In 1990, I went to China with a United States Department of Commerce program to teach human resource management to Chinese managers. To prepare, I read some Chinese history and learned about the current political, social, and economic climates in China. I also looked for information about American companies operating in China.
At the time, the only way American companies could work in China was in US-Chinese joint ventures (JVs). As I read about these early JVs, I was astonished by the many challenges they faced. But what really caught my interest was the amount of conflict involved and their inability to manage it.
The fact that the Americans and Chinese didn’t get along was not surprising – they went into these ventures with different goals and they came from very different business cultures. Moreover, they seemed to have different ideas about how conflict should be managed. This observation led me to conduct a systematic study of conflict management in US-Chinese JVs.
To conduct this research, several colleagues and I interviewed American and Chinese managers working in JVs and asked them to describe several of the conflicts they had experienced. Then we described these conflicts to another set of American and Chinese managers working in JVs, and we asked them how they would behave in these situations. As you might expect, we found substantial differences in how Chinese and Americans think conflict should be managed. This research was well received, as we won awards for both the research design and for the completed study.
After flying back and forth to China to conduct this research, my husband and I decided to move to Hong Kong for a year, where I joined the faculty at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Then we decided to stay three more years. While there, I began working with the Executive Education group at HKUST to design and deliver leadership development programs for Chinese and multinational companies in Asia.
Working with the Chinese managers showed me how cultural differences and business climates affect attitudes towards leadership and management. I learned to respect these differences, and I figured out how to introduce Western practices that would be useful to them. I also helped the Chinese make plans to use these practices in their own work.
Working with the multinational firms helped me understand the challenges facing managers in these companies from the headquarters, regional, and local points of view. I also learned how to work with multicultural groups: One group I worked with had managers from fifteen different countries.
When I left Hong Kong to join the faculty at IMD International in Lausanne, Switzerland, my worldview expanded even more. At IMD, I worked with European firms and developed managers from all over Europe. I learned about cultural similarities and differences across Europe and of how the business climate there formed the challenges that multinational companies face.
After four years in Switzerland, my husband and I decided to return to Asia. I spent two more years at HKUST and then three years doing executive teaching in China.
When I look back at the time I spent working in Europe and Asia, I see the valuable lessons I learned. I learned how to work with mangers from different cultures; how to work with multicultural groups; and how to modify my executive programs to suit managers in different parts of the world. I also came to understand and appreciate the challenges facing managers in multinational and global firms.
Now, after so many years away, I’m glad to be back in the States, where I can apply my global experience and executive education skills to help managers lead with a global perspective.
 Edwin E. Ghiselli Award for Research Design awarded by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, a division of the American Psychological Association to Elizabeth Weldon and Karen A. Jehn, for “Intercultural Interaction in US-Chinese Joint Ventures: A Research Proposal”, 1993.
 Doucet, L., Jehn, K. A., Weldon, E. Chen, X. M., Wang, J. M. (2009). Cross-cultural differences in conflict management: An inductive study of Chinese and American managers. International Journal of Conflict Management, 20, 355 -376. Highly Commended Award Winner at the Literati Network Awards for Excellence awarded by Emerald Publishing Group, 2010.