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Many aspects of Brazil’s society make it different from the United States. The weather, ethnic and racial populations and landscape are just a few of the surface differences. But when discussing work place cultural attitudes, one of the primary differences can be found in the defining of Brazil as a collectivistic culture, while the United States is an individualistic culture. These labels have the largest effects in the ways that the United States and Brazil differ in their approaches towards work place conflict.
Before explaining how these important definitions alter the way that Brazilians and Americans handle workplace conflict, it is important to have a good grasp on the definitions of the terms in these situations. According to Schreier, Heinrichs, and Alden (2010), a collectivistic culture has a greater emphasis upon selflessness and the needs of the community. Collectivistic cultures also have a need to work together as a group and believe that giving their support to others within their group is absolutely essential to their daily lives. Within a collectivistic society, what is best for society, the family and the overall common goals are the most important goals.
In contrast, an individualistic culture places a greater emphasis on the importance of the individual. The primary goal is to advance the self, instead of advancing the needs of the group.
Rodrigues and Collinson (1995) cite Brazil’s immense emphasis upon the loyalty within family as a reason that it is categorized as a collectivistic country. Moreover, both Rodrigues and Collinson (1995) and Senosiain (2012) discuss the importance that Brazil places upon the strong groups that every individual is part of in their workplace and at home.
In contrast, the United States emphasizes concepts such as personal space, aggression and independence. In the United states, workplace goals revolve around these values, instead of the group cultures that may operate there.
When examining the ways that workplace conflict is dealt with in Brazil and the United Sates, it is important to examine the differences that the two countries have in what they consider to be an appropriate workplace hierarchy. Within the workplace, the collectivistic nature of Brazil can be seen in the structural hierarchy of the workforce. Senosiain (2012) cites that Brazil is a country with a high power distance, while the United States is a country with a low power distance. In practice, this means that Brazilian culture expects there to be a powerful person in charge of a group, and that person is supposed to take a strong role in taking care of conflicts.
For Brazil, this tradition of having a strong central power having control over conflicts has resulted in an extreme difficulty in allowing any type of trade unions to last very long in Brazil. The head of the company should have the power over the group, in many Brazilians’ minds. Trade unions that are able to get started in Brazil rarely last very long, due entirely to the collectivistic nature of the country. There is no need to have a union intercede on your behalf when you believe that the power should lie at the top of the hierarchy of already existing power.
In the United States, many organizations, trades and companies rely upon an impartial third party to make certain that everyone’s individual needs and goals are met. This is something that is not going to work in a collectivistic society the same way it will work in the individualistic United States.
The CPP Global Human Capital Report. (2008) found that Brazilian employees received a greater level of conflict handling training than any other country in their study, including the United States. A full 60% of Brazilian employees are trained in handling conflict (The CPP Global Human Capital Report, 2008). More importantly, a full 74% of these employees reported to the The CPP Global Human Capital Report that they found their conflict handling training to be helpful (2008).
In contrast, the employees in the United States who had reported that they had received conflict resolution training were primarily managers.
Whereas in Brazil, everyone is expected to work to resolve the conflict in order to better the goals of the overall group, in the United States, it is expected that the group will not take care of the conflicts. Although the manager is viewed as the definitive boss in Brazil, it is expected that the workers will try to come to a resolution before they need to bring it to the attention of the manager. This is what is best for the group that they are part of as workers.
The CPP Global Human Capital Report reported that the United States had high levels of workplace conflict and that employees reported having to deal with it ‘always or frequently’ (p. 22). The role of the United States as an individualistic country can be seen in the reasons that the workers gave for having repeated conflict: egos and personality clashes were the primary reasons given for conflict disputes (CPP Global Human Capital Report, 2008).
In contrast, Brazilians report that a ‘clash of values’ is the number one reason for having conflicts at work (CPP Global Human Capital Report, 2008). Having a similarity of values is a highly desirable trait within a collectivistic culture.
Perhaps the greatest difference in handling conflict between Brazil and the United States is the desire of Brazilians to avoid it entirely. Gunkel, Schlaegel, and Taras (2015) report that the initial responses to conflict in the workplace for Brazilians are avoidance and cooperation. Moreover, they report that Brazilians are more likely to seek non-confrontational solutions.
In contrast, conflicts in the United States are met with dominating and confrontational attitudes much more often. Again, this is easily traced to the differences in what matters the most: it is easy to avoid and compromise when your goal is the group. It is important to demand and confront when your goal is yourself.
Ultimately, Brazil and the United States view the role of conflict within society very differently. For Brazil, conflict is a way to improve relationships within groups. For the United States, conflict is a way to achieve greater personal accomplishments. This key difference reflects how individuals within these countries choose to deal with conflict when it arises within the workplace.
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