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The Interplay between Culturally- and Situationally-based Mental Models of Intercultural Dispute Resolution: West Meets Middle East1

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When involved in disputes, people’s stereotypes about one another and the situation can influence their attributions of motives and effectiveness at resolving the dispute. Stereotypes may be of particular concern when disputing parties have little knowledge about the individual across the table. In this study, we examined how respondents from different cultures evaluated the economic and relational goals of two disputing merchants - one from the West and the other from the Middle East. We tested the extent to which respondents’ expectations of the targets’ goals were driven by: 1) cultural information about each disputant (whether the merchant-disputant comes from the West or from the Middle East) and 2) the respondent’s own culturally-based mental model for approaches to resolving work-related disputes. We found very little evidence of cultural stereotyping in that respondents views of the Target Merchants’ goals were largely independent of the said culture of the Target Merchant. We did however find strong evidence that respondents from the United States, Turkey and Qatar hold different mental models about the goals a party has when resolving a work-related dispute. In particular, US respondents had a more variable-sum orientation than the other cultural groups, especially Qataris, whose mental model evidenced a fixed pie assumption regarding economic and relational goals. For example, Qataris and Turks viewed a goal of Maximizing one’s Own Gain as impeding a goal of Maximizing the Other Party’s Gain. Similarly, Qataris viewed Defending Honor as incompatible to the goals of Relationship Building and Giving Face, whereas Americans and Turks did not hold such a view. These differences, based on the country of the respondent, are discussed in detail.

Affiliations: 1: Georgetown University, The McDonough School of Business Rafik B. Hariri Building # 539 Washington, DC 20057 USA, Email:; 2: Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business Posner Hall 242, Pittsburgh, PA 15232 USA, Email:; 3: Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management 2001 Sheridan Road, Room 395, Evanston, IL 60208 USA, Email:; 4: Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business 236A Posner Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 USA, Email:


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