Sustaining Conflict-Free Team Leadership in a Cross-Cultural Project Management Setting: Observational Evidence from China

Jules Harris Danarson


Conflict management typically follows one of these two methods: prevention of conflicts and resolution of on-going conflicts. As a curative measure usually taken with some strategies in communication, the second method is often used in a cross-cultural project management setting where team members are susceptible to misunderstanding. To sustain conflict-free team leadership, however, communication remedies alone are not effective; considerations of socio-emotional and cultural contexts and flexibility of leadership style have to be made as part of the strategy. This paper outlines a proactive and eclectic approach to conflict prevention (rather than cure) in a predominantly high-context culture setting using a qualitative method that has been developed through a survey of three giant companies in China. From the present observational evidence, Project Managers (PMs) from low-context cultures need to build a geocentric mindset and adapt to the Chinese ‘guanxi’ system, whereas those from high-context cultures should be flexible in their use of leadership styles as demanded by situations; they also need to clearly articulate communication norms before being engaged in strategic planning and execution. Besides meeting these requirements, PMs of both cultures ought to develop and use positive emotional intelligence (EI) and create a vibrant support system for team culture in order to promote team members’ synergy and efforts in reaching project deadlines and producing fruitful deliverables.

Keywords: project management, cross-cultural communication, team leadership, conflict prevention, socio-emotional considerations, style flexibility, cultural support.

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