Dr. Roland B Wilson is the Program Coordinator, Professor and faculty advisor for the School for Analysis of Conflict and Resolution at George Mason University’s campus in South Korea. He is also the Peace and Conflict Studies Center Asia (PACSC Asia) Co-director.
Last week he was a panelist at KBLA’s Breakfast Forum on Dispute Resolution. Since first in arriving in Korea in 1984 his career has taken him through the military, government, and now in academia. He consults regularly with both Korean and global organizations on the topic of conflict resolution.
In his discussion with Alex Jensen, Dr. Wilson discusses various aspects of conflict resolution: The impact of power and position, the importance of knowing yourself, the commonalities of all disputes, the role of psychology and sociology in conflicts as well as the importance of culture.
As he says, “Our lack of cultural wisdom can cause many conflicts in business. First of all, how well do you know their culture, not only that country’s culture, but that business’ culture? We have to know the cultural identity of our counterpart in order to build successful business relationships at the individual and at the corporate level as well.
Today’s episode was sponsored by Eastpoint Partners. Offering an unparalleled Asia-wide network connecting you with corporates, governments and investors.
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Alex Jenson 00:00
Quran for Zago business, business business business and this You’re listening to career biz cast with the KBLA. I’m your host Alex Jensen on this Wednesday, March 30. Let me take this opportunity to thank our sponsor Eastpoint Partners which offers an unparalleled Asia wide network of relationships with corporates, governments and investors. Because relationships can have a downside when conflict gets involved. You may recall I recently mentioned an offline event we recently held on the theme of dispute resolution perspectives from Korea and abroad. One of the panelists was Dr. Roland B. Wilson, who’s the program coordinator, Professor and Faculty Advisor for the school for analysis of conflict and resolution at George Mason University’s campus in Korea. Thank you so much, Dr. Wilson, for taking this moment to expand our conversation and maybe generalize it a little bit as well. There are, frankly, more conflicts around us that we can touch on in one conversation, but maybe we can do our best to touch on some broad strokes. So again, welcome to the podcast.
Roland B Wilson 01:09
Well, thank you, Alex, thanks for the kind introduction. Certainly, as you said, there’s conflicts around the world at every level of society. And we’re seeing more and more of those recently. So I’m happy to be here and try to answer any questions you may have.
Alex Jenson 01:21
Yeah, let’s perhaps start with your story. How did you get to Korea? And how long have you been here? How are you finding life here?
Roland B Wilson 01:28
So that’s an excellent question. I go back decades, showing my age. Now. Actually, the I first came to Korea in 1984, as a young United States Marine. So after that, I continued to travel to Korea, throughout my Marine Corps career. And then afterwards, when I retired from the Marine Corps, took on a government job. Then after that, of course, I got my PhD, and I decided to change courses and teach conflict resolution for loving. And that brought me back here again, because of the new campus, George Mason University has opened up here in South Korea. So quite a long career different and diverse in many ways.
Alex Jenson 02:07
Yeah. So you’ve got as an international mediator and consultant behind you more than 30 years of military, government, and academic experience. You’ve written also about all these complex subjects, not just on the legal front, but Asia Pacific Relations, foreign policy, diplomacy, security and conflict. Do you see a common thread between even corporate level conflict and say, what’s happening right now between Russia and Ukraine that the peace talks that are ongoing to try to resolve that for instance?
Roland B Wilson 02:41
Well, the certainly when it comes to conflicts at any level, the there are, there are similar, originally the items that begin to conflict out, you know, we normally talk about the deep roots of any conflict. And we thought about a conflict within a company, for example, from the the management of the the company, to the employees, perhaps a conflict between a staff member and, and higher level staff member or the company itself, or when you don’t have international conflict. There’s always deep rooted, underlying reasons why a conflict happened. So it’s not just from a legal point of view, but more of from a fundamental psychological and sociological perspective that we have to look at some of the reasons why conflicts begin to happen, and then to try to work our way into there to try to resolve or transform or stop the conflict from happening to begin with. So there are certainly commonality between local conflicts, business conflicts and those at international arenas as we have within Russia and Ukraine right now.
Alex Jenson 03:45
Can we just touch on some of those most common causes for conflict?
Roland B Wilson 03:48
Yeah, they will certainly there’s, when I, I always talk about the dynamics of power and position. The power position in any conflict is dangerous, and it happens all the time. For example, when your employee you may seem less empowered or have less power than the company you may be working with or if you’re doing even business, the business normally partnerships, there’s always a hierarchy within that, especially when it comes to culturally involved businesses as we have here in Asia. So, certainly, power is very important than what that power becomes position itself. So, what is your position what do you what do you see yourself within this conflict or within this situation? And how do you see the other party involved in it and when you look at position as certainly tied to the power itself, in other words, you know, based on my position, how I perceive myself within this relationship, then I have a certain amount of power the power may be more traditionally based on the physical power could be power based on the length of time within the company or the when it comes complex, the other dynamic you have such as at the international level, worrying about how much money you may have or the ability to persuade or move the other person in the right direction. But ironically, when we look at power and position, we always look at ourselves first, we never really look in the mirror. And that is what does the other party think of my position of power. So you get this tit for tat that goes on. And then relationships or in relationships, as we have within Ukraine and in Russia can certainly become more sour than they already are.
