Yesterday afternoon I encountered a mature bull moose the size of my pickup … twice. During the first encounter we spent several minutes just looking at each other. I was amazed by his size and strength. He is taller than me at his shoulders and his antlers probably weigh fifty pounds. He seemed unimpressed by me. Nevertheless, after studying each other for several minutes, we both moved on … in opposite directions.
Several hours later and probably a mile from our first encounter, we found ourselves face to face a second time. The bull was blocking my path. From my perspective, he was in my way and I thought he should move. However, he made it clear that he was not interested in yielding again. He moved out of the way the first time. This time he intended to hold his ground.
I tried to communicate with him by waving my hat, clearing my throat, whistling and breaking branches. He just stood there like a mountain, periodically grunting. Eventually it became clear that he intended to not move. If needed, he was prepared to fight.
After five minutes of impasse, I made the conscious decision to be the “bigger man” and to walk around the bull’s territorial claim. However, as I passed at what seemed like a reasonable distance, I kept my eye on the bull to make sure he agreed. In fact, I looked back over my shoulder for the next half mile to make sure his understanding of our agreement was the same as mine.
This led me to conclude, if you strip all the complexities away, there are three basic steps to cross cultural conflict resolution.
- Clarify expectations: I expected the moose to always give way for me. I consider myself the superior being, therefore he should yield. However, his expectations were different. Either he figured he yielded the first time and it was my turn or for some other reason, he expected me to honor his territorial claim during our second encounter. It required some communication for me to understand his position, but eventually I got there.
- Choose to defer. If possible, submit to the local expectations: I suppose I could have forced the issue. Did I mention I was carrying a 30.06? However, there was no need to escalate the conflict. It was a small inconvenience for me to walk an extra fifty yards and circle the bull’s personal space. He seemed happy for me to move on. He just did not want me in his chosen piece of real estate.
- Remain alert to be sure the conflict is actually resolved: Because cross cultural communication is seldom perfect, it is important to verify your understanding of your agreement. As I walked around the bull’s space, I verified that my understanding was accurate. If our communication had not been clear the bull might have remained agitated, which might have triggered another round of the conflict resolution process.
(The picture above is not the actual moose in this story, but it looks similar.)