Intercultural Mediation at Work – Written by Susanne Schuler – Reviewed by Patrick Schmidt

Applicants need graciousness, benevolence and love  Mediation, as defined by Wikipedia, is a dynamic, structured, interactive process where a neutral third party assists disputing parties in resolving conflict through the use of specialized communication and negotiation techniques. A theoretical, dry … Continue reading

In Favour of A Cultural Compromise? – an opinion piece by Matthew Hill

The word COMPROMISE seems to produce a range of emotions, reactions and comments depending on who is listening.

“No one ever remembers a great compromise.”

Not quite win / Not quite win

Not quite win / Not quite win

My starting point for understanding compromise occurred in the white heat of alpha capitalism where it was legitimate for the winner to take all. This casino like attitude of winning and losing deflated the winner’s sensitivity for the consequences suffered by the loser. Freed, the protagonist treated the episode as a mere transaction and quickly moved on.

Within an intercultural setting we move from isolated transactions to societies and a timeline of connected events. Repetition may lead to escalating pain and negative beliefs for the loser. Over time, this produces a reaction – passive aggression, non-cooperation, resistance and accumulated feelings of resentment.

From a cultural perspective compromise can foster pragmatism, diplomacy and an emphasis on fostering long-term relationships. This creates a different social dynamic and energy. Here the outcome of “not quite to win / not quite win” may have the benefit of preserving a bond that will undoubtedly yield greater value over subsequent weeks, months and years.

In the Cartesian exchange of logic and rational questioning, the outcome of a compromise can be seen as an optimal solution that achieves the least worst outcome for both parties. In such a way we can ascribe a positive quality to this sometimes dirty word.

Mediator Paul Rathbone talks of the “amygdala hijack” a triggering of our primitive brain that produces the fight, flight or freeze response. This explains your neighbour’s angry outburst over a 10 cm boundary infringement in the garden or when you play Black Sabbath songs too late and too loud in the evening.

Here the starting position is a war cry – “revenge.”

Often it is the job of the mediator to bring competing parties to the table and with hard work, illustrate the costs of their competitive strategy in order to lay the groundwork for a mediated solution. The mediator’s magic works when the parties are ready to consider a deal that is “good enough” or accept something that both parties can “live with.”

It is when empathic listening skills encompass the consequence for the other party’s of one’s actions that the shift occurs.

The benefits of compromise

It preserves “face” and honour. It can save time, reduce the risk of retribution and it can preserve one of our most important and undervalued commodities – a give and take alliance.

It is the reputation – saving quality of a decent compromise that is frequently missed. Many cultures and communities value the status of their figureheads and require them to fight and win against foreign bodies.

It is in this spirit that the Golden Bridge of a dignified retreat is critical to reaching a longer-term mutually agreed settlement that yields the positive result of peace and prosperity.

It is a good General who knows when to fight. It is a great one who knows when to beat a hasty or even an undignified retreat.

So, what is the lesson here?

Can we build our self-awareness to a level where we know when our primitive brain is running the show? Can we interrupt our full pursuit of primitive revenge? Can we intervene and shout “STOP”, sidestep the caveman within us and re-engage our intellect to pursue a better path? Can we learn the reasonable allocation of assets through the pursuit of a dignified dialogue?

Will we now seek out optimum benefit for all parties with minimum damage to the status quo?

Homework – Test yourself tomorrow…

When you next receive a slight, challenge or provocation what will you do? Will your first thought be to avenge a wrong? And will your second be to calm your inner caveman? Hopefully your third thought will focus on creating mechanisms to preserve your relationship and to not inflict quite so much damage as you initially wished? Good luck with the struggle…

Matthew Hill is a culture and diversity facilitator working with international corporate executives.

The Business of Culture – Realms, Regions and Justification

An Opinion Piece by Matthew Hill

Whilst the person sitting across the table from you is probably not from, “another planet,” they may well be operating in another “realm.”

Justitia, a monument in Frankfurt, Germany

Interculturally sensitive readers of this blog will be mindful of cultural difference, sensitive to stereotypes and will respond in a sophisticated way when they bump into a simple dimensional anomaly.

Over the years, I have found that there is a profitable way to improve international negotiation and that is to increase awareness of “realms.”

That’s not fair!

Think about your childhood and playing outside. If someone took one of your toys you might complain, “That’s not fair!” Your version and vision of justice would be based on the universal principle of fairness. As a child it seems obvious when boundaries are crossed and it seems equally obvious that complaining about this is the best way to get justice for yourself.

We continue with our notions of fairness until enough incidents of unprosecuted unfairness force us to painfully adapt our model to include many many exceptions. It is at this stage that we may begin to experience and notice privilege and marginality and our inclusion or exclusion from dominant groups in society. This rite of passage provides a more complex political picture of the world.

I fought the law…

In business, adults tend to have a regional view of the law. At its most extreme there are ambulance chaser lawyers in the USA perceiving the courts as a cash machine or a venue to pitch a business case for gain. In Britain, most small and medium-sized enterprises rely surprisingly heavily on the letter of UK law in upholding the signed contracts kept safe under lock and key in their offices.

A slap in the face

Both of these cases are realm-centric and seem to operate well domestically. It is only when we cross over to another realm that the culture shock of an alternative form of justice slaps us in the face.

There are lands that, historically, have relied much less on the judiciary and much more on either hierarchical power structures or long-term relationships.

The former is resented by aristocracy, asset backed power, kleptocracy or Mafia like structures. The latter probably represents the majority of the business population in the world. Here the exchange of favours, reciprocity of action and the recording of these successful trades builds a deep and internally reliable system of stable commerce in the local marketplace.

Problems arise when we leave our own domain carrying our “home-realm” baggage with us in the form of our point of view, contact expectation or preferred measure of legitimacy.

It is when the entrepreneurial US lawyer, with minimal precedence pushes for advantage in a land dominated by long-term relationships that escalated misunderstanding are almost guaranteed to occur.

Fighter Bomber

Fighter Bomber

Fighter Planes for Peace

A famous example of contrasting realms occurred in the UK when one of the largest British defence companies offered financial inducements for the Saudi Government to invest in a large number of fighter aircraft.

If one took a strictly legal view, the inducements were against the law and the parties involved should have been prosecuted. If one took a relational view, a pragmatic view or a utilitarian one, then the securing of 10,000 manufacturing jobs in an economically deprived area of the UK seemed a decent and humane justification for letting the deal go through unhindered and unchallenged.

In the end, no prosecution occurred and the deal stood – to the benefit of the workers and the confusion of those who saw British law as absolute.

Bribery and corruption

Since then, the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act have reduced wiggle-room on realms and led to the dominance of law over relationship.

My time in culture has taught me that words such as right, wrong, better, worse and good and bad are relatively weak in the context of global business and that different realms may not easily be compared as like for like.

It is more useful to understand from which realm your negotiation partner is operating and to reconcile those differences as best you can.

So, the next time you feel your blood coming to the boil, remember, they are not from, “another planet” but they are definitely operating from another realm.

Author Matthew Hill is an intercultural and negotiation trainer working with multinationals in Europe.