I continue to read widely and will add new books to the list as I do. New additions will be flagged on the Home page under Reading Recommendations.
Over time, I will add reviews of each of the books listed.
An Asian Perspective on Mediation
As Professor Tommy Koh (Ambassador-At-Large to the
Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs) says in his foreword, "This book takes
the bull of culture by its horns".
I would say that contributing editors Joel Lee and Teh Hwee Hwee, and fellow contributors Ian Macduff, Melanie Billings-Yum, John S K Ng and Law Siew Fang, do so to considerable effect.
In the first part of the book, the authors trace, against the backdrop of the mediation movement in Singapore, the genesis of the quest for an Asian perspective on mediation, a strong impetus for which comes from the contention that "Western" approaches adopted in modern mediation (not least the interest-based model originated by the Harvard Negotiation Project) are not culturally appropriate in an Asian context.
They conclude that the functional model, particularly the 7 elements of the interest-based model (interests, options, alternatives, legitimacy, communication, relationship and commitment) is universal, but that the operational model is based on a number of, generally unspoken, assumptions as to the behaviour and motivation of the parties which are indeed culturally Western (I would almost say Anglo-American) specific.
In the second part of the book, the authors explore particular aspects of mediating in an Asian context: working in a hierarchical and high power-distance environment; the element of trust and how it plays out in different cultural contexts; the prevalence of face works as part of Asian social existence and exchange; the impact of connections and relationships; and the Asian preference for high-context communication and its effects on attitudes towards conflicts as well as expectations and behaviour in relation to resolution. Each topic is thoroughly researched, and extensive references are cited for those who wish to dig deeper. As important though, I found each discussion utterly compelling - food for many feasts' worth of thought - and I continue to go back to it when addressing cultural issues, not just those with an Asian element; indeed, not just those where the cultures in issue are ethnically based.
If I found the authors' discussion of Asian culture compelling, I found their discussion of the unspoken “Western” assumptions underlying the general methodology of modern mediation just as challenging. "Is that right?" "Do I really do that?" I can see how it might be thought so and, in some instances, I would have to plead guilty. Of course, culture isn't a question of guilt or innocence; it is simply the product of the groups to which we belong. Nevertheless, whether as mediators or conflict coaches, it is important we understand where our own behaviour and "preferences" come from, and a book that asks those questions of us is to be much valued.
Of course, culture is about the behaviour of groups, not individuals. It is prudent to prime our minds and brains to be responsive to cultural issues but, when we get into the room, we must work with those we find there, not with pre-determined stereotypes. As Lee and Teh put it in Chapter 3:
"One might be tempted ... to
conclude that since Mr Lim is Chinese, the way to deal with him is to invest in
building a good relationship. Of course,
this reasoning is faulty. Mr Lim may be
ethnically Chinese but could have been born in
All in all, this is a powerful read not just for mediators but for anyone involved in cross-cultural communication, particularly (but not only) that with an Asian component.