Cross-cultural differences in international succession mediation

Author: Agnieszka Olszewska

Cultural differences between people of different cultural backgrounds often cause a conflict, shape its course and influence the solutions. International succession mediation is often linked with transnational and transcultural context, because of the parties that reside in different countries, as well as those who have been raised and influenced by different cultural assumptions.

One of the challenges of conducting such cases is taking into consideration some additional factors that hamper mutual understanding, for example different ways of responding to a conflict, problem solving strategies, accentuating various elements of problem solving satisfaction, differences in time perception or in expressiong emotions, attitudes towards privacy and decision-making, differences in family roles and duties. One of the elements that prepare a mediator to conduct cross-cultural cases is the knowledge of cultural differences that determine the specificity of intercultural communication. Understanding some distinct meanings behind parties’ hidden and cover behaviours often help to  avoid conflict escalation.

There are several major cultural dimensions that are particularly relevant to a course of transnational succession mediation. They key aspects are notions of individualism and collectivism that shape relations between individuals and a group. Family mediation that deals with division of an inheritance often assumes that family relations influence the definition of a family, the responsibilities of an individual towards the family, the impact of a family perspective on an individual’s decisions and its members’ opinions. The collectivist / individualist dimension is linked to another dimension, the communication style, which stands for communicating in a direct manner or, on the other hand, within a context. The division into expressive and reserved cultures is based on the manner of expressing emotions.

One of other important cultural dimensions is power distance, in other words, the hierarchy of authority. On the one hand, it influences mediator’s role and position in a mediation process, on the other hand, it shapes the expectiations towards mediation procedures and rank that is assigned to particular family members according to their age, gender or social status. Cultures demonstrating high power distance view power as distributed unevenly, according to a hierarchy of authority. However, conducting transnational mediation features another major cultural difference, various perceptions of time, which derives from differences between monochronic and polychronic cultures. It influences parties expectations regarding mediation’s  schedule and time frames, punctuality, or the order of taking part in the discussion.

In cross-border succession case, we are dealing with intercultural communication which raises the level of communication difficulty. This is related to the following processes: assumptions that other think and speak alike, assuming that a certain phrase or sentence has only one meaning, misinterpreting non-verbal signals that are conditioned by a culture to a great degree and we have some stereotypes and prejudice that impair objective perception of other people.

There are some coexisting features of a given culture that facilitate creating some assumptions in terms of culturally-bound problem solving methods. They are usually combinations of different dimensions of cultures or its important aspects, for example an individualistic and collective approach or styles of communication.

Another key task for a mediator is to notice the grounds for the parties’ satisfaction in terms of solving the problem. There is a model, based on a research and observation, that divide human needs into a triangle-shaped chart, The Triangle of Satisfaction-substantive satisfaction, procedural satisfaction, psychological satisfaction. There are some cultural differences in terms of assigning various levels of importance to particular aspects of satisfaction. Collectivist cultures (or religious groups) which focus on the harmony within a group, value the importance of psychological satisfaction rather highly.

One of the most significant tasks a mediator performs, is noticing the behavioural differences and their background, parties’ expectations and habits, pointing out the cultural standards and providing  help to understand them. Sometimes it is significant to reformulate the messages so that both parties understand them.

Intercultural co-mediation is one of the most effective work methods in a cultural conflict context. On the one hand, the mediators both model with each other an effective cooperation and an understanding that respects cultural differences, on the other hand, they introduce in a very natural way knowledge of the other culture and its legal background.



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About the author:

Mediator, psychoeducation trainer, member of the Family Mediators Association. Specialized in cross-border/cross-cultural mediation, she completed training in International Family Mediation, TIM Brussels 2011. From 2007 she has been working in the field of integration of foreigners in Poland.