Maintaining “Fairness” By Complying with Cultural Expectations

Mediation is becoming increasingly prevalent as a method of settling disputes in the United States, as well as internationally. As such, the frequency of mediations that involve more than one culture is also increasing. To date, most of the research on cross-cultural mediation is generalized, although some authors are beginning to write more specific articles. As markets continue to globalize, use of international mediation will almost certainly continue to increase, and the research on cross-cultural mediation will expand. This paper provides a preliminary look at a particular aspect of culture, “Power-Distance,” and provides some guidance for mediators mediating intercultural power imbalances.

The focus of this paper is the effect a party’s Power-Distance Index (PDI) can have on mediation. After discussing the issue generally in Parts II and III, Part IV addresses some of the issues most likely to confront a mediator from a low PDI culture that is mediating a dispute involving one or more parties with a high PDI. It is the main thesis of this paper that in such a situation, the low PDI mediator should be very careful to respect the parties’ cultural approaches to power imbalance. Failure to observe the cultural dimensions of power distance in this situation is likely to produce an outcome that is inconsistent with the parties’ cultural expectations. Put another way, this paper argues that a mediator imposing his or her own cultural beliefs of “fairness” by trying to “level the playing field” in such a situation disregards the cultural background of the parties, which is culturally insensitive, ethnocentric, and “unfair.”

Part II begins this discussion by defining the core terms used throughout the paper. Part III then discusses the two opposite cultural extremes relating to power distance’s effect on mediation. Part IV analyzes the role of the mediator where parties have differing PDIs, and focuses on problems a low PDI mediator (such as from the United States) may face when one or more parties are from a high PDI culture. Part B of Section IV will suggest some general considerations that will help a mediator recognize and overcome those problems. Finally, Part V will provide a brief Conclusion.

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by Jasper Ozbirn
TAGGED: Mediation, * Papers

Jasper L. Ozbirn received a LL.M. in Dispute Resolution with an Emphasis in Mediation from the Straus Institute, Pepperdine University School of Law in May of 2011. He is presently an associate attorney with Citron & Citron in Santa Monica, California.