IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Intercultural communication and peace

Hi, me again.  Many believe that effective communication is essential to achieving and maintaining peace, and, therefore, that improving communication across cultural “divides” can be an important factor in conflict resolution and peace processes.  It would be naive to think that all international conflict comes from misunderstandings, but it would also be naive to underestimate the extent to which such misunderstandings do play a role in how conflicts are “framed” by the various protagonists.  This is very important, as one might imagine, for the practice of international diplomacy:

“The cultural diversity issue is posed for the diplomat more sharply than before on account of some new elements. First, the breadth of diversities is far greater than what confronted the earlier generations of professionals, in a global community of some 189 UN member-states. Second, we live in an age when diversity is celebrated, and burnished with pride more than ever earlier. Third, within countries, there are sub-state diversities that have gained new impetus around the world, and this adds to the cultural management challenge. We see this in differences, between regions, communities and religious and ethnic groups. For instance, the same Europe that is witness to the world’s most intensive political unification process via the EU, now enjoys greater diversity at subsidiary levels. Fourth, the professional diplomat is less homogenous in background and training, and his/her values are no longer cast in the same template as could be assumed even a few decades in the past. Further, this diplomat has dealings with a far wider range of government officials and those outside the government, especially the civil society representatives, academia, and other constituencies, at home and aboard. Taken together, all these elements constitute a strong cross-culture management challenge. ” [taken from here ]

These issues all come into play in the practice of negotiation, a central activity in almost all diplomacy.   What has been learned the hard way by many countries, and perhaps most notably, the U.S., is that negotiation style is culture-specific, and if you don’t understand this you may make costly errors at the “table.”  For example, Americans tend to use a quid pro quo approach:  “we” make a concession and expect “them” to do the same.  However, other cultures, like the Chinese, will just take whatever you are giving away “free” until you stop giving things away, with no sense of obligation to reciprocate.  In this context, it would clearly, be a bad idea to continuing making concessions in hopes that the other side will eventually start to respond as expected.  Here is a summary of a well known book on this subject.

As globalization brings us closer and closer together–whether we like it or not–and populations become more diverse, the skills of intercultural communication become increasingly important even within countries.  This is definitely an area where a modest amount of relevant knowledge can help one avoid misunderstandings and overcome conflicts at many levels.

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February 7, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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