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Cultural Diversity in Mediation and Conflict Resolution

As a Mediator, we have the role to steer clients to reconcile their differences in an arena where they mutually agree to a resolution. In order to navigate our clients to a resolution that is amicable and comfortable, we have to identify the underlying issues of the conflict. To fully identify the underlying issues of a conflict for clients that are culturally diverse, it is pertinent to attain a basic understanding of the client’s cultural background and anticipate how it may impact the issues leading to the conflict. For mediators who practice in areas where cultural diversity is eminent, a basic understanding of their cultural differences is often the key to evaluate strategies employed to reach an agreement.

How culture effects mediation and the mediator who navigates their clients to reach a resolution, can best be described by evaluating its impact on specific situations.  For example, in a family mediation involving Latinos and Asians, it’s important to recognize that these cultures advocate the primary role of child bearing to the mother.  Historically, in such cultures a father’s predominate role is to provide for the family financially. A mother is considered the best caretaker and decision maker of a child. Therefore, the legal system from where they come from reflects this attitude, by frequently and automatically assigning mothers with primary and sole decision-making of the child. Similarly, in certain cultures having relationship or permitting their child to have a relationship with their perspective ex-husband may lead to a social stigma and may also hamper their opportunity to remarry.  When a client comes into mediation with such preconceived cultural assumption it is extremely difficult to steer them toward concepts like “shared parental responsibility” and “equal timesharing”. Knowing such cultural background and preparing for such preconceived notions, allows a mediator to understand the conflict that may arise in the process of mediation between clients with such backgrounds.
Another example of culture being the foreground of a mediation process is when clients come from a background where traditionally certain professions are not subject to legal enforcements and regulations. A professional’s origin may be from a country where legal suits and liabilities are non-existent. In such cases the client may be used to a professional standard that is contrary to the US standards and may have a difficult time identifying with the issues and solution to the dispute. Where the traditional and cultural practice of certain professions conflicts with the standards of American law, it is important to get a broader view of the cultural back ground and beliefs of the clients and understand their mind set to reach a resolution. For example, a Doctor who practiced in a country that has no malpractice lawsuit engraved in their legal system may have a completely different approach to treating patients. This may affect the Doctor’s management of patient care to be less proactive. Similar examples can be drawn from the cultural business practices of some ethnicities where partnership is in the basis of verbal agreement rather than written contracts. In such cases a written agreement has little to no value over verbal concurrence.   

So how does a mediator effectively deal with issues with that arise form a diverse cultural background? The key is to first identify that background of the clients and evaluate how it is affecting their approach to the conflict resolution. Second, understand and gain knowledge of such cultural issues by asking questions and doing research. Last but not least, once you identify and understand the issues you should effectuate creative strategies to help them either integrate or deviate from the beliefs and navigate them toward a resolution. At the end of the day as a mediator we need to find a ways to help our clients feel comfortable reaching an agreement that may or may not integrate their culture beliefs.

I believe the difference between an adequate mediator and a great mediator is to establish a connection with the clients and to attain and sustain a position where the client trusts you.  In order to reach this goal, a mediator should be aware and sensitive to the clients’ preconceived beliefs and the cultural background that may rest upon the issues at conflict.  For anyone who practices in a location that is ethnically diverse, it is a good idea and sometimes essential to get a greater knowledge of the cultural understanding of the clients backgrounds.  


Farhana Chowdhury

Farhana Chowdhury is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil Mediator, a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator, and a Florida Supreme Court Qualified Arbitrator. She graduated with Rutgers the State University of NJ, BA in political science.  Earned JD from Washburn Law school.  MORE >

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