This chapter was about the challenges of cultural diversity and ways in which in can influence the models chosen for mediation. Of particular importance in this chapter was the explanation of Hofstede’s Model of Cultural Differences, a set of continua that define one’s likely response to a given conflict and its handling (Folger & Jones, 1994, pp. 146-149). The continua include high vs. low Power Distance (one’s relative level of influential power), high vs. low uncertainty avoidance (ability to be comfortable in unstructured dialog), Individualism vs. collectivism (one’s willingness to break with norms in order to fulfill self’s needs), Masculinity vs. Femininity (one’s tendency to be more aggressive or more nurturing) (Folger & Jones, 1994, pp. 146-149).
Following this was an explanation of four models of mediation, and their best uses according to Hofstede’s model. There is Mediator controlled, in which mediators can call upon arbitration if a deadlock occurs (Folger & Jones, p. 149, 1994). Interventionist in which the mediator acts in the best interests of absent parties, such as children in divorce mediation (Folger & Jones, 1994, p. 151 ). Disputant Control, in which mediators act as simple maintainers and keepers of the process of disputants developing and owning their own solutions (Folger & Jones, 1994, p. 153). Then there is Relational Development, in which mediators work to establish commonality between parties before doing any sort of work on the issues themselves, in preparation for a more reasonable interaction in later mediation sessions (Folger & Jones, 1994, pp. 153-154).
I think one of the most interesting things about this chapter was the way in which it explained how cultural realities affect the way conflict might be handled in mediation, and specifically which mediation models might be most successful if you can effectively establish a sense of disputant cultures.
Donohue, W. A., & Bresnahan, M. I. (1994). Communication Issues in Mediating Cultural Conflict. In J. P. Folger & T. S. Jones (Eds.), New Directions in Mediation: Communication Research and Perspectives (pp. 135-158). Sage Publications, Inc.
Personal Experiential Application:
One interesting aspect of this chapter was specific information about how certain cultures are likely to deal with conflict. It gave me some clear insight into some specific conflict mediation situations I had encountered in the past that were culturally sensitive, but I wasn’t aware of the issues, and so I failed at mediating the situation.
I had a student worker, we’ll call her Susan, who was part of an international exchange program at the University, and who was a great student worker, always doing the tasks asked of her, always very quietly. As it turns out this quiet handling of tasks is a cultural sign of respect in this case, according to the Folger and Jones text, as she was Chinese.
It was this quietude that I encountered when I sat her down and asked very directly why a certain important delivery task hadn’t been done. She was caught in a lie, and there was clear evidence that the task, which had taken me and my staff a lot of time to set up, and then apparently was simply thrown out rather than delivered. We were surprised when we offered the ability to continue in the job if she could simply explain why the task hadn’t been done. She sat quietly, blinked at me, and said nothing. I asked several times if she could just tell me where the packages were so that we might be able to salvage them, and again got no response.
It turns out that my direct supervisory role and my actions in trying to resolve the problem, e.g., going directly to her and asking (accusing really) what had happened was in direct opposition to her social realities, which procluded speaking back to further conflict, bring issues out in the open in a direct way, and talking directly with the supervisor about an issue without an intermediary.
From Hofstede’s model, she was high power distance, high uncertainty avoidance, high collectivism, high femininity – given this, I might have taken a much more soft approach than the one that I did, but I wasn’t paying attention.