is spoken by around 2 million people worldwide. Although it is a constructed or artificial language, some of these are native speakers, having learned it from birth. There are also a large number of organisations that support people interested in, involved with and learning Esperanto. The Universal Esperanto Association ( is probably the largest, with members in 120 countries. It has even been adopted by Google Translate. Facebook, always a good place to research trends, report 350,000 users declaring Esperanto as a spoken language.

And, despite the continuing popularity of English as a universal language, Esperanto is actively used, sought and studied to this day. The take-up of a recent Duolingo course ( highlights this – by November last year, over 600,000 users had signed up to study. Esperanto is clearly one to watch!