To read this content please select one of the options below:

Intercultural challenges in managing workplace conflict – a call for research

Jeanne Brett (Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA)

Cross Cultural & Strategic Management

ISSN: 2059-5794

Article publication date: 11 September 2017

Issue publication date: 30 January 2018




The purpose of this paper is to discuss cultural causes of conflict in the workplace and call for research to address what happens when cultures collide generating workplace conflict. The author assumes that because cultures differ in terms of functional solutions to problems of social interaction that there will be conflict when people from different cultures are interdependent in the workplace. The author discusses types of culture and their conflict management profiles with respect to three characteristics of conflict management: direct vs indirect confrontation; emotional expression, and third party conflict management. The author proposes what happens when cultures collide and calls for research on those collisions.


Application of the cultural literature on self-worth to three elements of workplace conflict: direct vs indirect confrontation of conflict, feelings and expressions of negative emotions associated with conflict and timing and type of third party intervention.


When people from dignity, face, and honor cultures are working together the fundamental differences in the logic of self-worth in these three types of culture may cause conflict. People from dignity and honor cultures are likely to confront conflict directly, while those from face cultures are more likely to confront conflict indirectly. Workplace conflict generates negative emotions, but culture seems to affect whether that emotion is anger, shame or both. The timing of third party intervention into workplace conflict, that is, how managers intervene in workplace conflict has some parallels with how community mediators act in that culture.

Research limitations/implications

There is limited research comparing management of workplace conflict in dignity, face, and honor cultures. The author generates propositions and suggests a research strategy for collecting data to test propositions.

Practical implications

Understanding what is culturally normative in terms of self-worth, confrontation, emotional expression, and managerial intervention can help people involved in workplace conflict understand what they are experiencing. It can also help managers intervene effectively.

Social implications

How people react to workplace conflict varies with culture as does how managers intervene. Knowing this provides people with the first element of cultural intelligence that may help them manage conflict to facilitate a more creative and effective multicultural work environment.


This paper integrates theory and research from cross-cultural psychology, the psychology of emotion and the literature on third party intervention into community conflict to explain the patterns of cultural conflict and conflict management in the workplace. It also suggests what it may take to manage cultural conflict in the workplace successfully.



Brett, J. (2018), "Intercultural challenges in managing workplace conflict – a call for research", Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 32-52.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles