There is something surreal about delivering a training workshop with the sound of the ocean in the background and the participants role-playing negotiation and mediation scenarios by the pool. As a new facilitator with the Stitt Feld Handy Group, I have had the opportunity to conduct conflict resolution workshops with Peter Dreyer in both Trinidad and Barbados. Location aside, however, I found that there were many wonderful things about our Caribbean clients that enriched my experience as a facilitator.
The participants, although keenly interested in learning about alternative dispute resolution, were also intent on enjoying themselves at the workshop. Whether it was a local expression that went over my head (but made everyone else in the room smile) or a hint of self-deprecating humour about their own cultural tendencies, there was always time for a quick laugh. These interludes were often quite helpful as they allowed the participants (and myself) to take a break from the material and come back more focussed. Moreover, as a new facilitator, I was truly grateful for the relaxed environment.
The participants’ responses to questions that at first glance would appear to be relatively straightforward were also thought provoking. When asked, for example, what types of logistical arrangements would be important in a negotiation (the typical answers being things like fax machines, telephones, and seating arrangements), one participant commented that in some circumstances it might be necessary to check the parties for weapons before allowing them to enter into the room. Another participant explained the cultural importance of food to people from the Caribbean and how sharing a meal was a social activity that brought people together. A third participant responded that sometimes it is best to get away from all of our modern technological distractions in order to have a more focussed one-on-one dialogue.
It was also interesting to observe how cultural issues and legislative developments influenced the participants. In Barbados, for example, a new law that would make it easier to prosecute sexual harassment cases was on the verge of coming into force when we delivered our workshop. This backdrop filtered into how the participants acted in one of our role plays that involves the sexual harassment of an employee. During this particular debrief, there was a heated debate about how the mediators felt compelled to be extra sensitive to the “victims” and how the “offenders” felt the need to continuously apologise for their behaviour, even though according to their instructions the facts were relatively benign. Other participants commented that physical contact, such as a pat on the back or an arm around the shoulder, was a part of their culture and they were concerned about the implications of the new law in this regard. It was inspiring to see the participants become so engaged in a debate about the challenges of mediating sexual harassment cases within the context of this new legislation.
Personally, I have found the opportunity to train clients from another cultural background to be both enlightening and humbling. Listening to a completely different perspective has been a wonderful way to engage myself in critically thinking about my own understanding of conflict resolution and I look forward to continuing to do so throughout my career in ADR.
Written by Nayla Mitha.