Lately, intercultural relationships have become common, and this situation will only increase. However, not all is rosy for couples in this relationships. Several differences reportedly take center-stage in this relationships with many of the causes attributed to cultural, religious and social differences. The serious issue, therefore, is dealing with these conflicts.

In some cultures, conflict is seen as a positive influence that strengthens relationships, while in other cultures conflict is seen as problematic, high risk and costly which, can be avoided and managed before it erupts to reality. In a worst-case scenario, if a conflict is not resolved then it has the power to affect a relationship negatively.

Conflict in intercultural relationships may result from situational factors, personality differences or from implicit or explicit emotional struggles and frustrations between interdependent couples who hold diverse objectives. Other reasons why conflict may erupt between parties is because of scarce resources, poor communication, incompatible goals, finances, or unmet emotional needs. This has made most people to believe that all intercultural relationships are stressful, dysfunctional and have a greater chance of breaking up or ending in divorce.

Another point to note is that our expectations, behaviors, and attitudes are due to the influence of cultural patterns from our individualistic or collectivistic cultures, which have led to intercultural frustrations. Those from an individualistic culture will be concerned with self, while those from a collectivistic culture will display high concern for others. If these two individuals are put together, they may end up clashing because they have a different mindset.

It is true to say that conflicts are natural, inevitable and are bound to happen anywhere even in a diverse workplace. However, the most important thing that matters is how to manage the conflicts. Management of conflicts will determine the outcome.

Dimension of conflict

Conflict can take two dimensions they include concern for oneself or concern for others. When one is concerned for oneself, they can do anything possible to have their own way, regardless of the cost, harm, or damage they do to the other person. This is the known as the dominating or competing style. On the other hand, in compromising style the parties demonstrate high concern for another and low concern for oneself. While in a collaborative or integrative style both parties display high concern for each other.

People from the same cultural background will understand each other’s conflict approach styles much easier than people from a different culture. This is a clear indication how culture plays a big influence on how people deal with conflicts.

Conflict management approaches

  1. In dispositional approach, individuals learn through socialization combined with their personality traits. For instance, an extrovert will have a different conflict style approach to an introvert.
  2. A situational approach emphasizes on the topic of conflict, the situation, communication goals, type of relationship, and what led to the conflict. In this approach, parties can decide to engage or completely avoid the conflict.
  3. A system approach is the combination of the two. The individual differences are because of socialization while the situation is as an influence of the conflict.

Aspects of conflict resolution

Firstly, there should be the desire between parties to have that conflict resolved. Otherwise, it will be hard to try to resolve a conflict if parties are unwilling to corporate. Secondly, identify the cause of the conflict. Lastly, choose a viable method of conflict resolution. This is because different people have their own varied approach on how they solve conflicts. Therefore, it is important to use a resolution method that is suitable for all involved parties. This includes identifying the differences and similarities that exist between the conflicting parties and trying to strike a balance of interest. This will help to build a common ground when it comes to conflict resolution.

Couples can also involve a third party such as a mediator in cases where it seems impossible to resolve conflicts. The role of the mediator is to give parties equal opportunities to air their views while analyzing the cause of the problem and finding solutions to it. A mediator can be a trusted family member or a friend. When conflict is between employees in the workplace, then a mediator can be one of the co-workers. The chosen mediator should be a person who is unbiased even if they are related to the conflicting parties.

When it comes to conflict resolution, it is important to consider others’ perspectives because every culture is unique in its own way. Remember to be sensitive, adaptable, and flexible. Understanding the conflict differences in intercultural relations will help resolve or stop a conflict before it happens.