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Cultural background may affect mediation

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Elodie Meuser, an Indianapolis attorney and mediator with The Mediation Option, recalls times when the firm has handled cases involving people from different countries. One case, in particular, resulted in a slightly puzzling outcome.

“I wasn’t personally involved in the mediation – but we had a gentleman who was from Tunisia, and when things seemed to not be going his way, he ended the mediation. Of course that’s what everybody wants when they come to mediation – they want to get their way. But it was a bit unusual that it ended so quickly,” she said.

Mediators say that they must be able to understand cultural differences without making broad generalizations or assumptions.

“As neutrals, we have to make sure that our experiences don’t enter into it,” Meuser said.

Real and perceived differences

We’ve all heard the saying, “As American as apple pie,” but some Americans don’t like apples. Or pie. So to assume that all members of a particular culture share the same values or personality traits would be a fallacy, as attorney and mediator Sam Ardery explained.

Ardery, of the Bloomington firm Bunger & Robertson, said that he does not assume that people from different cultures will necessarily react differently to mediation than anyone else would.

“It doesn’t give them credit for having done their own research about it,” he said.

When Ardery knows that clients come from different cultural backgrounds, he tries to learn about the people before he meets them.

“I do a little more preparation ahead of time and call those people, or call their lawyers and talk to them,” he said.

Some differences are not so much about customs in other cultures, but are more about the value Americans place on certain transactions – like contracts.

“In the United States, we sign a contract, we assume it’s binding. But for some people when they sign a contract, that’s the beginning of the negotiation,” Ardery said.

Doing business at home and abroad
 

lykins-dallin-mug.jpg Lykins

Dallin Lykins, an immigration attorney at Lewis & Kappes in Indianapolis who has mediated family law cases, has experienced how some cultures have a different view of business relationships.

Lykins was a missionary for his church in Costa Rica for two years, and in that time, he observed an approach to business that is considerably different than the contract-driven American business culture.

“It seemed to me that a lot of their issues they took much more personally. Especially in business settings, everyone was viewed as a friend,” he said.

“Almost every aspect of our lives is based on, ‘We have to form a contract first.’ In Costa Rica, I didn’t notice this as much. It was often, ‘This guy’s my friend, and this should be fine,’ and that was very often successful when a dispute came up,” Lykins said.

Much of what Lykins understands about cultural differences he learned through the process of trial-and-error.

He said his tendency to think, “There’s a problem, you resolve it,” wasn’t necessarily what people expected out of him, especially in family disagreements. “They wanted someone to help them handle the emotional aspects of the dispute.”

In cross-cultural mediations, he said, mediators should take the time to learn about how the specific problem parties wish to address – divorce, for example – may carry different weight in another country.

“You have to do your homework and know about that culture and what to expect, but second, listen to them and know what their background is and what they expect,” Lykins said.

The best way to understand a person’s background is to ask, rather than assume, as reflected in the Pew Hispanic Center’s report called, “When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity.” The report, released April 4, stated only 29 percent of Latino or Hispanic people agree that they share a common culture, with 69 percent saying that Latinos in the United States have many different cultures.

Language barriers

Meuser’s firm handled a mediation between a Muslim man and his ex-wife, in which one disagreement concerned a word he asked his daughter to use when referring to his new wife, who was also Muslim.

“What this gentleman wanted was to refer to his new wife by a name that wasn’t familiar to everyone, and the biological mother was concerned that the man’s daughter was calling her ‘Mommy,’” Meuser said. “We did research on the Internet while they were here, and we tried to find out what the meaning was of that word, and we found out that word wasn’t ‘mother,’ but that it was a term for a revered adult female.”

The father hadn’t been able to explain the word – at least not to his ex-wife’s satisfaction. But when mediators explained what they found in their online research, she did not object to the term.

Meuser recalled another instance where language presented some challenges for mediators.

“We also had a Japanese woman here who had bank accounts in Japan, and her husband was relying on her to translate, to say what they meant,” she said. The mediators had no way of knowing whether the woman’s translation of the documents was accurate, so the final mediation agreement was drafted to say that if the husband later found out that she had deceived him about the bank accounts, the case would be reopened.

Cultural impact on closure

The American Bar Association’s Section of Dispute Resolution scheduled a continuing legal education program for April 20, to be held at its annual convention. The program description for the CLE, “When Is A Deal A Deal?  The Impact of Culture on Closure and the Durability of Settlement Agreements,” states that in different cultures, people view fairness, truth and durability quite differently. That’s something Ardery heard about recently at a seminar.

“I was just at an ethics seminar in Cincinnati and they had two people there who were general counsel for large multinational organizations and they talked about situations they ran into where they went into certain cultures where gift-giving was part of the culture,” he said. To Americans, gift-giving in business can be seen as bribing.

“So (while) in the United States no one would legally expect to go and give someone in the government a gift – I’m going to buy you a vacation home, and you pass this piece of legislation – there are some places in the world where that is expected,” he said.

Ardery said that despite any differences between cultures, mediators generally must prove their trustworthiness in the same manner, using the “Trust Equation” set forth in the book “The Trusted Advisor,” by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford.

That equation means mediators must demonstrate credibility, reliability and intimacy – or, how secure the client feels – all over a “denominator” of self-interest, meaning the mediator is motivated by the client’s needs.

“In thinking about that, I think it really applies, whether somebody grew up in the Midwest, or somebody grew up halfway around the world,” Ardery said.•
 

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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