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Unformatted text preview: CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT Culture and Conflict Paul R. Kimmel f our world is to become a global village, the need for better understanding and communication among peoples from different cultures is crucial. Most of today's social and political issues transcend local or national interests and actions (Berman and Johnson, 1977). For example, common markets, resource shortages, ethnic conflicts, nuclear proliferation, natural disasters, drug and environmental problems, terrorism, and epidemics cannot be handled by individual nations. Relations among nations require meetings and communication among peoples with diverse cultural backgrounds. Whether the situation is bilateral or multilateral, the issues technical or ideological, and the standards for success victory or problem solutions, individuals from different cultures must communicate. Ideally, they will understand their basic cultural differences and create communalities that will facilitate their communications and problem solving. More likely, they will assume that they all share the same basic reality and thought processes and then experience conflicts and frustrations in their interactions when they find that they do not. I I use the term "microcultures" to refer to the communalities in meanings, norms of communication, and behavior; the shared perceptions and expectations; the roles and relationships that can develop among individuals from different cultural backgrounds as they interact over time. If no microcultures are created in such sit- uations, major misunderstandings and breakdowns are inevitable. The largely unconscious expectations and assumptions that public and private negotiators bring to these encounters from their own cultures that are not shared by their counterparts from other cultures are the basis of these problems. Because each 625 626 THE HANDBOOK OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION: THEORY AND PRACTICE /;s 11 i t> "S" negotiator thinks that the others could (and should) share their expectations and assumptions (their mind-sets), they assume that the others are misbehaving or ar e not serious about reaching agreements when they do the unexpected. That is, they attribute others* behaviors to their situational attitudes and goals rather than their cultural backgrounds. A dramatic case in point was the meeting between the rep- resentatives of the United States and Iraq in Geneva in January, 1991. Prior to this meeting between Secretary of State James Baker and Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad, the United States appointed a woman, April Glaspie, as its Ambassador to Iraq. The ambassador's gender and her status as a "Westerner" made her a very weak representative in the estimation of the Iraqis. Her status and the ambiguity of the message she had delivered warning King Hussein against invading Kuwait signaled to Hussein that the United States was not con- cerned with his "retaking of Iraq's territory." To him, what the United States did not say was more important than what it did say....
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- Spring '08
- The American