Cultural awareness in mediation is imperative to the understanding of how differences must be dealt with using different techniques to bridge cross cultural lines. The use of neutrality is also a key factor for the mediator when dealing with diverse cultures other than their own. Mediators must be able to remain neutral in difficult circumstances even when they may feel a bias towards one of the parties.
The ultimate goal of the mediator is to help the parties come to “the best resolution for all parties”. (Moore, 2003 pp. 44-45) In my paper, I will examine the three areas in which mediators must possess strong, quality skills. These three areas are attitude, skills and knowledge. Attitude can best be described as the feelings or emotions towards people or facts. Skills are best described as the ability to use the knowledge that one has obtained to execute or complete a process. Knowledge in the sense that I will be discussing will be based upon the condition of having information or a familiar sense gained through experience or association with that which provided the knowledge.
There are certain attitudes that mediators must posses in order to communicate effectively with a multitude of parties. There are many types of attitudes which may be present when dealing with cultures different than our own. Just to name a few, there are attitudes of bias relating to gender, the role of a persons sex, stereotyping, generalizations, cultural and ethnic differences.
This type of mentality is especially true when dealing with bilateral or multilateral cultures. In bilateral cultures you may deal with two or more parties from different nations. In multilateral cultures you will be dealing with three or more parties from different nations. (Spangle & Isenhart, 2003 p. 364).
In order for communication to be effective, the mediator must be open- minded to the idea of developing relationships with people (Spangle & Isenhart, 2003 p. 376). Communication is essentially what mediation is based upon, and without the ability to build rapport between people, the process is useless. If you are not able to communicate with others on their level of understanding you will find that you are wasting your time. As an American citizen, I tend to assume that other cultures move as fast as we do. However, that is my misconception which in turn reflects in my attitude towards others from different cultures.
In the Singer text, she describes a mediation gone wrong due to poor attitudes. To summarize the situation, an interracial war broke out in Philadelphia. Over time due to inexperienced mediators the situation worsened. Due to the inability to help the parties find common ground, there were people hurt, and even killed. Property was destroyed as well due to this interracial war. (Singer, 1994 p.129) Part of the problem lied within the inability for the mediators or other involved parties to understand where the angry people were coming from. In situations such as this with high stakes and cultural differences, the people who tried to mediate the crises were unable to place themselves into the shoes of the parties. In some cases you must be able to ask yourself “what you would do if you were in their shoes.”(Spangle & Isenhart, 2003 p. 386)
With these attitudes comes a set of required skills necessary to mediate in diverse situations. I will discuss some of these skills which are factors in the mediator’s ability to analyze the overall situation to provide a successful mediation for the parties.(Moore, 2003 p, 60) As a mediator in a cross cultural mediation, they must be able to identify possible road-blocks due to cultural or other reasons between themselves or the parties. Mediators should avoid taking part in any stereotypical behaviors or communication because they are required to be the neutral party. During the process of mediation, the mediator must be working diligently in “collecting data and analyzing the data” in order to come up with possibilities or supposals in order to help the parties if needed. (Moore, 2003, p.59) Data collection can also be helping for “aiding the parties in developing their resolution options.” (Moore, 2003, p.59)
Another important skill to have is the ability to admit that you do not know everything, but you have come as prepared as possible to the situation. Proper preparation is essential to the outcome of a successful mediation. Peter Adler says “Skills are necessary but insufficient. You might be a great negotiator, but if you haven’t done your homework on the substantive end of things, you will get into a lot of trouble. Planning and preparation are essential. I tell people to get the clear on the numbers and the facts. Do the homework.” (Spangle & Isenhart, 2003 p. 381).As the quote discusses, you need to know what you are dealing with. If you will be mediating a conflict between an American and Japanese, or a Chinese and Indian, you need to know the culture well enough to not offend anyone. Body language, tone of voice and specific actions by the mediator or other people could alienate the other party into not wanting to participate or cooperate with the process.
There is truly a difference in the way that we see ourselves and the way that others see us. In the United States we are considered to be fast paced culture in negotiations and decision making. In relation to the Far East cultures which are considered to be slow paced in negotiations and decision making. As the mediator you would be finding yourself in a world of hurt if you force the parties from the Far East to make an immediate decision based upon knowing that is not how they do things in their culture. (Spangle & Isenhart, 2003 p. 368) It would also be seen as an insult if you were to demand for the parties to make a rush decision, when they are accustomed to taking their time.
For instance, in many countries such as Japan, Korea, Thailand and Indonesia mediation is a large part of the way that they make decisions regarding family, business and even government decisions. (Moore, 2003, p. 35) In the United States mediation is not used nearly to the extent in which it could be in comparison with other countries. However, if a mediator were to assume that these cultures had no idea what mediation is, it would come across as an insult for the fact that mediation dates back to almost ancient times. This aligns with the skill of knowing when to do your research about whom your clients are, and where they come from in more ways than one.
There are specific types of knowledge which are required to mediate over culturally diverse situations. For a mediator to be successful in these types of situations they must be able to remain neutral at all costs. Mediators must leave all of their generalizations and baggage at the door. It is not easy at times to understand that not all cultures think, act or look the way that the people of the United States of America do. The lack of understanding of stereotypical behaviors, generalized ideas will not produce sought after results with the parties.
The mediator in the culturally diverse setting must be able to think on their feet, they must know how to deal with the unexpected. A skilled mediator should be able to anticipate the “moves of the other parties”, “understand their standards of behavior”, and understand what everyone brings to the table, including the mediator themselves as the neutral party. (Moore, 2003, p.59)
The mediator should bring quality experience to the table in a cross cultural mediation. The mediator should be cognizant of how to balance the power inequalities in the room if necessary. This may be especially true in a culture in which the males are dominant and the females are subservient. It may be extremely difficult to level the playing field for the weaker party, but an experienced mediator should be able to accomplish this. If the mediator does not know how to accomplish this, they may lose their credibility and the mediation will not be successful. (Singer, 1994, p. 23) In the situation that they do not know how to level the playing the field, they should have a co-mediator who does.
To summarize, attitude, skills and knowledge are crucial aspects in conjunction with competent mediation in a culturally diverse setting. As previously discussed experience is imperative in situations that are construed as high tension or high stakes. The skills which the mediator brings to the table can essentially make or break the process.
Moore, Christopher W. (2003). The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict, 3rd Edition, revised, San Francisco, California, Jossey-Bass
Singer, Linda R. (1994). Settling Disputes: Conflict Resolution in Business, Families, and the Legal System, 2nd Edition, Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press
Spangle, M. & Isenhart, M. (2003). Negotiation:Communication for Diverse Settings.
Thousand Oaks, CA; Sage Press.