Mediation in Multicultural Teams

Communicating Across Cultures

Communicating Across Cultures

If you manage a multicultural team, and you’ve had to mediate a conflict between two or more team members from different cultures (and what supervisor or manager hasn’t had to do this, right?), you may have experienced the same situation that I’ve experienced as an intercultural mediator. You start off the mediation by asking, “What would a perfect resolution to this challenge look like for you?” and you get two similar yet different answers. One party says, “I want this to stop AND I want him (or her) off the team!” and the other party says, “I want this to stop and I want to be acknowledged for my contributions to the team.” Both parties want the behavior to stop but they want two different resolutions to make it stop.

As an interculturalist, it is always interesting to me to see the cultural aspects to these responses. The first response – I want to end this untenable situation by removing the offending party – is focusing on ending the problem immediately. It is “present-oriented” and resolves the problem quickly. The second response – I want to end this untenable situation through acknowledging contributions – requires much more energy and communication than the first. This response is “future-oriented” and suggests that all team members remain, but work be done to ensure the future of the team through communication and acknowledging resulting hardships from the conflict.

Most interculturalists would bet that the first response comes from someone from an individualistic culture, one that focuses on personal rights and immediate consequences that might even end the relationship. They would probably bet that the second response comes from someone of a collectivist culture, one that focuses on harmony within the team and solving issues so that the relationship will grow. This is a critical difference: some cultures focus on the individual and some cultures focus on the group.

Oh, and one more thing. As the mediator, don’t forget your own cultural filters. You will be seeing the “facts” through your cultural filters which might cause you to unconsciously favor one side over another.

When you manage a multicultural team or group, consider these simple suggestions for mediating a conflict:

  1. Do your homework before the mediation meeting.
    Research each cultures’ orientation with regard to “individualism” and “collectivism” (including your own culture) so that you will have prior knowledge of some cultural values of each culture. A web tool to compare countries on this cultural dimension at   GOAL: increase your understanding of, and sensitivity to, the influence of culture in a conflict.
  2. Start the meeting by asking each party to describe the resolution that they want. �
    Engage the parties in a discussion about the differences, focusing on the value that drives the expectation. You may find that each party has the same value (respect, for instance) but the behavior that each party associates with respect may be different. GOAL: find cultural commonalities as a way to connect the  parties at a deep level.
  3. If the parties have the same or a similar value, facilitate the mediation by periodically referring back to it.
    When both parties have the same value, even though the behavior associated with the value is different, use that “value connection” as a way to encourage discussion about differences in behavior.  GOAL: take the focus off the behaviors that drove the conflict and onto the realm of understanding where the conflict began. Here is where potential resolution will begin.

Jacqueline Oliveira, M.A.,  is Director of Global Teams Practice at Charis and can be reached at

2 thoughts on “Mediation in Multicultural Teams

  • America

    Congratulations, inspiring, and very informative Charis Newsletter.
    The training information is very interesting, and I think mediation in multicultural teams should be mandatory in all business and government offices.

    All the best,

  • Rozilda

    I believe that having some type of multicultural education is a must for everyone, no matter what professional field you are in. I think that everyone encounters someone from a different culture frequently throughout their lives whether it is on the phone, in passing on the street, during class, at a restaurant, etc. If we are provided with some multicultural education, then we can be more tolerable and learn to appreciate other cultures.

    There are several benefits to knowing about other cultures. If we are more culturally competent, then we will be able to be more accepting of the differences between other cultures, we will be able to interact with other cultures in a more positive way and we may even learn something new that impacts our lives in different ways. Multicultural issues greatly impact our service delivery as speech language pathologist. When helping students who are from another culture, there are several factors that need to be considered and researched. These factors include whether the errors produced are from a disorder or difference, if the tests given are standardized based on that child’s culture, making sure the tests are given in English and in their native language, and the beliefs and values that may impact how the child and family responds during assessment and treatment. These factors need to be researched ahead of time so that the speech pathologist is well prepared and does not offend their clients due to a lack of understanding of their values. Our service delivery to those from another culture is greatly impacted by hanivg a multicultural education. One does not need to know everything about every culture, but hanivg a multicultural education will prepare you and lead you to take the necessary steps in order to provide the the proper services to clients from another culture.

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