Cross-cultural differences in values and conflict management: a comparison of U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Author:Corey, Christy M.


An essential organizational skill for leaders is the ability to manage conflict (Hendel, Fish, & Galon, 2005). However, within the realm of international business, conflict management requires an understanding of multinational and multicultural differences that may increase the likelihood of conflict due to more frequent miscommunications and misunderstandings (e.g., Morris, Williams, Leung, Larrick, Mendoza, Bhatnagar, Li, Kondo, Luo, & Hu, 1998; Tsai & Chi, 2011). To further complicate the matter, once conflict is perceived, the manner in which individuals choose to deal with it varies according to their nationality and culture (e. g., Fisher, 1980; Leung, Bond, Carment, Krishnan, & Liebrand, 1990; Ting-Toomey, Yee-Jung, Shapiro, Garcia, Wright, & Oetzel, 2000; Tse, Francis, & Walls, 1994).

One common line of cross-cultural research in conflict management or resolution includes the comparison of Hispanic and non-Hispanic cultures. Most of this research focuses either on Hispanic-Americans (e.g., Cox, Lobel, & McLeod, 1991; Lind, Huo, & Tyler, 1994) or Mexicans (e.g., Gabrielidis, Stephan, Ybarra, dos Santos Pearson, & Villareal, 1997; Natlandsmyr & Rognes, 1995; Pelled, Xin, & Weiss, 2011; Posthuma, White, Dworkin, Yanez, & Swift, 2006). A better understanding of Hispanic cultures and conflict management is important as, proportionately, Hispanic-Americans have grown to be the largest minority in the United States representing 16.7% of the population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). Also, recent trade agreements have prompted a rise in international business involving U.S., Europe, and nations with Hispanic cultures in North, Central and South America. Across these geographic areas, the customs, traditions, and beliefs vary widely depending on the country. The tremendous diversity within the Hispanic population demands considerable caution against labeling and perceiving Hispanics as a single cultural or ethnic group (Baruth & Manning, 1992).

Yet, the empirical research on Hispanic cultural values and conflict management or negotiation tactics points to some consistencies (e.g., Cox et al., 1991; Gabrielidis et al., 1997; Lind et al., 1994); Hispanics are more likely to be collectivists, and collectivists are more likely to prefer conflict handling styles that emphasize concern for the outcome of others (Gabrielidis et al., 2006). In the current study, we compare cultural values and conflict handling style preferences of U.S. and Puerto Rican professionals in an effort to (1) expand the breadth of geographic areas with Hispanic cultures represented in this body of literature, and (2) examine whether previous findings regarding Hispanic cultures also generalize to professionals in this geographic area.

Although Puerto Rico is technically a territory of the U.S., we assert that it has a distinct, homogeneous Hispanic culture that can be distinguished from that of the continental U.S. To further explore culture-based differences between U.S. and Puerto Rican professionals, we consider the role of nine well-recognized cultural dimensions in the management of organization and individual conflict. We expect to find out whether there are any cultural value differences between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and, if so, what the differences are as they relate to conflict handling preferences.

One final goal of this study is to address methodological issues surrounding the traditional operationalization of preferred conflict handling style using raw score ratings. Raw scores ratings reflect the typical usage of, and not preference for, a given style of conflict management. In an effort to more accurately capture conflict handling style preferences, we examine the usefulness of dichotomous coding (preferred vs. non-preferred style) compared to the raw score ratings.

Culture and Values

Culture is composed of the shared implicit beliefs and tacit values that identify each culture as unique. There are many definitions of culture, similar in nature, yet with some nuances. Culture is the entire set of social norms and responses that condition people's behavior; it is acquired and inculcated, not inherited (Alas, 2006). Culture may also be described as shared motives, values, beliefs, identities and interpretations achieved from the common experience of the group over generations. It is unique to a group, a "collective programming" of the minds of the group members that differentiate it from other groups (Hofstede, 2001; Ma, 2010). Srnka (2004) suggests that culture can be identified at various levels of group size: from family and organization groups, which are narrow microcultures, to broader groups such as nations with similar economic systems, ethnic identities, or religions, the supraculture.

