CHARLOTTE – Handling conflict cross-culturally

Handling conflict cross-culturallyOne of my favorite quotes is one by C.S. Lewis. He wrote: “When things go wrong, you’ll find they usually go on getting worse for some time but when things once start going right they often go on getting better and better.”Everywhere in the world, things are going wrong and people are angry: Tornadoes damaging homes and killing people, wars robbing innocent civilians of their belonging and lives and criminal acts against good citizens. Problems and conflict can occur while traveling, too! When things go wrong, as they will inevitably, watch out!A Today’s Zaman reader sent this note to me about an experience they witnessed at a hotel recently on their trip in Turkey:Dear Charlotte: While my husband and I were staying in a hotel, I noticed a couple at the reception desk who seemed very irate. Evidently, they had some valuables stolen from their hotel room and were demanding the housekeeper be fired. They expected a different response from hotel staff than they received. In trying to get customer satisfaction, their only point of contact was with the person standing in front of them at the front desk. It became a real shouting match! We kept our distance and wondered how this problem would ever be solved. From: Karen Harris (Kentucky) Dear Karen: This is not an unusual scene when you are traveling abroad. For some odd reason, particularly when it involves a Western chain or franchise, people expect to receive the same standard of customer satisfaction as back home. However, if we are honest, we do not always get the customer service we wish for even back home. It seems tourists expect things to be like home, though. But they are not. This kind of problem can happen anywhere.When you travel in a foreign country where you are unfamiliar with the way things work, it is important to be able to recognize the signs of stress and to draw back. What do we mean by “when things go wrong“? Answer: When people become visibly upset. This can happen at the most unexpected times and under the most surprising circumstances.Sometimes it is best to not try to fix things on the spot. Most westerners feel the need to do just this.There are some points to keep in mind when addressing a problem in Turkey. The best thing to do is to have a Turk help you if you do not speak Turkish (and often even if you do!). This can be for some of us Westerners a real pride thing, as back home we fixed everything ourselves.When things go wrong, the odds for misunderstanding are high. I have seen foreigners in Turkey raising their voices and pounding on desks. But if you are smart, you quickly learn if you live here that this will rarely bring about positive results.Here is what I recommend: Find an understanding Turk with whom you can communicate. Approach the person with whom you have conflict with caution and respect in a low-key manner and let the Turk do most or all the talking for you. Avoid the blame game. Americans invariably do this as part of our confrontational, litigious style. Cut your losses and repair the damage. This can be hard. It all depends on how seriously the person has been offended. Try to make people feel good again and try to establish harmony. If you can say you are sorry even though you may not be the one who should be saying it, progress will be made. Learn to read the body language and signs of the other person. The signs may be subtle ones of reluctance or distress or different forms of angry expressions. A few indications of reluctance and distress are when requests are not acted upon when the person replies, “I will do my best” or when he looks doubtful and doesn’t promise anything and says “tamam” or “peki” (OK).The one thing you do not want to do in this shame-based culture is to offend the person, even if he is in the wrong. You do not want the person you are addressing to think that you think he is in the wrong. If the person thinks you are accusing him, he will completely shut down: Their mind will be closed to your protests.Remember, anger can be felt in a more passive form but not expressed. The good thing is once you break through the conflict barrier, things get bette

SOURCE: Todays Zaman