Language Interpreters, and Mediating Cross-Cultural Disputes

As our society becomes increasingly multicultural, the potential for cross-cultural disputes becomes more likely. Unlike same-culture disputes, cross-cultural disputes are difficult to mediate due to the unique challenge of having to understand the needs of someone from a different culture.

The mediator’s job is to assist the two disputing parties in seeing the other side’s point of view. To accomplish this, the mediator must first be able to step outside his or her own culture and view the dispute from the perspectives of the represented cultures. This task presents a unique challenge to the mediator, one that requires both special preparation and cultural techniques.

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In an article on resolving cross-cultural disputes, author Bob Delaney offers the following advice for mediating cross-cultural disputes1:

  • Don’t assume all disputes between people of different cultures involve a cultural component.
  • Never assume what you are saying is understood. To assist with understanding, utilize such tools as having all documents translated into the parties’ language(s) and hiring a foreign language interpreter.
  • Prior to the mediation, research the parties’ cultural norms. During the mediation, ask the parties to explain to you any points you do not understand. Have the foreign language interpreter help you understand concepts that do not translate across cultures.

1Delaney, Bob. “Techniques for Resolving Cross-Cultural Disputes.” Mediation News.

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