Mediation in Intercultural Conflicts: How far can mediation help?

The antidote to our global problems may seem obvious – cross-border cooperation. But, borders are there for a reason: they are built to surround cultural and religious groupings and for nation states to protect their own.

The more we are connected technologically and economically, the more challenges we may face. Through the interdependence of nations and cultures, disputes and dispute resolution processes need to account for much more than just the dispute itself. As we follow new social and political trends and developments, intercultural understanding is key to averting potential conflicts and promoting cross-border collaboration. Intercultural mediation is used when a conflict is determined or influenced by cultural differences and when its resolution takes these cultural differences into consideration, even if the cultural differences may not be the actual or original source of a dispute.

One might think that a common value system would allow us to transcend borders and enhance cooperation as part of a healthy, global community. Let us assume for a moment that this will work and let’s explore that value system- what components would we find? Experts agree that charity, fairness, benevolence, loyalty, and the protection of the rights and freedoms are common values that are found around the world. In our daily lives, this is experienced as positive conscience, virtues, a strong inner sense of justice, and an understanding of the consequences of our actions. Unfortunately, these components often prove to be highly ineffective when it comes to resolving cross-cultural conflicts.

Why is that? We tend to apply these values only to members of our own community and not to ‘non-members’ or members of other groups. So, we have values and live by them, but in order to resolve conflicts between communities and groups or even on a global level, we need to expand our borders and identify what it is we understand a community or group to be. Within a group, we have a common purpose. This is important and helps us deal with local conflicts very well; we respect the perspective and points of view of our fellow members. By changing our perspective and walking in our colleagues’ shoes, we can begin to cooperate effectively by appreciating both points of view.

Amongst our many values, there is one ‘driving value’ which is powerful enough to connect different perspectives and facilitates effective cooperation. It’s the value of Charity. It is experienced as graciousness, benevolence and love. Is this the purest form of altruism? It moves us to care about the well-being and outcomes of others within our group. “Within our group”, soldiers, for example, are trained to dehumanise their enemies in order to be able to fire their weapons if necessary. They must switch off this human trait in order to be able to kill members of another group. This kind of dilemma is called the “Us-Them-problem” (Joshua Green). Evolution prepared us to deal effectively with the “I-We-problem”, to put our own interests below those of others within our social community. This has been critical for our survival. It didn’t, however, prepare us to cooperate with “Them”.

In transnational business, global pollutions, and multi-country conflict, something more is needed to achieve a resolution. An emotional extension of our borders has become crucial for our survival. Learning how to do this is a great opportunity. It may be the only chance to overcome global problems and to resolve conflicts effectively. This requires developing a new vision with an expanded identity which spreads beyond borders – a global identity as an add-on to our existing local ones. This may allow us to change perspectives, combine points of view and to care for others within and beyond our own communities.

Intercultural Mediation is a powerful tool, which can assist us in changing perspectives and developing a curiosity for the issues of others and breaking the borders that exist between individuals and cultures. Intercultural competence is key, not just for those in positions of power but also for the wider community. Understanding common cultural values allows us to transcend cultural and political borders through effective dialogue and collaboration to resolve disputes.

By Susanne Schuler, Director of Training and Consultancy, CEDR
Susanne Schuler is a qualified lawyer and an accredited mediator in the U.K., Germany and Switzerland. She has been working in the dispute resolution field since the mid 1990’s and has facilitated more than 100 mediation processes in recent years. Her clients mainly originate from the corporate world but community and divorce mediation also form part of Susanne’s dispute resolution work before joining CEDR.

Languages: English – French – German – Spanish


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