Hofstede (2001) associates culture with values, systems of which are core elements of culture. Values are described as broad tendencies to prefer certain states over others; they are the deepest expressions of culture. Morris et al. (1998) assert that "members of the same culture are likely to share a set of values acquired in the process of socialization--values that represent the acceptable modes of conduct in a particular society (p. 731)." Alas (2006) defines values as something explicitly or implicitly desirable to an individual or group that influences attitudes and decisions. Behavior is the final action of the decision-maker. Thus, values, attitudes and behaviors all combine to form an ongoing spiral of culture (Payne & Landry, 2005; Ma, 2010; Taras et al., 2011).

Based on one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture, Hofstede's (1980) proposed a set of four cultural values: individualism-collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance and masculinity-femininity. Most of the literature on cross-cultural conflict management emphasizes individualism-collectivism (e.g., Kaushal & Kwantes, 2006; Morris et al., 1998; Ohbuchi & Atsumi, 2010). Other well-established cultural values like long-term orientation and universalism receive considerably less empirical attention. In this effort, we seek to determine how Hofstede's original cultural values, augmented by others found in empirical research, relate to individual styles of conflict management. In total, we address nine cultural value dimensions, the natures and origins of which are subsequently described.

Cultural Value Dimensions

Hofstede (1980; 1991; 2001; Hofstede & Bond, 1988) developed well documented and replicated research on cultural value dimensions. As mentioned previously, the original cultural dimensions included individualism-collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance and masculinity-femininity. Confucian Dynamism, described as a short versus long term orientation and includes the idea of "facework" (Morris et al., 1998), was later added to aid in understanding Asian societal characteristics more fully.

Summarizing the work of Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961), McGuire et al. (2006) define five universal value orientations of all cultures, the culture's characteristics. These orientations are related to five questions that all humans in society must answer. First, what is the character of human nature--are people basically good, evil, or some combination? Second, what is the relation of humans to nature and the world surrounding them: are they masters of the universe or do they live in harmony with their environment? Further, the nature of time is a human orientation: does one live in the past, present, or future? The nature of interaction between a person and his environment is also addressed: societies can be designated as doing, being or becoming. Finally, the fifth question relates to our relations with each other as individuals or as part of a larger body, as collectivists.

To examine culture and conflict management style preference, we have used a combination of orientations based on the work of Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961), Hofstede and Hofstede and Bond. These orientations are heterogeneity, doing, determinism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, time orientation, "facework," and universalism. McGuire et al. (2006), Bowlby, McDermott, and Obar (2011), Lopez, Babin, and Chung (2009), Alas (2006), Soares, Farhangmehr and Shoham (2007), Franke and Nadler (2008) and Taras et al. (2011) all present definitional material relevant to this discussion of cultural dimensions.

Heterogeneity refers to the degree to which members of a group can tolerate differences in attitudes among in- and out-group members. If the group prefers similarity in attitudes and approaches, it is a more homogeneously oriented culture. Adaptation to the group's attitudes or behaviors is identifiable with a homogeneous orientation. More heterogeneous cultures may be marked by more creativity, as differences in approach are more readily tolerated or embraced. The individual's right to express his different opinion will be more readily tolerated, as well (Stebbins, 1996; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).

A culture's view of doing versus being is related to the degree to which a group embraces accomplishment rather than espousing the values found in leisure and family life. Similar in nature to Alas's (2006) concept of performance orientation, this orientation concerns the encouragement and/or reward for performance improvement or excellence (also cited in Resick, Hanges, Dickson, & Mitchelson, 2006). "Doing" cultures seek to achieve the most in life: more specific time planning can accelerate processes, while "being" cultures want to experience life: exact time planning is not essential.

Determinism is the third cultural dimension used in this research. This dimension encompasses the culture's view of world as fatalistic or "master of destiny." The fatalistic approach is the idea that the world controls the individual's environment. The master of destiny idea, however, is the belief that the individual...

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