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When Confrontation Is Business, How Does Your Culture Stack Up?

  • Post published:March 4, 2015

The art of business: who wrote the rules? Who decided what interactions were best abstained from? Who first figured out that beer is the best facilitator? Most importantly, who first realized that without confrontation, there was no progress?


[kon-fruh n-tey-shuh n, -fruhn-]
1. a meeting of persons face to face.
2. an open conflict of opposing ideas, forces, etc.
3. a bringing together of ideas, themes, etc., for comparison.

a technique used in group therapy, as in encounter groups, in which one is forced to recognize one’s shortcomings and their possible consequences.
Business is all about opposing ideas; it’s what keeps the world going ’round. The world, filled with thousands of differing cultures, hundreds of thousands of languages and dialects and millions of cities, small to large, with varying lines of thought.
When Confrontation Is Business, How Does Your Culture Stack Up? 1
So, then, it stands to reason that confrontation is a common occurrence. But when these same cultures have such polar views on not only the meaning of “confrontation,” but the societal normalcy and politeness of it, issues in communication are bound to arise.
According to several studies, different regions of the world see confrontation differently and thus handle business transactions differently. Two years ago, Harvard Business Journal claimed that the secret to arguing across cultures rested in what each region found appropriate.

Do you tackle problems with colleagues, partners, and customers head-on? If so, chances are you’re from Western Europe or North America and, our research suggests, vulnerable to blind spots when working with people from other parts of the world. And if you’re from an East Asian culture, the subtle cues you rely on to signal your disagreement may be sailing right past Westerners.

In much of the West, it is considered maddeningly inefficient to talk around an issue, whereas East Asians tend to view direct confrontation as immature and unnecessary. That difference amounts to a frustrating cultural divide in how people solve problems at work.

In software, these findings are especially relevant as the ultimate success or death of a project is contingent upon communication; mutual understandings on what means what.

Approaching a project manager regarding an issue in North America, for example, may be seen as both constructive and necessary whereas in Asian countries might find it damning to both relationship and productivity.

Though confrontation is important when considering the art of business, it’s true that it’s but one example of the myriad ways our cultures affect our professional success. So, next time you’re doing business with a partner overseas, consider the norms and behave accordingly; your ventures will be better for it.

Images: Giphy (1)