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Managing Cross-Cultural Conflicts – Expressive or Instrumental

Understanding the nature of conflict is important to its management. Gudykunst and Kim (2003) argue conflicts are inevitable and understanding the nature of conflict is critical to developing and maintaining lasting relationships (p 296). Literature reveals several sources of conflict. First, they occur when people misinterpret behaviors (Gudykunst and Kim, 2003, p 296). Research has established that we view our surroundings through our own cultural lenses and filters (Foster, 2012). Second, conflict arises from perceptions of incompatibility, such as personalities or group characteristics (Gundykunst and Kim, 2003, p 296). When there appears an affront to one’s culture, members of that culture will defend it in what Sire called cultural relativism or the need to preserve the culture from threat of change (Foster, 2012). Gundykunst and Kim (2003) argue culture influences the ways we think about conflicts and our preferences for managing then (p 297). They posit that conflict arises from either instrumental or expressive sources (Gundykunst and Kim, 2003, p 297). Expressive conflicts arise from a desire to release tension, usually generated from hostile feelings and Instrumental conflicts stem from a difference in goals or practices. Finally, conflict arises when people disagree on the cause of their own or other people’s behavior (Gundykunst and Kim, 2003, p 296). All incidents of conflict have the same thing in common: polarized communication. Polarized Communication occurs when the communicators have the “inability to believe or seriously consider one’s view as wrong and the other’s opinion as truth (Gundykunst and Kim, 2003, p 295). Understanding culture and its values aids the communicator in dealing with conflict resolution (Foster, 2012). Dealing with cross-cultural conflict implies that one must deal with certain preferences for conflict styles based on cultural individualism-collectivism and power distance (Gundykunst and Kim, 2003, p 303).


Gundykunst, William B., and Kim, Young Yun (2003). Communicating with Strangers – 4th Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Foster, Philip (2012). Retrieved from his posting: Blackboard Dialogues for Doctorate in Strategic Leadership, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA.


Philip A Foster, MA is Founder/CEO of Maximum Change Inc. Elevating leaders and their organizations to the next level since 2005. Master Certified Coach, Philip A Foster, MA and his associates facilitate effective positive change by helping organizations, leaders and individuals in high demand — design and implement strategies that maximize focus and deliver results. Specializing in Organization and Strategic Leadership.

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