Cross-cultural conflict resolution

Successful conflict resolution comprises three aspects:

  1. Desire and necessity for the conflict to be resolved
  2. Understanding of possible barriers to the resolution of the conflict
  3. The choice of method of conflict resolution.

1.  Desire and necessity for the conflict to be resolved

To resolve cross-cultural conflicts or misunderstandings, community service and disability service workers need to be committed to resolving potential conflicts and take responsibility for bridging the cultural gaps.

They must:

  • have self-awareness of their own cultural practice, including prejudice, stereotyping and bias
  • understand various cultural factors contributing to cultural differences
  • be sensitive and appreciate a migrant’s migration experience
  • have a good knowledge of, and skills in, communication
  • be able to work with interpreters
  • be willing to accept and appreciate other cultures.

(modified from Lachowicz 1997)

2.  Understanding of possible resistances

During the conflict resolution process, you might experience internal resistance to recognition of problems or problem-solving.

This resistance may take the form of:

  • resistance to examining your own values
  • resistance to acknowledging your own cultural stereotyping or bias
  • denial of the existence of conflict
  • tendency to blame others for causing problems
  • looking for the right time to deal with conflicts.
  • You must take prime responsibility for exploring the barriers and minimising this resistance to conflict resolution.

3.  Methods of conflict resolution

Different people might accept different conflict resolution methods, so it is important to use methods or approaches that are suitable to all parties and enlist the help of acceptable people in resolving cross-cultural conflicts.

To resolve conflicts arising from cultural differences, you need to:

  • identify the similarity and differences between your cultural practice and those of the person in conflict with you
  • acknowledge the differences and attempt to balance the interests of both parties.

Build on common ground

Instead of focusing on the differences, you could look for common ground between you and the other party, and build on it.

Break down power structure

The imbalance of power between community service and disability service workers and clients or between co-workers is an obstacle for conflict resolution.

  • Clients may feel powerless: Such feelings may act as a force of resistance in the conflict resolution process. One way to break the power structure is to respect clients as experts in their own conditions.
  • Power differences also exist between workers, due to seniority: The focus should be directed to the cause of conflict instead of seniority of the position.

Use of mediation

Mediation means to have a middle person acting in the role as a go-between or facilitator. The role of mediator is to provide both parties with opportunities to put forward their views and assist in analysing the problem and looking for solutions.

Mediation with clients or their family

If you have conflict with a client or a client’s family members, you could approach your team leader to act as a mediator or you may seek external mediators from multicultural organisations (with the client’s or their family member’s consent).

Mediation with co-workers

When you have conflict with co-workers, you could use the conflict resolution process or the grievance procedure used in your workplace.

Both of these processes would involve a mediator. The mediator could be:

  • a senior from your discipline area, if you and the co-worker are from the same discipline
  • a team leader or other senior staff member
  • an independent person from human resources management.

Cultural diversity and the law

People coming from different cultures and from different countries need to learn about the Australian family law system. This can take time and may require agency support, assistance, consultation and mediation.

Situation 1

In Australia unsafe driving and driving with only a learner’s permit or unlicensed may result in legal action or jail. In addition it may put the family and the driver at risk, or cause accidents where others may be seriously injured.

In the eyes of the courts, pleading ignorance of the laws is not an acceptable excuse. Therefore it is important that people from other cultures are given appropriate assistance to learn and observe the laws of Australia. Getting into trouble with the police several times can result in the offender being blacklisted; this can lead to further difficulties in settling into the community.

Situation 2

In Australia domestic violence (DV) and child abuse are taken very seriously. There are equal rights between the husband and the wife, as well as children’s rights.

The husband scolding or hitting the wife may be normal and acceptable in another culture but it is against the law in Australia. The law is similar for children. Educating people from other cultures about these laws is a difficult process and it takes time for these people to adjust and integrate into the mainstream society. It is important for these families to have access to the appropriate support and consultation systems to assist in the acculturation process.

Care should be taken when child safety authorities take children away from the family. These people may still be used to the old way of bringing up children and they may think that their approach is the best for the child, who is expected to respect parents and elders.

Using cultural consultation services

In the conflict resolution process, you could approach organisations that specialise in cross-cultural practice or an ethno-specific service for advice or cultural consultation.  If the other party agrees, you could consider inviting external mediators to assist with conflict resolution.

The Conflict Resolution Network website has devised 12 steps to conflict resolution


Protocols for Consultation and Negotiation with Aboriginal People: Protocols for working with Aboriginal and TSI communities.

Case study: Day respite care

Read the following case study and complete the task that follows.

Ravi is a new male client from Indian background who has been admitted to your day respite centre.  Ravi has a disability. You are the disability services officer.  You have tried to talk to him a few times but he gives very limited responses such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’; however he seems to engage better with the male community service volunteer on the enquiries desk.

The clients are served lunch each day. Sometimes Ravi finishes his meal but at other times does not touch it.  You realise that his family has been bringing food to him.  He sometimes meditates in his chair.

Work through the communication checklist to see how the disability services officer could better meet Ravi’s needs and prevent any potential cross-cultural conflict.

Checklist item


Have I asked the client their preferred language?

Appears you have not asked him what his preferred language is.

Does the client understand basic instructions given?

Appears to understand basic instructions and gives ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers. The male officer to whom Ravi speaks may be able to provide more information about his language skills.

Does the client request or require an interpreter?

Client has not requested an interpreter but should be asked if this would be preferable.

Is there anyone who could provide assistance with language to gather basic information before the interpreter can be arranged?

Did not explore if anyone could assist before an interpreter can be arranged.  Ravi’s family may be of assistance.

Have I asked about any gender preference for their disability services officer?

Appears that you have not asked about any gender preference for their disability services officer but client seems to relate better to a male worker.

Any religious preference or dietary needs?

Unsure as to any religious preferences but client does meditate in his chair, so this indicates he is engaged in some form of spiritual practice.
Have not asked specifically about dietary needs.  Client seems to like only certain types of food provided by the centre and supplements this with food brought in by his family. Some foods such as beef may be off limits because of religious beliefs.

Have I asked the client about issues, problems, concerns or unmet needs they have experienced in this centre?

No, but this would be advisable at this stage.

What level of involvement does the family prefer?

The family has not indicated any preference and it appears they have not been asked.  It would be desirable to inquire about this.

Are there any bilingual services or workers currently working with the client who need to be involved?

There do not appear to be any bilingual services or workers currently working with the client but it may be useful to engage some.

Did I provide clear information about follow-up action required?

Have not yet provided information about follow-up action.

Do I need a written backup for the client to take home?

May or may not be necessary at this stage.

Is the client able to understand the follow-up plan and agree with it?

May or may not be necessary at this stage.

Last modified: Wednesday, 12 December 2018, 11:24 AM