This was the first time I did a mediation where the parties were Spanish speakers of Mexican origin. One side had very rudimentary English while the other side was somewhat more fluent.
One of the parties was represented by a bi-lingual attorney (and luckily that was the party with the rudimentary English) while the other party’s attorney was not a Spanish speaker (but luckily this was the party with somewhat more English).
Despite the language barrier, I did not have any problem striking a rapport with the parties. While walking to the restroom, the party with the more fluent English confided in me that a close relative of hers was critically ill and she really wanted to get this dispute out of the way. I assured her that I would do my best to make that happen.
Also, I established a good rapport with one of the attorneys (the one with the rudimentary English speaking client) which allowed me to persuade the client via the attorney to see reason when it appeared he was being intransigent at times. And although the other attorney was somewhat snippy for some unknown reason (which I did not bother to delve into further), since I had established a personal rapport with his client, it was possible to address her directly which allowed me to persuade her even when her attorney was doing his little drama!
Once the relationship with the parties was established as described above, I managed to spot a solution to the problem that was apparent to me almost from the outset but which took me some effort to get the parties to see that it was a mutually advantageous resolution. Once they did, it was smooth sailing and they were able to reach an agreement.
And the parties had enough English to fill up the feedback_forms and give me a positive feedback – and so did the attorneys, although one of them a little more grudgingly than the other, since I had to be a bit tough with him when he was getting overly excited, unnecessarily in my opinion.
Lesson learnt – language and cultural differences do not have a barrier to a settlement – since once you go beyond these differences, the underlying disputes and the human issues involved are pretty universal.