Alex Jenson 05:29
It seems to me that in Korea, this idea of a power gap is constantly coming up in the business world, and it has done for years, there’s this gap in the relationship between contract partners, for instance, and there might be a feeling like the wealthier party is going to come out on top, even or especially when it goes to a legal attempt at resolution. Is that the reality though?
Roland B Wilson 05:53
Yeah, I mean, that that is a reality. But I think if we step that back out a minute, the we talk about the the money, or the power and relationships, in the legality of ADR as we see it in today’s world, you know, what we tried to do, there’s two types, as we talked about, in the in the great morning, breakfast session we had we talked about, there’s really two types of ADR type activities. One done by normally the the legal side of the house, meaning great lawyers, we have our own world. And then those like myself, that are conflict analysis and resolution practitioners that look at it from the non legal perspective, in other words, we’re looked at more, we’re looking at more primary the relationship itself and how to resolve or transform this issue as quickly as possible and not worrying about the legality or the, or the money or the time involved in it. So certainly, you know, from my perspective, the earlier you get in and try to work on a conflict, then certainly going to be better off doing it. That’s why great companies around the world when I advise companies, small and large, and when I help companies and international organizations, such as recently, one I worked on couple years, organization United Nations is that you try to get in and do the normal processes to train your employees to be kind of self mediators. In other words, you know how to resolve issues with their subordinates and with their hierarchy. And that also goes into the ability for companies to have either the assistance of ombudsman within the company. And then, of course, after the ombudsman lovely to look at any type of mediation that you may have available to yourself. And then when when sometimes I do grievance work for different companies. In other words, once you’ve tried all these other mechanisms to try to resolve the conflict, then you come to me or come to committee, and we try to successfully resolve the grievance with the parties involved without it happening, go to the legal part. In other words, whether it be an international court or tribunal, or a court of law, where you lose your power and ability to resolve that conflict at a much lower level, and society.
Alex Jenson 08:03
So it seems to me that in any conflict, pretty much at all the levels that we’ve been discussing in this conversation so far, there are a few considerations. One of them is how powerful is my adversary, like? How much damage can they do to me, but also maybe, how self destructive? Are they willing to be in order to inverted commas? When because I guess there’s not much of a winner if you’re also destroying yourself in the outcome? How would that relate to the business world, though, for instance, because I think we’ve got a very clear example of, say, a country deciding to use nuclear weapons on the international scale, what would be the business equivalent of that?
Roland B Wilson 08:43
Oh, you know, businesses, they’re always worried about, first and foremost, the bottom line, and making money and of course, we have to worry about that, regardless of the job that we do. But I think that the takeaway that I’ve seen throughout different countries in different businesses and organizations around the world is that we don’t think of the personnel costs or the interpersonal costs we have and trying to either deal with conflicts or leave them alone for those conflicts become worse and worse. And at the end of the day, cost you much more money at the bottom line from your bottom line that I would have if you tried to be more preventive or what we use in conflict analysis and resolution world preventive which is a combination of being proactive and preventive to try to work on these issues before they become larger issues and conflicts themselves. So I think that when it comes to the monetary portion, the certainly whenever there’s a conflict, there’s not a winner, it doesn’t matter whether you you have you’re extremely rich or you’re the owner of the company and you know you you have to pay a small fine or or you’re found to be at fault for the certain conflict and therefore you pay a certain amount because you know, you have a lot of money anyway, but the bottom line is is that you’re still losing and then of course the the other party is going to lose some as well whether it be Lose the reputation or relationship, or lose the ability to become a better employee for an example. So certainly, I think that what companies around the world don’t do enough on is that they don’t think about how do we try to prevent or prevent a complex from an our company from happening to begin with,
Alex Jenson 10:21
Let’s get to some even more practical advice. And let’s just imagine there’s a company based here in Korea that’s stumbled across some great innovation that they’re trying to roll out into the market, and then a company in another country, decides to go ahead and copy the exact same thing, or perhaps even a company within this country. I presume on the latter front, you’ve really got law on your side. But maybe it’s harder if you’re dealing with a company out in China, for instance, and we, we see a lot of real world examples of this. How would you offer legal advice in a situation?
