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Cultural Awareness for Mediators

Cultural competency is key to successful mediations and dispute management.

There are many different definitions for the world culture. I like to think of it as a word that encompasses the way of life, communication, and interactions between individuals, as well as how individuals see themselves. All conflicts have a cross cultural element. Some more so than others.

As mediators and complaints handlers it is important to understand the impact of culture while acknowledging that each individual is different and generalising the features of certain groups does not reflect an individual's experiences, especially for migrants who have been exposed to different cultures. Often the parties involved in the conflict may have greater cultural intelligence than the mediator due to their diverse life experiences.

From a skills perspective, the universal language of silence is the most useful. The silence between words, thoughts is essential along with the use of simple and direct reflections to clarify meaning and intention.

In order to effectively navigate cross-cultural conflicts, it is also crucial for mediators to have self-awareness. This self-awareness allows mediators to recognise their own cultural frame of reference and be open and curious about other frames of reference. The concept of cultural relativism acknowledges that the actions of individuals must be judged in the context of their own culture. Our thoughts, actions and behaviours during moments of conflict are entirely dictated by our culture.

While cultural neutrality may not always be possible, mediators can strive to provide cultural safety, which involves recognising, respecting, and nurturing the unique cultural identity of each person involved in the conflict.

Similarly recognising the capacity, willingness and reason for why some individuals may code switching between cultural frameworks can allow mediators to fully explore and understand the underlying interests in a conflict.

Cultural differences often play a significant role in causing and exacerbating conflicts. It is our role to decode each party's cultural frameworks and identify opportunities for information sharing and common goal setting. Failure to identify and manage cultural differences can lead to further conflict. Therefore, it is crucial to approach conflicts with an open mind, avoid assumptions and stereotypes, and engage in clear, value-free, respectful communication. Understanding Hoftede’s cultural dimensions, such as power distance, individualism versus collectivism, and uncertainty avoidance, can also provide valuable insights into cultural differences and inform conflict resolution strategies.

I provide training, workshops and mediation services in relation to cross cultural conflict. Over the coming months I will be sharing some of the most important lessons I have learnt in my work in this space.

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