OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Cross-Cultural Communication Strategies

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The key to effective cross-cultural communication is knowledge. First, it is essential that people understand the potential problems of cross-cultural communication, and make a conscious effort to overcome these problems. Second, it is important to assume that one’s efforts will not always be successful, and adjust one’s behavior appropriately.

For example, one should always assume that there is a significant possibility that cultural differences are causing communication problems, and be willing to be patient and forgiving, rather than hostile and aggressive, if problems develop. One should respond slowly and carefully in cross-cultural exchanges, not jumping to the conclusion that you know what is being thought and said.

William Ury’s suggestion for heated conflicts is to stop, listen, and think, or as he puts it "go to the balcony" when the situation gets tense. By this he means withdraw from the situation, step back, and reflect on what is going on before you act. This helps in cross cultural communication as well. When things seem to be going badly, stop or slow down and think. What could be going on here? Is it possible I misinterpreted what they said, or they misinterpreted me? Often misinterpretation is the source of the problem.

Active listening can sometimes be used to check this out–by repeating what one thinks he or she heard, one can confirm that one understands the communication accurately. If words are used differently between languages or cultural groups, however, even active listening can overlook misunderstandings.

Often intermediaries who are familiar with both cultures can be helpful in cross-cultural communication situations. They can translate both the substance and the manner of what is said. For instance, they can tone down strong statements that would be considered appropriate in one culture but not in another, before they are given to people from a culture that does not talk together in such a strong way. They can also adjust the timing of what is said and done. Some cultures move quickly to the point; others talk about other things long enough to establish rapport or a relationship with the other person. If discussion on the primary topic begins too soon, the group that needs a "warm up" first will feel uncomfortable. A mediator or intermediary who understands this can explain the problem, and make appropriate procedural adjustments.

Yet sometimes intermediaries can make communication even more difficult. If a mediator is the same culture or nationality as one of the disputants, but not the other, this gives the appearance of bias, even when none exists. Even when bias is not intended, it is common for mediators to be more supportive or more understanding of the person who is of his or her own culture, simply because they understand them better. Yet when the mediator is of a third cultural group, the potential for cross-cultural misunderstandings increases further. In this case engaging in extra discussions about the process and the manner of carrying out the discussions is appropriate, as is extra time for confirming and re-confirming understandings at every step in the dialogue or negotiating process.


Links to Examples of This Approach:

William Gudykunst and Young Yun Kim -- Communicating With Strangers: An Approach to Intercultural Communication
This article summarizes the problems inherent in intercultural communications and what can be done to reduce those problems.
Managing Communications
This is a very short article which illustrates that care is necessary in communication between people who work in different settings, even if they are, ostensibly, from the same "culture."
Roger Fischer, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Schneider -- Explore Partisan Perceptions
This is an illustration which shows how preconceptions can change what people see, and how that must be accounted for in cross-cultural communication.
Elise Boulding -- The Challenge of Imaging Peace in Wartime
This short article describes the need for "cross-cultural imaging" as well as simple cross-cultural communication if international understanding and conflict resolution is to be achieved.
Andrea Williams -- Resolving Conflict in a Multicultural Environment
This article discusses the cultural dimension of conflict and conflict resolution in the context of local governments.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin -- The Same and Different: Crossing Boundaries of Color, Culture, Sexual Preference, Disability and Age
This article explores adjustments that are required to forge cross-cultural friendships.
Estevan Flores - Leadership Training As a Tool For Confronting Racial and Ethnic Conflicts -
In this article, Flores discusses the importance of leadership training to improve skills in multicultural discourse and problem solving.
A Beginner's Guide to International Business Negotiation
Effective cross cultural communication is critical in this context and is discussed in this essay.
Rethinking the Culture-Negotiation Link
This article reviews four different approaches to understanding the impact of culture on negotiation.

Links to Outside Examples

Chinese Political Negotiating Behavior - by Richard Solomon
This article explores in detail the Chinese negotiating strategy used during the process of negotiating a normalization of relations with the United States.


Links to examples of Related Approaches


Communication Skills Improvement

Active Listening


Links to examples of Related Problems:

Communication Skills Improvement

Failure to Understand an Opponent's Perspective

Language Differences

Misinterpretation of Communication

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu