Comfort with Cross-Cultural Conflict

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 ???).

When there is an overt or covert matter of culture or race at the table, it is important to me to clearly let the parties know that I do have the skill necessary to facilitate dialogues or conflict discussions around whatever the issue is, so that people feel comfortable raising the issue and bringing it to the table.So I would say that being open to identifying that issue makes the parties feel at ease.


And I think that's really important, because in every training that's been conducted that I have either been a part of or have gone to, that has never come up regarding the opening statement. The mediator never discusses that issue. It's not taught as a tool. But I think it's a very useful tool. In the opening statement, you indicate who you are and what your skills are, and explain that you're there to do a particular job. As I've introduced the idea in workshops, I've said, "If you can let the parties know that you are able to facilitate discussions around race, or class, or homosexuality, or whatever the issue is that's present, and that you are there to facilitate, then I think the parties do get a sense that they can take a deep breath and be themselves.

After one workshop when I brought this up, a white woman came up to me and she said, "Well, that might sound okay coming from you, but what about me? Can I say that?" I said, "Sure, if it's true. It'd be a wonderful thing." So I think that there's the element of what is required in terms of competencies and skills, to be able to embrace that kind of statement and hold to it.