As mediators we have been taught that disputes are more likely to be people-problems than legal-problems. Instead of listening only to a participant’s position, we should search for underlying interests, wants, values, and needs. Mediators discover that by learning more about human nature, they are able to understand people’s motives. In turn we can encourage participants to reach agreement or helpful change.
Most mediators agree that parties in mediation have certain values adopted from culture, background, and life circumstance. We believe that a person’s value system is a strong factor in the process of mediation. Therefore, most mediators agree that diverse backgrounds, cultures, and life circumstances should be explored in order to effectively communicate with the parties during mediation. This skill is often referred to as diversity competence.
Diversity competence is a term which refers to the capacity for an individual to mediate effectively with diverse background, cultures, and life circumstances. Most mediators believe that this is a central skill for effective mediation. This skill allows a mediator to: (a) understand how diversity may affect a dispute; (b) overcome diversity impasses to find common ground. In short, the mediator is tasked with facilitating the dispute resolution process to respect diversity, but focus on resolving the dispute to the satisfaction of all parties. And what exactly does that mean?
In our opinion, it simply means the following: the role of the mediator is to assist disputing parties to find points of agreement from which to build dispute resolution in spite of diverse perspectives. If this definition sounds familiar or old hat, it should. We have been taught, whether we realize it or not, that diversity competence is one of the tools with which all mediators must be familiar. Therefore, diversity competence is simply acknowledging implications of diverse perspectives in a dispute and then handling the diversity in a productive manner to reach an optimal resolution.
Having been involved in several diversity workshops, We have come to the following conclusions: 1) A lot of diversity awareness training is based on maintaining political correctness at the risk of offending people. 2) Some training presumes to know what will offend, and tries to prevent it, and 3) Diversity awareness training becomes a way of suppressing conflict by attempting to steer participants away from focusing on the different perspectives. We applaud the intention of diversity training, but find some of these workshops to be “cookie cutter” in approach and occasionally patronizing.
Diversity awareness training does not help the trainees if it simply turns diversity into stereotypes. At worst, it risks suppressing the problem solving techniques which mediators use to overcome impasse. If one believes that he is not equipped by culture or life experience to express himself, he cannot address issues to reach common ground and resolve differences. If we strictly follow the training we receive at many diversity workshops, we risk applying labels to people. A fear of stepping on another’s toes could deny us an opportunity to resolve conflict between individuals who share our own belief system despite having a “different” way of expressing it. We hope that this article convinces our readers that diversity of some nature exists among all participants. Nevertheless, we are each equipped as mediators to resolve conflict despite diverse perspectives and regardless root cause.
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