Mediation: The Socio-Cultural IMPACT

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Mediation essentially is a process of non-adversarial and non-aggressive resolution to a dispute regardless of the methodology or preferred model style.  At times the process of mediation like in Party Direct Mediation (PDM) is directly imposed upon the principals themselves.  We might actually find ourselves by situation and circumstance in a defaulted imposed scenario where our abilities to navigate through a potentially contentious interaction make us the mediator on demand.  The critical key is to maintain focus on the issues and not the ad hominem components of the exchange that can lead to proliferation rather than resolution.

It is vital to recognize the various styles of the mediatory process can be called on as multi-cultural dynamics and circumstance may warrant a process preference.

Culture on Commerce

Most of the multi-cultural mediation exposure will come from what we generally regard as small business, and not necessarily from geographically distant regions but from within a community that experiences an increase in multi-cultural exposure.

It is conventionally acknowledge that commerce affects every tier of society.  There is more commerce and societal economic dependency in what is small business enterprises as an aggregated group than the media and news attention given to the larger commercial enterprises.  The reason the larger enterprises get the attention is simply because it is (1) easier to target the reporting of the larger enterprises than so many smaller ones and (2) the volume of commerce that moves through a concentrated platform provides indices which reporting is suggestive of the overall platform of like industry rather than trying to encompass innumerable smaller platforms of the same industry category.

Since quantifiably there are more transactions involving smaller business it is reasonable to accept the more disputes arise in small business relationships.  Many small businesses are launched and operated by immigrants that come into the host society – the new land to call home.  Thus giving rise to multi-culture awareness in mediation even within one country.

Multi-Cultural Commercial Impact by Immigration on Lithuania

Since this paper and presentation is being delivered in Lithuania, I wanted to provide a partial focus assessment on the commercial cultural dynamic and the foreseeable conflicts that will arise requiring mediation whether by a choice of the parties or by order of the courts. There is no crystal ball to foretell the future but Lithuania can learn from other societies and analyze current empirical information.  Countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Switzerland and other countries that have experienced waves of immigration provide much reflection from which to learn what to do, what not to do and how to take anticipatory preparations.

Lithuania will not be spared nor should it in the global changes of migratory population movement.  It will bring opportunities and challenges that will often not be seen but felt through time and exposure.   For most of the last nearly 100 years Lithuania has been shrouded by occupiers through at the least two world wars, not to mention expulsions and forced deportations that terrorized its population.  Yet through the resilience and character of the Lithuanian people, Lithuania again regained its independence as the first republic to declare independence from the Soviet Union – triggering successive republics to do the same.  Today Lithuania is as an independent democratic sovereign republic.   Lithuanians have in the past 20 years since independence immigrated to other countries in Europe and North America generally for economic reasons.  Their participation and contribution in their adoptive communities have been reputed, acknowledged and valued.  Likewise today as non-indigenous people relocate to Lithuania they too will bring valued contributions to Lithuania.  But all people bring distinctions in diversity of mentality attitude – special conduct and expectations and through this diversity and plurality societies find greater strength.  However, this immigration integration into local commerce will also include disputes, contentions that that will require and demand a mediation where the cultural sensitivities will become a matter of incumbency for the mediator.  Necessary to establish the position of impartiality and heightened awareness to facilitate the navigation of the parties through the process for settlement.  The cultural development of the society will place greater demand on the legal system as well, attorneys and judiciary alike.

Statistics report immigration to Lithuania is on the rise.  In 2010 Lithuania received approximately 5000 immigrants while in 2012 nearly 20 000. (http://osp.stat.gov.lt/en/statistiniu- rodikliuanalize?portletFormName=visualization&hash =687e2dfa-2c1b-445b-a7ac-a82292c71913)

There is every reasonable expectation that these numbers will increase. Lithuania is a geographic cross-roads of east and west for commerce and politics.  Commerce will induce more and more immigration.  Competing with commerce based immigration will also be the Asylee and Refugee seekers that have and continue to come from regions in conflagration.   Ultimately this will fuel the ever growing community of non-indigenous people to the country and the region.  Lithuania is becoming more and more multi-cultural.  This cross and multi -cultural infusion will impact everyday life, the way business gets done between people and even the manner in which government – law enforcement will interact with community and the manner in which the judiciary will administer the law will have to contend and deal with the introduction of cultures and the manner in which these cultures conduct themselves.

