The past decade has been marked by an explosion in the use of mediation to resolve transnational business disputes. Increasingly, company officials from different countries and cultural perspectives find themselves seated across the table from one another while attempting to broker a satisfactory outcome. These cultural differences often lead to derailment of productive talks even when both parties negotiate in good faith. Indeed, anecdotes of such encounters — some fairly comical — are legion in mediation circles. Humor aside, it is of the utmost importance to avoid situations in which culture shock can turn into mediation failure.

For the advocate who represents a client involved in cross-cultural mediation, familiarity with how cultural differences manifest themselves is crucial. Although an individual’s nationality does not necessarily determine the attitudes and behavior she will bring to the mediation table, it can provide the advocate with valuable guidelines as to which negotiation strategies are likely to work and which are likely to end in failure. By acquainting himself with the various culturally-grounded expectations of each participant, the well-prepared advocate can avoid misunderstandings and communicate more effectively.