Cross-Cultural Communication

S.Y. Bowland

Director of The Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute (PRASI) and mediator, based in Atlanta, Georgia

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: It was a mediation that involved a person of color and a white person. The person of color was actually the person in the leadership position here. So the white person had a complaint that she had requested something, and felt that the person of color was not providing what she had asked for. When we were doing the mediation, the white woman said, "Well I asked for it once." The person of color said, "Well I wish you had asked me again. All you had to do was ask me again. I don't know why you had to go this far; just come back and ask again." Again, the white woman said, "Well, I asked you once."

If you could have seen the face of the woman of color. She said, "Do you know how many times I've had to ask for what I've wanted, in order to move up around here?" So this woman of color (who, at this point in time, had a leadership role) had had to repeatedly ask for things in her struggle for advancement, and she was just blown back to learn that part of the reason that the other person was there was because she felt that she had asked once and that asking once was enough.

Q: And her understanding of the way the world worked is that you had to ask several times to get something, and so she expected the white woman to ask several times if she wanted to get what she wanted?

A: Or to continue to persevere, to continue to come back. And she meant that there would be movement, but it might not happen right at that moment. The other woman had to have confidence that there would be some movement in time, and that the two of them would work as a team for this. So I thought that that was really a very amazing story, because it allowed me to observe the difference in how one person from one group was representing something this way and another person from another group was totally representing it another way.

I think they both had their awakening at that point — knowing that when one person makes a request for something and she makes the request one time, she expects a response after that one time, but the person of color had had to go through a series of challenges or repeated inquiries to advance. As I reflect on this, I wonder whether there was a reflection on the differences. I know that they both had an awakening, an ah-ha. There was that kind of new discovery about operation.

What's interesting is that I think that very deeply hidden in that was the cultural perspective of how this one person's life had the challenge of having to persevere and keep coming back, the door being closed; whereas the other person was saying, "I've asked once. There should be movement."