Roland B Wilson 10:55
Well, certainly I would not. I would not, I would also not offer legal advice, because I’m not a lawyer. I’m a conflict resolution practitioner. But I what I would do is first and foremost, is sometimes the most difficult things that are perceived, are these ones resolved, because we just really didn’t reach out to the other company or the other party to see are you? Or do you realize what you did is what I’ve already done. So that relationship building on the lower end of the scale is certainly something that’s needed. So if I were, and I have advise companies, who would be first, have you reached out to the company, what have you talked to them about, you know, have you sit down at the table to try to have some discourse with them to try to see, maybe there’s something that we can look at as companies to try to come to a resolution before this conflict becomes something that you have to go out and seek legal advice, and then go to the courts to try to resolve and you mentioned, you know, companies or countries like China and others, certainly as an additional dynamic working with countries that may not have the respect if I want to use a word correctly respect for another country’s or another company’s copyrights or any business that that company may be doing. So that’s always problematic. The so from a legal point of view, certainly you need to look at the international laws that govern those countries and tried to, to move in the right direction. And again, that wouldn’t be something I would do, I would try to work out the unofficial level to try to help understand and resolve these issues before they became something that the company would lose a lot of money with.
Alex Jenson 12:40
Yeah, so let me just underscore again, all this advice is perhaps advice with a lowercase a in the sense of drawing out your expertise, Dr. Wilson, and your experience and and the kind of thing that you would imagine would be good, actual legal advice, perhaps we can go even that far. But going even further into the Korean landscape, corporate landscape, that is we’ve got common mistakes, presumably, that come up all the time, and potential remedies for that. Are there some that you could address today? Because I know, a few came up during our meeting the other day?
Roland B Wilson 13:14
Yeah, you know, the, the one that sticks out to me all the time is understanding culture, or the lack of cultural understanding. And certainly, you know, Korea, South Korea, particularly, their own culture, their own sense of culture has changed tremendously over the last, I would say, since the 88 Olympics. So their, their culture, their collectivistic culture, as we say, coming from Asia, is certainly still collectivistic in nature, but it has taken a more Western trend in many aspects. And one of those, of course, is the business aspect, however, even said that, regardless of how much South Korean businesses and individuals may believe they have a great understanding of the other business, international business, or the other culture that may be involved with their business partners, for example, or a another company they may be working with is that it’s not always, you know, culture doesn’t equate, you know, one culture equals another culture. So certainly, our lack of cultural wisdom maybe is, can cause many conflicts we have within businesses. So when I advise companies, first of all, you know, I tell them, what do you really know about not only that country’s culture, but that business culture? Because certainly cultures of businesses will change depending on the type of business they may be in where they’re operating out of, but also how much international business has that company done, for example, so you know, the the in depth conversations we have on culture, cultural identity, identity of the con of the companies are very important in order for you to have great and successful business relationships at the individual and at the corporate level as well.
Alex Jenson 14:55
Really useful to get some of your insights today, Dr. Wilson. Let’s finish perhaps despite discussing the types of events like we had the other day at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul, how helpful are they now as we start to move back into something like an offline era, not entirely offline, clearly, as we’re proving with his interview now, but when you get a panelists together from Barun Law we did and with yourself and you can audience together, do you think events like that actually helped crystallize some of these ideas and, and push people towards real world solutions? And should we be trying to hold more of them?
Roland B Wilson 15:32
That’s an excellent question. I think that the the easy answer is yes. And yes, the because, you know, during the age of the internet, and the age of Coronavirus, that’s kind of overemphasize the use of internet or the virtual environment, we’ve lost our touch with society, we’ve all lost our touch to be able to sit down, reach out and talk to individuals and try to not only understand what they’re saying, but feel what’s going on within their certain particular field of work. So I think that when you have events like this, it’s extremely important because it brings up various stakeholders, and also those that may not believe they’re a stakeholder, but at the end of conversation, they say, well, wait a minute, I am part of this, this is something that I can learn from. So I would, I would submit to you that, you know, forums like we had in the morning time, the four seasons, over breakfast is an excellent way to not only start these conversations, but to continue them. The I think one of our lessons learned from that morning is that the the, the attendance was great, the questions were outstanding, and we ran out of time. So the more of these we do, and the more elongated they are, I think we’re going to become better as society and try to equip ourselves to deal with issues at all levels of society and businesses for the 21st century and above. So certainly, these type of events are needed, they’re needed more often, I would recommend that even more come out to have this, this interactive discourse with others. So you know, I always tell people or work with you. And you know, I’m not the smartest guy in the world, I learned more or just as much from you as I do as I when I’m trying to teach or or have a constructive conversation with you. So certainly it’s that combination of give and take that creates us, makes us better policymakers makes us better conflict resolution practitioners, better lawyers in that respect, response sense. So the more we can have these events, the better off we’re going to be.
Alex Jenson 17:33
Dr. Wilson does certainly offers us some encouragement here at the KBLA to go ahead and arrange some more for now. Thank you so much wish you all the best with your work in the meantime.
Roland B Wilson 17:43
It’s my pleasure was great to be on this morning. Thank you.
Alex Jenson 17:46
And let me again thank Eastpoint Partners for making today’s episode possible. That’s it for today. We’ll look forward to you joining us again around the same time tomorrow. Or at your convenience.