The Cross Cultural Challenge

March 18, 2010

Just recalling my recent trip to Guatemala. We were attempting to help bring fresh water to the Qechi Mayans of the Ulpan Valley. This desire was complicated by an interesting fact. According to research by international research groups, Guatemala is one of the most “collectivist” countries in the world. In other words, the people and culture of Guatemala assumes that all resources must be used for the good of the society as a whole. You don’t own resources like water. Therefore, the representive of the Mayans believed that the fresh water in the mountains above the Ulpan could not be controlled by one person. However, the German landowner, was educated in the U.S. The United States and Germany are two of the most “individuated” countries in the world. In other words, people must make it on their own and a person deserves success based on their work ethic and position.
So, the landowner began the conversation by stating, “Water is a commodity and I own it.”

So we began the conversation. Two big issues…

1) How do you manage the power distance index between the landowner and Mayans? The Mayans have no power or resources.
2) Think about interests. What is the path to “Going Below the Line” with the landowner.

I am interested in hearing your responses.


Mediation Week at ICM

March 12, 2010

Challenging Conflict

They came from all over the nation to Lipscomb to explore the future of mediation. Last week witnessed a wonderful season of mediation growth and training. ICM hosted its tenth Rule 31 training session with a full roster of over 30 aspiring mediators and Tracy Allen from Detroit, Michigan. ICM also hosted its graduate course in Cultural and Gender Based Conflict with Nina Meierding from Seattle, Washington. At the same time, the Tennessee Association of Professional Mediators hosted its annual meeting with guest presenter Jack Himmelstein. Jack is affiliated with the Harvard Negotiation Project, author of Challenging Conflict: Mediation Through Understanding and directs the Center for Understanding in Conflict based in New York. Additionally, community and private mediators from across Tennessee gathered to explore the future of mediation in our region.

Over 100 mediators and conflict resolution specialists were on campus for three days. On Friday night, Jack, Tracy and Nina, all superstars in their own orbits, shared their perspective on the state of mediation and conflict management.

The overwhelming sense of the time spent and the thoughts shared is that the time has never been more ripe for the skills of collaboration, consensus building, mediation and facilitation of constructive outcomes.

When the stars align and point us in the same direction, can we fail to follow their lead?

The need for collaborative skills and service in the public interest is acutely critical in this time of partisanship for the sake of partisanship.

ICM is pleased to be able to host such dynamic events and assist in promoting the best in consensus building techniques through the work of such great practitioners as these leaders in conflict management.

Mayans and Me – Listening for the Unstated

March 4, 2010

I had the opportunity to spend about 4 days in the Ulpan Valley of Northern Guatemala learning so much from the Mayan Qechi’ people. As group of us were attempting to secure sanitary water for the 7000 people living in the remote valley from landowners who had others needs and uses for the water.

As a part of this process, I had opportunity to watch the men/leaders of the different villages discuss the future the people and responsibilities to each other in light of the need for clean water. It was aboriginal communication in its purest form. While the others obviously respected the eldest representative of the men, it was an very web-like experience. They talked and listened to each other. Perhaps saying the same things over and over (I say perhaps because I don’t speak Qechi was depending on the the translators observations). I was incredibly impressed with the patience of those listened to the stories of each individual without pushing their agenda. Yet, I became bored and frustrated because I am an American who would love to get it done and move forward.

Finally, it seems the eldest would then summarize the collective wisdom of the group. In fact, he seemed unwilling to move forward without all of the others agreement on any topic.

I don’t want to romanticize the process at all. The conversations were circular. Decisions made slowly. One person could hijack the process. But I also learned a lot about patience and respect – the younger waiting on the older – building community will instead of agenda.

What did I take away:
1) Listen for the unstated (Hear what others are struggling to articulate)

2) Respect the process (All societies have ways of comminicating. We need to respect them. This is especially important for a Texan who gets frustrated with “Nashville Nice”)

3) Community identity may need to supercede individual success in some cases.

This experience changed my view of leadership. More later.