Conflict Management

If America is the Melding Pot[i]or melting pot if you prefer of the world, then Silicon Valley has to be the hottest part of the Pot. People come here from all over the world to share their ideas or seek their fortunes in this hotbed of technology. Others come here to escape oppression in their home countries or just to thrive in an economy that is booming most of the time. Whatever their reasons, their blend of cultures is something to behold. Standing in line at the supermarket, one can hear a half dozen languages blending together, or smell the kitchen aromas of Mexican, Viet Namese, Chinese, and Indian restaurants, all in the two minutes it takes to walk from one end of a strip mall to the other.

In the late 1970s through most of the 1980s, I had occasion to work for two large companies from opposite ends of the world – one from Germany and another from Connecticut, and I recall one of my colleagues at the time commenting that there was a bigger cultural difference between the East Coast and West Coast of the USA than between either coast and his native Germany. At one point, I had people from Mexico, India, Pakistan, Viet Nam, Taiwan, and Malaysia, all mixed with a crowd of regular old round-eyed western-European-American mongrels, on my staff at the same time[ii]The mix presented some pretty challenging management “opportunities”, I might add.. Outside of the workplace, close friends included one couple from Africa and another from Russia, yet surprisingly, the most striking differences were between a Cupertino family [iii]3rd or 4th generation Italian-American family from New York and a Sunnyvale couple [iv]2nd generation Japanese-American.

During occasional Italian dinners at the home of Paul and Silvia from New York, I often witnessed something totally foreign to me.  A disagreement of some sort would arise between the two of them, often including one or more of their children, which would erupt into a shouting match with name-calling, door-slamming, and throwing things. I was shocked and amazed to see adults behave that way because nothing like that would have been even contemplated in my family, at least not after the age of 3 years or so. Ironically, a few minutes after the shouting had stopped, everyone seemed back to normal, as if nothing had happened. I might have had a hint of similar “Aggressive” conflict management by watching “All In The Family” on TV, but I had never actually witnessed anything quite like it.

At around the same time, Isao and I had become quite a good friends. I don’t think I ever heard his wife’s given name spoken – she was known to me only as Kania San or more appropriately as Kania Sama, which is how Isao addressed her. I never witnessed an uncomfortable moment between them, although I have no doubt they had plenty – they just had very different ways of dealing with disagreements. I surmised from his comments that, when a conflict arose, each one would slowly make subtle adjustments in their positions until they came together in a “Respectful” manner. Isao and I never discussed the conduct of the New Yorkers, but there were times when we witnessed it together and I could see that he was even more shocked and embarrassed than I was. If Kania Sama were to experience such an ordeal, it would have brought her to tears.

Both these codes of conduct, the “Aggressive” one and the “Respectful” one were considered normal within each family, but the New Yorkers would likely say that the Kanias were trying to avoid conflict, and the Kanias might view the New Yorkers as savage Gaijin.[v]The word “seiyohjin” is probably more correct but Gaijin is more commonly heard to describe an unwelcome foreigner.  I am sure both traditions go back generations and are appropriate for each, so my intention here is not to criticize or endorse either. I simply emphasize that even though these extremes are not reconcilable within a single relationship, they can be “managed”, albeit with considerable effort[vi]… and a daily regimen of 50mg of Valium on both sides.

When confronting the need to “manage” such matters, it is well advised to consider the following.

  1. Words matter, particularly unfriendly ones, and are remembered by most people.
  2. Unexplained silence or isolation matters too, particularly to those expecting to hear unfriendly words.
  3. Unfriendly words, spoken entirely within “Aggressive” families can vanish quickly.
  4. Unfriendly words spoken within “Respectful” families do not go away easily.
  5. Unfriendly words exchanged between “Aggressive” and “Respectful” families push families apart.
  6. Ignoring or attempting to justify damage caused by unfriendly words begets more unfriendly words.
  7. A timely Apology from either side can begin to mitigate the effects of unfriendly words.

 

As for a personal perspective, name-calling and door-slamming are not things I am accustomed to, and the only time I might raise my voice in conversation would be if an airplane is flying overhead. My nuclear family doesn’t even interrupt or attempt to talk over one another in Competitive Talking, considering that to be rude and disrespectful.  Some would describe my experience as “avoiding conflict”, but I would describe it more as “managing conflict”.[vii]I say “managing” because there are times when resolution is not possible. Consider James Carville and Mary Matalin. They seem to be happily married but could not possibly be farther apart on the political scale; or relationships between Muslim and Hindu, or an Irish maiden and a black African, who speaks 6db loader?.

For someone to accuse me of an ill deed or call me an ugly name, as the New Yorkers did routinely, leaves a scar on my heart, and accumulated scars are almost impossible to heal. The long-term effect is a wall of self-protection, which leads me to put forth this New Year’s Resolution.

By: Jim
Written: circa 2019
Published: December 2022
Revised: December 2023
Reader feedback always appreciated[viii]. . thoughtful commentary perhaps more so than shallow thoughts
footnotes
footnotes
i or melting pot if you prefer
ii The mix presented some pretty challenging management “opportunities”, I might add.
iii 3rd or 4th generation Italian-American family from New York
iv 2nd generation Japanese-American
v The word “seiyohjin” is probably more correct but Gaijin is more commonly heard to describe an unwelcome foreigner.
vi … and a daily regimen of 50mg of Valium
vii I say “managing” because there are times when resolution is not possible. Consider James Carville and Mary Matalin. They seem to be happily married but could not possibly be farther apart on the political scale; or relationships between Muslim and Hindu, or an Irish maiden and a black African, who speaks 6db loader?
viii . . thoughtful commentary perhaps more so than shallow thoughts