Disputes will arise in local communities on contracts and agreements from failure of understanding or interpretation of language or understanding of the terms and conditions.  Simple body gestures and cultural traditions of engaging into an agreement or consummating a transaction could trigger contentions.  Culturally accepted practices in Eastern Europe of alcohol consumption as a precursor or post transaction salutation may find itself as an unwelcome or even an abhorrent activity to other person of non-Eastern European culture where business performance is viewed distinctively.  Other aspects that include body language where some Eastern cultures avoid eye contact by casting their heads downward as a sign of respect can in the Western culture be misunderstood as gesture of disrespect or someone not being fully honest.

The overall commerce activity mechanism and the people in it from the principals to the professional across society will become more and more globalized.  In no short part will the mediator role be excused.  Infact the Mediators awareness to these cultural nuances will be critical, indeed vital for being the respected person placed in unbiased trust by contentious parties to navigate to a resolution and settlement.  The mediation process will grow in terms of quantifiable need.  With it must come the Mediator professionally qualified and regulated to the highest standards of performance and conduct. Integrity, impartiality and awareness to the sensitivities even those cultural of the parties in contention are critical. The mediation process will grow in terms of quantifiable need.

This will place greater weight on the legal profession to be more precise and particular in its drafting – it will certainly place a greater demand on professional standards.  Laws that are deemed as the norm will require evolution, adjustment, amendment and modifications through the legislative and arguably the judicial process as well – in order that the intent of the law – which in every society must always reflect, fundamental precepts of justice and equitable relief.

Small business is vital to the sustainability of any community.  Small business make an ocean of commerce one drip at time.  I have personally found the Lithuanian experience to be welcoming.  Clarity enhances when questions are asked and they should be.  Clarity provides for informed decision making and mitigates contention.   However, as in every society there is always an incident in the making.  It rarely reflects society but it only takes on person to cast dispersion that is generally based on ignorance or lack of awareness.

An incident of multi-cultural contention with local business professed itself to me personally where I took on the role by imposed default of PDM mediation,  even if the other person did not recognize he was in effect in a mediatory process.  In reality he was, and did remarkably well. The incident albeit between two people can in conditions also impact the commerce value of a local business venue of the occurrence.

Vilnius, (Old Town) Lithuania.  – Transylvania Bar (now closed)

It was winter 2012 – with -20 degree temperature outside.  Late in the evening my friend Arunas Krausuaskas and I after finishing a cigar at the Cigrau Namai went to the adjoining business the Transylvania Bar for a beer and snack to watch a Tennis match that was being aired.  We seated ourselves along the back wall at a table with two stools.  The space between us and the bar was narrow – enough for one more row of persons to find space to stand.  We finished our snack and ordered our second beer to ease us through the conclusion of the match.   What happened next was more engaging than the match itself.

A youngman in his late 20s (I would guess) walked in and took the space before our table along the bar.  He order a beer and a plate of cheese.  The Plate of cheese was the triggering spark to the conversation.  After some minutes he turned to us – looked directly at me and said in a condescending tone “you must me hungry – have some cheese”.  I thanked him said NO and we proceeded to watch the match we were there for.  After a few short minutes he turned and repeated the offer.  I looked to Arunas and said – lets each take a piece of cheese – to keep the environment congenial.  We thanked him and went back to our game.   The youngman then interrupted to ask if I was Turkish.  I said no I was not.  He then wanted to know where I was from – I said the US.  He continued to the conversation by saying that NOT HIMSELF, but others in the bar may not appreciate my presence in the bar – rubbing his index finger from one hand on the forearm of the other – indicating the pigmentation of my skin.  I gently replied with attenuation in voice of amusement and said if that is a problem then it is a problem for others not for me.  I then went on to tell him that I did not draw the lines on the map to make countries – I only know we are all on planet – home to us all, earth.  That if he really did not like the idea he might try moving to another planet.  He looked in wonderment as though for the first time recognizing that we were all one human race on one planet.  He took a sip of this beer – then stepped out – without his winter coat.  I could see him through the bar’s window smoking and pondering gazing to nowhere He returned surprisingly thanked us for the conversation.  We congenially concluded our evening in our respective spaces within the bar.

The point is that mediation happens anytime we negotiate peaceful resolution.  The point also is that that type of behavior has an impact on local drip by drip economy.  In an alternative scenario a customer may have felt unwelcome and left.  A fight may have ensued and law enforcement would need to have been brought in.  All in all cultural sensitivities, awareness the impact on local business would be impacted. Multi-culture is here – locally and in community it has impact on local business and commerce.  The art of mediating and negotiating in awareness of the details are vital and now becoming critical as Lithuania’s cultural dynamic starts to shift – and as such in the commerce environment as well.

