Successfully solving intercultural conflicts

Steinbeis develops mediation standards with EU partners

As economies become increasingly international, international partnerships and global trade are not the only things on the rise – employees and teams are also becoming increasingly culturally diverse. Occasionally, this can lead to conflicts. EU Directive 2008/52/EG acknowledges the complexity of these types of intercultural disputes and suggests mediation as an appropriate method to resolve them. Since 2009, the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Mediation of Business and its European partners have been developing new standards and methods for resolving international legal disputes through mediation, as part of the EU-funded Leonardo da Vinci program.

The EU Mediation Directive (2008/52/EG) calls on every EU member state to legally regulate the mediation of international civil disputes under its jurisdiction. The deadline for the implementation of this directive is May 2011. The new directive will make it possible to resolve international legal disputes – such as disagreements between suppliers and customers, R&D partners or claims for compensation – more quickly, effectively and economically than is currently possible using conventional litigation methods. As studies have shown, conflicts both between and within companies can have a paralyzing, protracting and impairing effect on cooperation. It can also dent corporate image and cost a lot of money. The German Federal Ministry of Justice has now drafted a bill to regulate this type of mediation in Germany for the first time, finally recognizing alternative dispute-solving methods other than conventional lawsuits.

This central focus of the new EU directive – the resolution of international legal disputes – also involves the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Mediation of Business, which has offices in Leipzig, Stuttgart, Vienna and Budapest. A number of other partners in Germany, Italy and Poland are also involved in the project. These are specialized in mediation and intercultural disputes. International legal conflicts are not just complex in formal and legal terms, they also involve challenging cultural considerations and can be exacerbated by different languages, behavioral and working patterns, values and communication styles.

One aim of the EU-funded project is to develop training and teaching concepts for mediators of intercultural disputes. These should help them deal more elegantly with difficult situations, mediate successfully and identify mutually acceptable solutions. To do this, the project partners are investigating the nature of intercultural disputes, including conflicts within companies or international teams. To do justice to the different cultures and nationalities involved in international disputes, mediators generally comediate in pairs or teams – so that the make-up of the mediation team reflects the different cultures involved. The project partners are developing special methods for this form of co-mediation.

The methods developed in this project are not only of benefit to mediators involved in dispute resolution. They are also a good basis for identifying potential areas of conflict at an early stage and developing preventative strategies, so as to preempt disputes and avoid the negative effects that they inevitably bring.

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