EDITOR’S NOTE: Marg Yaroslaski, a professor of communications and leadership at Dodge Community College, is teaching in China for 3 months. She will be writing for the Daily Globe as part of her trip. Here is her eighth installment.
This week in my classroom in China we continue to discuss conflict. In China, two cultural characteristics impact conflict. First there is much more value placed on the collective over the individual. Second there is clear respect and deference to authority. This week my students completed a self-assessment to see what their personal management style is. Their results clearly indicate the impact of these two cultural characteristics.
Students completed a quiz in our textbook to see if they were more likely to compete, accommodate, avoid, compromising or collaborate during conflict. Students then wrote a paper discussing how their personal management style might help them in the future. I am still reading papers but so far most of my students have scored as accommodating or collaborating. Also, they are relieved to not have scored high in competing.
This makes sense after having observed my students work for a couple months now. My students have at times disagreed with my decisions. When that happens first they avoid the conflict by acting as though they didn’t understand. Once when I tried to assign them into random groups they just sat and stared at me. Finally, after I made it clear I wasn’t budging they moved and complied. At the end of class, though, one of the better students was sent to ask me to please let them return to their old teams. She spoke with deference but gave good reasons. I said yes to her request, giving her increased credibility with her classmates.
Within their teams there is the usual teasing and arguing that happens with any friendship, but when working on tasks their primary focus is on completing the work and getting a good grade. Students who are higher skilled will take on more work to make sure the group as a whole does well. Lower skilled students seem to have little concern that they are not contributing equally.
There are some students who are clearly used to being allowed to do what they want. They are the pampered princes and princesses of China’s one child policy. They have spent their entire lives having six adults cater to their needs. Mom, dad, maternal grandparents and paternal grandparents are all invested in this child. These young people don’t really see conflict — they simply demand and expect others to give them what they want. These students sometimes lack the empathy it takes to try to collaborate with their classmates.
This can create havoc on teams, especially when an entitled student is on a team full of accommodators and compromisers, the pampered prince can easily run the group and do little actual work. In class I encourage students to stand up for themselves but progress is slow.
China places much greater value on the collective rather than the individual, so students work to preserve the group rather than stand up for themselves. At Dodge City Community College I think some of my students would have struck out on their own, or reported the lazy students. In China, my students aren’t quite convinced that any conflict is worth it.
I recently interviewed students who are older and these juniors and seniors are much more likely to handle conflict in a more direct manner. They have learned that sometimes you cannot effectively solve a problem by accommodating unreasonable demands. They are more likely to communicate with their team members to find win-win solutions. These older students also disagreed about working with students who are lower skilled than them. Some students saw it as their jobs to help those students improve. Other students were ready to leave those students behind for a chance to spend less energy helping and more time on their own heavy workloads.
Next fall, in the Leadership program at DCCC, I am interested to see how my students score on this same assessment. I think that my students’ scores at DCCC will be much broader ranging. I absolutely expect to have more students who resolve conflict through competition — they have been doing it their entire lives with siblings. It will be interested to hear what my DCCC students think about my Chinese students’ attitudes towards conflict.