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Being open-minded after I do – A discussion and tips on the blending of an intercultural relationship

blogIn six months, I will be getting married and one of the Pastor’s requirements was to meet with him and discuss how we plan to handle certain topics such as money, parenting, and marital expectations. The meeting was fairly easy as my fiancé and I share similar views and values on most of the topics covered. The other day at school, I was speaking to a friend who is also getting married around the same time as me, to a man from a completely different religious background. My friend is Catholic and her fiancé is Hindu. She will be blending two different religions into one household; I couldn’t help but think to myself how challenging that must be for a couple. Religion is one of those dinner party topics you are supposed to avoid because of the conflicts that often arise when they are discussed. However, a couple that is about to get married does not have the luxury of avoiding such topics. I began to research the challenges intercultural marriages face, and the majority of the information I found discussed the ability to learn, understand, accept, and adjust to one another’s cultures.

In an article found on Marriage Missions International, initially written in Steve and Mary Prokopchak’s book, Called Together, they first caution intercultural couples to “Know each other’s culture.” Intercultural couples must have an understanding of one another’s culture, beliefs and values, as these are part of what makes up a person’s identity. A lack of understanding has the potential to raise fierce conflicts later on in marriage.

Herbert G. Lingren, an Extension Family Life Specialist, warns a value conflict may occur if, “two people have different attitudes, beliefs, and expectations. These differences may interfere in making decisions if we are inflexible and hold rigid, dogmatic beliefs about the ‘right way’ to do things.” Communicating, understanding, keeping an open mind, and respecting one another’s beliefs and customs can alleviate a lot of the disagreements an intercultural couple faces.

In an article originally published in the Washington Post, Rebecca R. Kahlenberg, a freelance writer, suggests “Negotiate and renegotiate dicey issues. Ideally, the time to discuss and make agreements about intercultural topics is before the wedding. What are each of your commitment levels to your culture?” Prior to getting married it is imperative that an intercultural couple discusses in detail what cultural expectations each has and how they will address differences as they arise.

Lastly, Steve and Mary Prokopchak encourage “Accepting and appreciating as many of the differences as you can will serve to enhance the marriage relationship. This experience is not to be viewed as all negative. The differences are something to embrace and value in one another.” While the blending of two different cultures may seem challenging at times, the positive outweighs the negative when looking at the big picture. An intercultural couple learns to be more open-minded and tolerant towards other people’s values and beliefs. If the couple then chooses to have kids, their kids will also grow to be more tolerant and open minded, which in today’s society is absolutely needed to make the world a better place.

My aforementioned friend said that despite the challenges she and her fiancé have and will face, she has come to love and appreciate Hindu customs. She said she looks most forward to kids and sharing with them all of the wonderful elements that both religions have to offer.


Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Workplace Systemic Issues: Do Your Leaders Really Want to Know?

Rita CallahanLike many conflict resolution or ADR professionals who start as a mediator, it doesn’t take long before a mediator doing workplace cases in one organization begins to wonder about the organization’s culture, communication, or leadership skills. “If only the organization had better practices, the mediation (or coaching or training or group facilitation) wouldn’t be needed”, many have thought. When working within an organization, the conflict resolution professional may begin to see issues or trends across departments that may suggest systemic issues. Now what? Explore the opportunities and challenges to communicate organizational issues to senior leadership by considering: When is an issue systemic? How is it assessed? How is it communicated? What next? Who is responsible? Consider these issues from the perspectives of an internal conflict resolution consultant at a company and an organizational ombuds at an educational institution and academic medical center.


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Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: Speak Up, Speak Out, Speak Now!

Cultural Diversity

Cultural Diversity

Religious wear, cultural dress, racial identification, hairstyles, food, tattoos and piercings are examples of cultural diversity. There is a strong possibility that people in your workplace possess at least one of the aforementioned identities. Unfortunately, different expressions of cultural diversity can be unintentionally offensive to some or intolerable by others in your workplace.  According to Power of Culture,Culture is indeed everywhere. It forms our belief systems, frames perceptions, formulates understandings, and guides behaviors.” How do you address an aspect of cultural diversity that becomes a conflict? What are your company’s policies regarding cultural diversity issues? Who do you discuss this concern with in your organization? Was the form of cultural diversity intentionally offensive? These are questions I recommend you ask.

Diversity is a sensitive issue, and plays a key element in conflict. Because cultural diversity is a part of your individuality, it is symbolic of your identity and it is important for your workplace and employees to understand and respect it. Don’t be afraid to access your power! I too encountered a conflict at my job that involved my cultural identity. I was told by my supervisor to remove my headwear. I was not given a reason as to why I had to remove it. When I approached the supervisor privately and asked why it had to be removed, my supervisor replied, “It just couldn’t be worn here”. The reply was neither respectful nor accurate. I decided to access the employee handbook and refer to the dress code section. The dress code guidelines in regard to religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds did not correspond to the directions I received from my supervisor when I was asked to remove my headwear. I discretely brought this to the attention of my supervisor and showed that my headwear did not have to be removed. Although my supervisor did not apologize for being wrong or offensive, I was now aware that referring to the Employee Handbook is a valuable resource.

Education and awareness are the most respectful ways to inform yourself and others about cultural diversity and to be culturally sensitive to these differences. For example, you make a comment about the smell of your co-workers food in the break room. Your intent is not to harm but the smell to you, is foul smelling and now your co-worker’s reaction is defensive, as they perceived your comments as offensive. Although you did not intend to hurt his/her feelings YOU DID! It is best for you to address this and for you understand why it is culturally inappropriate.

Here are tips on how to respond to conflict as it relates to honoring your cultural identity.

  1.  Acknowledge your feelings. Remember it’s okay to feel offended and hurt.
  2.  Respond immediately to the conflict privately and professionally. Don’t let the issue linger.
  3. Have a copy of the Employee Handbook and reference it during your workplace conflict.
  4. Communicate. Start with the person who you felt offended by first. Then, if you believe this warrants going to your supervisor or Human Resources for a violation of your rights. There is also the option of accessing mediation services either from within your organization or outside sources such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

 To learn more about cultural diversity and conflict visit Beyond Intractability and The Power of Culture.

 by Tierra Henry, Graduate Student, University of Baltimore Dispute Resolution Program

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Restorative Justice: Finding a Justice that Satisfies

 If our current legal system was effectively delivering justice, why is crime and violence continuing to spiral out of control all around the Globe? What are the demands of justice? What does justice feel like? When is justice satisfied? In order to find answers to these questions we need to reframe the debate about what constitutes this concept we call justice. Join Dr. Carl Stauffer as he explores a justice that restores from his varied experiences of working within the criminal justice system, with police, gangs, ex-combatants, militias, truth commissions, and post-war reconstruction in many parts of the world.


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