Effective Mediation Requires Cultural Awareness
Business transactions that are only about business are rarer than you might think—and the same applies to mediation and business.
Awareness of aspects beyond just the business is one of the things that makes Cantrell Mediation successful for our clients. For example, several years ago I was mediating a contract dispute between two successful entrepreneurs. Both were smart, articulate, knowledgeable, and blessed with a keen business sense: Clearly this was going to be a rationally-based mediation wherein the result would depend on a straight forward profit/loss and risk/benefit analysis. Easy and direct enough, and we came up with what most would consider an excellent compromise for both. But it was not to be.
During the mediation, it became clear that both entrepreneurs maintained strong family and business ties in their communities. I was separately informed by both—and in no uncertain terms—that the proffered agreement for mediation was unworkable. Apparently agreeing to such a compromise, in their view, would have resulted in an unacceptable loss of face in their culture.
Please know that the business numbers absolutely worked. But while I have generally considered myself to be culturally aware, I clearly needed to reconsider this ramification. They both specifically made the point that their Asian culture demanded they win and keep face—something I had not seen so clearly before.
In this case, thankfully, after additional mediation—and a fair amount of creative thinking—we resolved the issue by creating dummy corporations, divorcing them from each of the new corporations, and allowing the new corporations to fail. The old corporations reaped the benefits of the compromise and saved face (and maybe created a little extra face), while the new corporations took the fall and absorbed all the loss of face associated with the agreement.
The numbers still worked, as they had before, and the mediation was successful. And we at Cantrell Mediation learned to look beyond just the business numbers and ask a few more question—to understand the cultural requirements of the outcome for all parties.
It was an education that we carry through to all mediations, even today, and put to use for all our successful mediations across all cultures.
Garry P. Cantrell