Advice About Cross-Cultural Mediation

Richard Salem

Former CRS Mediator, Chicago Office; Private Mediator; President of Conflict Management Initiatives

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 ???).

Q: What lessons have you learned from that project and others in your experience?

A: To listen, not to make assumptions, if you don't have to, as to what people need or want. Let people decide for themselves and tell you what you can do for them. Not to try to impose an American or North American or American-European system of mediation or conflict resolution, but rather to work from where they are. I ask, what systems do you use and how do they work? I say, here's what we do back home and they're doing it some other places, and provide additional support as requested. It's important not to impose it, to make sure people want to do this, and also to work from the bottom up. Grassroots really. A bottom-up project is important. I think it makes it work better. For example, mediation of interpersonal disputes that are in the community often are in the jurisdiction of the elected community officials in the local communities. So you can't just set up a mediation program and start addressing these without taking that into account. If you do, you could have some problems. If you choose to do it, you try to address those problems earlier. Perhaps the way to do it is to be teaching conflict resolution skills to some of those leaders, and I think that's on the table as well. That'll be coming along. So you have to know the culture, you have to know the territory, and try to be respectful of it.


Q: Is there a particular piece of theory that you find useful in this kind of work that you take with you usually, or refer back to in your practice?

A: The theory would be not to tell others what to do, but to take it from them. To be interested and respectful, and to be respectful of everybody I meet whenever I can and let them know I'm interested in what they're doing, and agree to continue our work when we're asked to. Yes. If that's theory. But that's what I do in practice. That's the practice of it and it's important because without that I'd be in trouble. Also trying not to yawn if I get bored.

Q: That's a really good piece of advice.

A: Yeah, it does happen. It happens here!