The Mediator Mediating Across Different Languages – Some Precautions

Mediation is aimed at bringing agreement into a conflict situation. The conflict situation often results from communication barriers. One of the most obvious communication barriers language. 

How is it possible then to bring agreement into a situation where more than one language is involved  and where the communication barrier already exists?

The common sense allows us to see, that in any situation, whether business or private, before the conflict had arisen, there was at least a minimum level of understanding and agreement between the now-conflicted-parties. 

So if you are in the mediation process involving different languages, in simple words you are trying to make parties involved communicating in the same language… And this is how you do it:

  1. Think ahead: remember that apart from the necessity to engage the interpreters/translators in the mediation process, it might be wise to consider a mediator who can operate the other (or both!) languages that the parties speak.
  2. Prepare yourself: remember that different languages often bring different cultural background issues with them. If you are mediating an intercultural case, make sure you prepare yourself about it in advance, e.g. speaking to someone from a particular cultural field or… having a mediator from this particular cultural background. 
  3. Make sure you agree on the language of the mediation, which involves also the mediation documents. Please note that these do not necessarily need to be in the official language of the country you are mediating in or the language of the court your case is to be heard in.
  4. Ensure that everybody understands what is being said, read and drafted – the questions ensuring that all is being understood need to be repetitive yet polite. Please remember that a participant in the mediation might be too shy to declare voluntarily they do not understand a certain issue or phrase and ask for explanations about it. It will be easier for them to admit it, when asked a specific question by the mediator.
  5. Throughout the entire process of mediation please ask open questions to check the common understanding, but make it in a way that they are not offensive or pay everybody’s attention to one of the parties’ difficulties. The questions will therefore need to  relate to the language issues, mediation in general, a particular stage of the mediation process.   

Having said all that, the experience shows, that:

– a mediation involving different languages will also engage more explanation than within the  average mediation process.

– having a co-mediator in a case embracing different languages is a good solution giving the parties more certainty as to whether they follow the entire process properly. 

But most of all, in any case regarding different languages and/or different cultures, please make sure that all the participants of the mediation process feel understood and respected.