Intercultural mediation: What does it involve?
In an increasingly multicultural world, intercultural mediation is fast becoming an essential service in legal firms.
But what exactly is it, and how does it work?
Also known as cross-cultural dispute resolution, intercultural mediation involves having a neutral facilitator assist parties in resolving disputes impacted by cultural misunderstanding. An intercultural facilitator is adept at helping to bridge cultural and linguistic gaps, and often works with migrants and refugees.
Where it is used
Here are some of the contexts in which intercultural dispute resolution is most commonly used:
- Schools and universities
- Aged care facilities
- Real estate
In order for the process to be effective, it is essential that all parties involved express a desire to resolve the conflict and are committed to finding a fair solution for all. Recognising the potential barriers to resolution is also important.
Some of the benefits of intercultural mediation include:
- Bring down cross-cultural barriers to facilitate improved communication and understanding
- Provide both parties with the opportunity to express their point-of-view
- Resolve conflict with the help of a neutral, culturally-responsive third party
- Promote cultural inclusion and openness in society.
The process of cross-cultural dispute resolution is virtually identical to that of the traditional process; the only point of difference is that the facilitator will assist in translating cultural and linguistic information between the parties.
How to find an intercultural mediator
In order to find a high quality mediator, it is important to be aware of what to look out for. Simply possessing experience with different cultures is not enough; it is essential that they are adept in the specific cultures (and can speak the language!) that you are dealing with.
Qualities to look for
Some of the qualities of an effective cross-cultural mediator include:
First and foremost, it is essential that an intercultural facilitator is mindful in their practice. A distracted mediator is a poor one; a professional one will be present and fully aware of what is going on throughout the process. This also involves having excellent listening skills.
One of the most essential qualities in a facilitator is adaptability. This trait ensures that the facilitator can envision themselves in the situation of each party, and be flexible regarding the various personalities they will encounter. This ensures that the approach they use can change depending on the needs of the situation.
A good facilitator will be calm and patient, not quick to anger. Mediation can be an emotionally intense experience and as such it is imperative that the facilitator remains calm; this encourages all parties involved to remain calm, too.
They will also ensure to remain as objective and self-controlled as possible in order to avoid distortion of the information provided. This will help to keep the outcomes fair.
Assertiveness and initiative are crucial for ensuring that all parties stay on track during the process of mediation. This also ensures that one party does not dominate the other.
Questions to ask each candidate
Be sure to ask each candidate some of these questions to check that they are the right mediator for you.
- How well do you speak the local language?
- How much experience do you have living with or working with this culture?
- What are some of the main differences between this culture and the one you grew up in?
- Can you share an example of how you dealt with a difficult cross-cultural situation? What caused the conflict and would you respond differently now?
- What are some of the most common biases between people from different cultures?
- What is an example of a situation in which you had to drastically change your behaviour to achieve a goal?
- What have you achieved in your career that you are most proud of?
How to prepare
Here are some tips for preparing for a successful outcome:
Consider your options in advance
It is worth thinking about the “what if’s” prior to starting mediation so that you are prepared when the time comes. Think through each possible outcome and their alternatives so that your approach is thorough.
Be prepared for the unexpected and view new information as an opportunity to learn and deal with problems. Thinking outside of the box can be helpful, too. An imaginative approach to the situation will help you find a good solution.
Make efforts to really listen to the other party; this will help you to reach an agreement. Focus on what the other person is saying rather than the person behind the words (or what you want to say).
Recognise how you are presenting yourself and how you might be perceived by others. This can help you assess whether you are presenting an inviting or a defiant face.
Consider it a team effort
Do not underestimate the potential of the other party to help you arrive at an effective solution. Intercultural mediation is a team effort, and working together will help you reach the best outcomes.
Read all material in advance
Make sure you are ready by reading all materials and briefs beforehand. You may want to read each document more than once so that you can fully digest them. Be prepared to discuss them in the session.
Rethink your strategies
It can be worth reassessing your chosen strategies as the process unfolds to make sure your choices are as effective as you want them to be. Don’t be afraid to mix things up if you think it will be beneficial, and ensure to ask your mediator for professional advice.
Understanding people from a different culture can be very difficult if you do not have experience in dealing with that culture. Cross-cultural communication is a skill that must be developed over many years through learning about different beliefs, behaviours, worldviews and customs. As such, it is imperative that you select an intercultural mediator who possesses plenty of experience in dealing with your culture.