Southern fried mediation: a regional recipe for success when mediating in the Southern United States.

Author:Grossman, Kristin K.
  1. INTRODUCTION II. CULTURE: DEFINED, CULTURAL PATTERNS, "FACE," AND COMMUNICATION STYLES A. What is Culture? B. Cultural Patterns and Communication Styles 1. Individualism-Collectivism 2. Face 3. Low-Context and High-Context Communication Styles III. THE SOUTH AND ITS CULTURE A. What is the South? B. The Cultural Distinctiveness of the South 1. Individualism and Collectivism--The Past 2. Collectivism and Individualism--Present a. Mind Your Manners b. Be Mindful of the Importance of Religion c. Have Respect for the Southern Way d. The "Individualist" Aspect of Southern Culture 3. Face--The Past 4. Face--The Present 5. High-Context Communication in the South IV. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    I have lived in the South twenty-eight of my forty-three years (with the exception of ten months in Malibu, California) and have developed not only a sporadic drawl, but also a great affection for the South and its people. It is home. And although I call the South home, I am not what one would call a "born and bred Southerner." I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, lived there until age four, then lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, until I was nearly fifteen. Dad got a job at Walt Disney World and then voila, I was dropped in the middle of Florida in West Orange County.

    For those of you skeptical about referring to Florida as "the South," we will discuss that matter later. For now, please know that this place I call home still retains a charming Southern culture. To this day, this area demonstrates the wonderful things I associate with the traditional South. Children are taught to say "yes ma'am and yes sir," churches seem to be on every corner and are well attended, folks you meet on the street or in the store talk with you, men open doors for ladies, and there is a real sense of community.

    So, although I have lived in what I view as the South for the better part of my years, I may be viewed by other Southerners not as an insider, but an outsider to the Southern experience. As such, my thoughts may not be as well received as if I was, for example, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. (1) Because of this I offer an apology.

    Those of you from regions other than the South may view this as weak and are most likely tempted to put down the paper out of disgust for my lack of confidence. However, my readers from the South are more likely to appreciate my humility. My hope is that any naivet6 on my part regarding Southern culture will be forgiven as the goal of this paper is to help others gain respect and appreciation for this often-misunderstood region of the country. I realize that I may not be perceived by Southerners as the appropriate person to be writing about the South, because I am a conglomeration of three different regions: the Midwest, the Northeast, and the South. However, please know that I take this self-charged duty seriously and endeavor to do justice to the subject.

    I must note that it is surprising to me that I now call the South my home and myself a Southerner, because I didn't know what place the region held in my heart until relatively recently. It happened when my husband, A.J., and I left to go to school in California and we were driving back across the country to prepare for the Florida bar. We had some issues in California--mainly the quick pace of life and the fact that most people you pass on the street don't make eye contact and smile. We interpreted this behavior as rude and unfriendly, but in reality, I know now that is just part of California culture.

    It was not clear how much we missed a smile and a "hey" from a stranger until we hit Louisiana. I remember the moment. We were in a Subway somewhere north of New Orleans. The folks there began to chat with us, asking about how I liked eating veggie subs, where we were from, and how our drive was going, as well as lamenting the BP accident off the coast. The cockles of my heart warmed as a result of the openness and friendliness of those people. I felt like I was back among my people. The funny thing is that I didn't realize I had any "people."

    I have lived in four very distinct regions of the country. So, while I feel like a well-rounded person, I moved enough to feel as though I would never really make a connection to a place. I didn't feel like I fit in anywhere, because I was a mish-mash of cultures. It took me leaving my home to make me realize that the South had made its way into my being to the point that I felt like an outsider in other regions of the country. Perhaps that is one way of determining to which culture you belong--you feel weird everywhere else.

    Although I still feel a little odd stating that I am a Southerner, I do make incredible red velvet cake (a Southern favorite), sweet potato and pecan pie, and have an unnatural love for cheese grits, so maybe that qualifies me. I do say "yes ma'am and no ma'am" to those older than me, thank everyone who does anything for me, and try to treat everyone with the utmost respect all people deserve. I make small talk in the grocery line with other shoppers and open doors for overwhelmed moms.

    Maybe I have become what I love about the South, but does that make me a Southerner? Am I accepted as one? Would I be accepted as an "insider" or as sociologists put it, a member of the in-group, and respected as such while mediating a conflict? (2) The regional differences that became incredibly noticeable to me while I was in the West made me ponder how mediation would transpire between a person from Los Angeles and a person from Louisiana. Both are Americans and speak English, but would they really be able to understand each other--especially in the midst of conflict? Would there be cultural differences that play a part in escalating the conflict? Would understanding these differences help further the chances of conflict resolution?

    This paper will first explore "cultural value patterns," the concept of "face," and communication styles that play a part in the mediation process. (3) Then it will examine how these cultural characteristics differ in the South from other regions of the United States. Lastly, this paper will discuss suggestions for better success in a cross-cultural mediation between Southerners and non-Southerners.

    In the words of John Shelton Reed, one of the foremost scholars on the sociology of the South, "Southerners don't much like folks generalizing about them." (4) So, I do realize that I may ruffle some feathers by pointing out general commonalities of the Southern cultural group. But alas, because I like for folks to get along and understand each other, I am forging ahead.


    This section first explores what culture is. Next, it discusses cultural patterns, the concept of "face," and communication styles pertinent to the exploration of Southern culture.

    1. What is Culture?

      To understand how cultural differences play a part in the mediation process, one must understand what culture is and the manner in which it manifests in the individual. Culture, as defined by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, is "the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another." (5) Yet another writer defines culture as "the shared assumptions, values, and beliefs of a group which result in characteristic behaviors." (6)

      Donal Carbaugh's definition captures the essence of culture as it applies to mediation. Mr. Carbaugh says that culture is "a system of expressive practices fraught with feelings, a system of symbols, premises, rules, forms, and the domains and dimensions of mutual meanings associated with these." (7) He continues that culture is "a learned set of shared interpretations about beliefs, values, and norms, which affect the behaviors of a relatively large group of people." (8)

      Because the mediation process is largely about communication between individuals, ignorance of cultural filters--these "shared interpretations" that influence the manner in which individuals from a group process and makes sense of information--can lead to further conflict and confusion. (9) Through these cultural filters, "different groups of people make sense of their worlds." (10) When different cultural filters interface, meaning the same situation or behavior is interpreted differently by each person, the resultant action may be "labeling." (11) Labeling a behavior or situation due to cross-cultural differences may produce a negative misinterpretation of another's behavior, deeming it, at the least, strange, or worse yet, offensive or insulting. (12) This is because most people interpret behavior based on their own set of standards, rules, and culture. (13) When someone negatively interprets a behavior due to erroneous labeling, an already tense situation is made worse, such as might occur during a hotly disputed fact in mediation. (14) Business deals could be lost; negotiations might become strained; relationships could be broken. (15)

      According to Jones and Nisbett "there is a pervasive tendency for actors to attribute their actions to situational requirements, whereas observers tend to attribute the same actions to stable personal disposition." (16) This is known as "attribution theory." (17) So, in terms of a cross-cultural mediation, a situation may exist in which people not only label misunderstood behaviors as odd, inappropriate, or offensive, but also tend to attribute any of those behaviors to the other party personally instead of a merely reacting to the situation. That party's reaction to the situation will undoubtedly be a manifestation of their own cultural programming. (18) We learn how to show love, anger, fear, sadness, and joy based on the manner in which we have been taught. And the manner in which we show these emotions may be at odds with the programming of the other. (19)

      Therefore, awareness of cultural differences is of the utmost...

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