Warning: Don’t Do This to Avoid World War 3 During Multicultural Meetings

Most people tend to feel threatened about others who seem to have differing belief systems from theirs. One of the reasons is that most people are set on their ways of thinking and doing things, and are so afraid of conflict. What people don’t realize is that conflict is natural, given that we all are unique individuals coming from different backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, religious and political beliefs, economic standing, and other such categories.

The key is in harmonizing the differences in perspective and coming up with fresh, creative, innovative ways of doing things. In executive recruitment, it helps for the executive head hunter to consider candidates with conflict mediation skills to have leaders who are adept at managing and resolving such conflicts. In cases where the candidates don't have these, the company may train them in conflict resolution.

In this article, we discuss some things to effectively handle conflicts that may arise during multicultural team meetings.

  1. Don't let people viciously attack each other during discussions.

    It is good to emphasize the diversity of opinions of people around the table, according to their own different backgrounds.

    To help people be more comfortable with constructive criticism and friendly debates, make everyone understand that when someone scrutinizes a point, that person is scrutinizing the idea, and not the person. It is never about attacking an individual, but more about helping clarify and improve on one's idea and manner of delivery. The aim is actually to help their colleagues improve, not bring them down.

    However, it is also important to have sessions on effective and non-violent feedback/communication among your team before starting such discussions. This is to ensure that everyone is equipped with the right language and diplomatic approaches before going into crucial discussions that might make or break the team.

  2. Don't limit discussions in formal settings.

    Instead, try other venues for critical discussions.

    If differences in perspective and opinion due to cultural differences are turning group meetings into difficult situations, try back channels such as pre-meetings, post-meetings, informal conversations or impromptu group discussions. This encourages feedback in different ways.

    It is also good to break the group into smaller sub-groups, since some people are more comfortable expressing themselves in more intimate settings. In many cultures, the actual team meeting is usually just to formalize or approve what has already been decided in pre-meetings. Do not take for granted the one-on-one informal venues for discussion.

  3. Don't think that people are not capable of change.

    People are actually more capable of adapting than what we give them credit for, and they may just need a safe environment to gradually learn to adjust.

    When the work place is a safe space, it’s easier to encourage people to share about their values which serve as guide of their decision-making process and behavior. Knowing about a colleagues’ value system helps in spotting the similarities and differences that can serve as the focal point in identifying common values, which is essential in harmonizing relationships of the team.

    Thus, don't overlook the importance of team building. Organize activities that would help get people on the same page in terms of your company's vision, values, language and culture. Once there is social cohesion among the team, cultural barriers tend to no longer be an issue.

    When you facilitate meetings with a multicultural group, always be mindful of the varying needs of your colleagues in terms of approaches:

    • How do you approach brainstorming, decision-making and conflict resolution in a way that everyone is amenable with?
    • How do you ensure that people coming from the minority culture are not marginalized by those from the dominant culture?

    These are additional things for you to ponder on to improve facilitation of multicultural meetings.

When globalization's wheels of change started turning, it broke down barriers to international economic relations which enabled companies to take their operations global. Breaking down walls in the economic sector opened opportunities to explore new markets and conduct business in other countries.

Follow our blog to read our next series on Cross-cultural Business Etiquette to know about a specific country's business practices, to avoid offending a potential business partner and, ultimately, to help you seal the deal.

Global Executive Solutions Group (GESG) is a premiere executive search firm that provides highly qualified leaders to complement top management teams in the Philippines. It offers end-to-end recruitment solutions including succession planning, professional development and outplacement services in the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific Region. Contact us today for customized solutions to your executive search problems!