Date of publication: 2017-09-02 11:02
These differences of interpretation may lead to conflict, or escalate existing conflict. Suppose a Japanese person is explaining her absence from negotiations due to a death in her family. She may do so with a smile, based on her cultural belief that it is not appropriate to inflict the pain of grief on others. For a Westerner who understands smiles to mean friendliness and happiness, this smile may seem incongruous and even cold, under the circumstances. Even though some facial expressions may be similar across cultures, their interpretations remain culture-specific. It is important to understand something about cultural starting-points and values in order to interpret emotions expressed in cross-cultural interactions.
 Louis Kriesberg in a draft version of "Nature, Dynamics, and Phases of Intractability" a chapter in a forthcoming book edited by Chester Crocker, Fen Hampson, and Pamela Aall on Intractable Conflicts (exact title as yet unknown), to be published by . Institute of Peace Press.
Rosalia Rodriguez-Garcia, et al. "How Can Health Serve as a Bridge for Peace?" Available online at http:///publications/policy/gwc-67-a-.
In the East, time feels like it has unlimited continuity, an unraveling rather than a strict boundary. Birth and death are not such absolute ends since the universe continues and humans, though changing form, continue as part of it. People may attend to many things happening at once in this approach to time, called polychronous. This may mean many conversations in a moment (such as a meeting in which people speak simultaneously, "talking over" each other as they discuss their subjects), or many times and peoples during one process (such as a ceremony in which those family members who have died are felt to be present as well as those yet to be born into the family).
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The potential for conflict exists whenever people have different needs, values, or interests this is the "latent" conflict stage. The conflict may not become apparent until a "triggering event" leads to the emergence (or beginning) of the obvious conflict. Emergence may be followed quickly by settlement or resolution , or it may be followed by escalation , which can become very destructive.
This variable is important to understanding cultural conflict. If someone invested in free will crosses paths with someone more fatalistic in orientation, miscommunication is likely. The first person may expect action and accountability. Failing to see it, they may conclude that the second is lazy, obstructionist, or dishonest. The second person will expect respect for the natural order of things. Failing to see it, they may conclude that the first is coercive or irreverent, inflated in his ideas of what can be accomplished or changed.
Another variable across cultures has to do with proxemics, or ways of relating to space. Crossing cultures, we encounter very different ideas about polite space for conversations and negotiations. North Americans tend to prefer a large amount of space, perhaps because they are surrounded by it in their homes and countryside. Europeans tend to stand more closely with each other when talking, and are accustomed to smaller personal spaces. In a comparison of North American and French children on a beach, a researcher noticed that the French children tended to stay in a relatively small space near their parents, while . children ranged up and down a large area of the beach.
Also related to space is the degree of comfort we feel moving furniture or other objects. It is said that a German executive working in the United States became so upset with visitors to his office moving the guest chair to suit themselves that he had it bolted to the floor. Contrast this with . and Canadian mediators and conflict-resolution trainers, whose first step in preparing for a meeting is not infrequently a complete rearrangement of the furniture.
Source: Rodriguez-Garcia, et al., "How Can Health Serve as a Bridge for Peace?" Available online at http:///publications/policy/gwc-67-a-.
All of these models are idealized. Actual conflicts usually do not follow a linear path. Rather, they evolve in fits and starts, alternatively experiencing progress and setbacks toward resolution. The lack of linear progress helps to give the conflict a sense of intractability. Escalation may resume after temporary stalemate or negotiation. Escalation and de-escalation may alternate. Negotiations may take place in the absence of a stalemate. However, these models are still useful, because most conflicts pass through similar stages at least once in their history.