Cultural Diversity at Work: Management Tool for Multicultural Situations

Mediation is just one of the many new skills that managers of a multicultural teams need to have at their disposal.

Canada boasts one of the most culturally diverse populations in the world and many who are permitted to continue the rituals and customs of their particular culture. However, this can also create, conflict between these cultures. Considering the cultural and ethnic diversity of Canada, how does this affect the procedure and outcome of mediation?

The reason why disputants are seeking the assistance of a mediator may be more involved than just a simple disagreement; it may be the ethnicity and cultural background of those involved that is the root cause of the dispute. An effective mediator would recognize these ethnic differences between the disputants and probe each disputant to ascertain whether these differences do play a role in the dispute.

Mediation is defined as a model for solving disputes between two or more parties who agree to use the mediation process with a neutral third party facilitator. The mediator’s role is to provide the climate and the setting for disputing parties to express their concerns and feelings and to work together in resolving the conflict. This process challenges employees to accept responsibilities and to explore possible solutions that can result in a mutually satisfactory agreement. As managers become familiar with this process they will find many appropriate ways to ease conflict situations in the work place.

As one begins the mediation process with the parties an important question needs to be addressed – What if the parties involved in a dispute come from different cultural backgrounds? It is essential to apply sound intercultural communication principles and skills at each stage of the mediation process.

Remember that both mediator and the disputing parties come to the mediation with their own cultural assumptions. If the mediator assumes that everyone shares the same values, beliefs and communication styles, then the mediator’s assumptions may get in the way of resolving the dispute.

Each ethnic group has unique way of communicating both verbally and non-verbally with members of their group. And while the members of one group may understand the significance of a gesture or phrase, there may be other individuals who will interpret these gestures as something completely different. Consider if you will various hand gestures that are used around the world to illustrate one’s anger with another individual. In a multi-cultural country such as ours, the potential for misunderstanding between individuals of differing ethnic backgrounds is considerable.

Diversity can affect not only the disputants but also the mediator as well. The mediator, while attempting to remain objective, cannot suspend their own cultural norms during the mediation process. The mediator must also be aware of their own cultural norms and ensure that they do not interfere in the mediation process.

Mediators in Canada have an advantageous position in that we can learn much about various cultures from around the world, making us more effective in resolving disputes between individuals from differing cultures.

Barriers to Cross-Cultural Communication

Language Factors
• Accent and dialect
• Pitch, stress, volume and tone factors
• Politeness/abruptness
• Pausing patens

Cultural elements
• Use of gestures and facial expressions
• Formality/informality
• Frankness
• Time consciousness
• Spatial consciousness/physical intimacy
• Stereotyping

Job related
• Degree of competitiveness
• Priorities

Body language
• Distance
• Avoidance
• Eye contact
• Touch or lack of touch

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