The incident solution was in a word AWARENESS enhancement.

Awareness becomes key to any multi-cultural mediatory process.  Understanding the contentious party and their pre-disposition can often yield insight as to how to navigate the process.  Inter-personal skills become critical to the engagement to bring about an understanding.

A multi-cultural mediation process within a country which was identified based on underlying race issues recently received global attention.  It took respected community leaders to engage in a collaborative style with local residence and officials to reduce civil strife.  This served to exemplify the age old process of having highly regarded personages provide a mediatory platform to calming community unrest.

Community Leadership Impact in a Multi-Race / Culture Mediation.

Ferguson Missouri – United States.  Police Shooting.

Shooting by Police in Ferguson, Missouri in the United States as we recently saw was devastating societally and had a direct adverse impact on the involved community.  The tragedy of loss of life was as anywhere horrific.  The impact on community was a shut down-of local businesses the state drain on added efforts to bring resolution.  Resolution did not come with guns but by allowing for a venting of emotions, engaging with community leaders and officials.  We saw still the divides within a community.  Mediation at times can take on the role of community involvement and as such played a critical role and will continue to as the Ferguson community found a way to ease tensions.  The mediation process will continue with the participation of community leaders that acted as Mediators – the elders and respected persons in community that a divided community turned too to bring about a cessation of civil strife within its community.  The civil and societal issues that merged in Ferguson County will still take time for permanent and lasting resolve, but the [process of dialog and community based mediation is in effect.

Mediation simply is the process of peace building.  As communities harmonize the adverse impact on the commercial environment reduces it conversely increase commerce activity.   There truly is more long term economic gain in peace than in conflagration at any level.  Mediation provides for that enhanced community benefit. All societal issues that raise contention that touch on a multi-culture theme have a direct impact on commerce whether localized, national or international.

Mediator – in Multi-Cultural Process

Communities from diverse backgrounds will engage in contracts and agreements and it is conceivable the mediator will come from an entirely distinct culture from the parties involved.

Mediators need to consider with particularity the culture involved in the process and make certain assumptions as which three (3) possibilities of engagement would fit the mediatory requirement for best result.

(1) apply one’s accustomed model of mediation, but be sensitive to cultural issues;

(2) adapt one’s accustomed model to include generally accepted cultural nuances;

(3) develop a mediation model specific to the traditional norms and practices of the groups in mediating (Lederach, 1986; 1995).

The first response, cultural sensitivity, preserves the main elements of the interest-based mediation process. The mediator, however, needs to become aware of cultural factors and how they affect the mediation process. For example, we touched on eye contact earlier, and it serves as a valued example.  Eye contact or lack of it carries different messages of respect, openness and perceived truthfulness based on the culture. Some cultures interpret direct eye contact as a sign of respect, attentiveness and truthfulness, yet in others a downward position of the eyes or head in the direction of another person while in communication is an expression of respect – in such cases direct eye contact can be construed as disrespectful or offensive.   .

The mediator must be aware of such nuances not only for the mediator to engage in the mediatory process, but also to create an awareness of such cultural nuances to parties engaged in the mediation as warranted by cultures participating and circumstance. To have an affective mediation the mediator must exert every effort to be sensitive to the participants’ values, beliefs, and other norms of communication. Mediators also need to be aware that they do not apply adjustments in overt manner but with subtlety.  An overtly noticeable attempt can also lead to more contention than resolution.

In the second approach, that I refer to as model modification, the mediator starts with the accustomed model of mediation and makes modifications in style and technique to accommodate the culture of the parties. The modifications as examples can be the setting of the mediation – informal or formal, or certain customs of the culture for the commencement or settlement components of the mediation.

The final model is an elicited approach. This requires a culture specific mediation model.  The mediator works with people from the culture to support existing methods of conflict resolution or to create new models that builds on existing strengths in the culture. This type of activity may well reflect more community development work (Campfens, 1997) than clinical mediation.

Conclusion

I submit that cultural diversity is the timeless interwoven thread of connection that gives the color and pattern to the human experience and as such creates the various dynamics in the world of commerce.  That dynamic includes the part of conflict resolution and mediation.  We take the good and only the good, the bad is really only a challenge – it is merely illusion suggestive of an absence of good or success since the ability of resolution lies exclusively in our own capabilities.

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About the Author

Shaan Shahrukh DHANJI

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