Intercultural Task Force

IMI set up a Task Force in April 2010 to develop criteria for inter-cultural mediator training and IMI Certification. The Task Force’s goals were to develop criteria that are succinct, flexible, and feasible to implement by trainers and QAPs (Qualifying Assessment Programs).



Professor Harold (Hal) Abramson

Professor of Law, Touro Law Center, New York
Hal is an experienced trainer, teacher and commercial mediator of cross-cultural disputes, and also author of numerous articles and two books, Mediation Representation – Advocating as a Problem-Solver in Any Country or Culture (2nd edition, NITA 2010, Oxford University Press, 2011), and International Conflict Resolution-Consensual ADR Processes (West, 2005, co-author).

Joanna Kalowski

Joanna is a mediator, mediation trainer and judicial educator with a longstanding involvement in cross-cultural aspects of dispute resolution, and has mediated commercial, industrial and academic disputes as well as Aboriginal land claims as a member of Australia's Native Title Tribunal.


Gigi de Groot

The Netherlands/Sweden
Managing Director itim international (culture & management consultancy), Stockholm. As an intercultural management expert, Gigi supports her clients in creating cultural competence and increasing global effectiveness. She has worked with people from over 60 different cultures, both in NGOs and commercial organisations. She is Dutch but lives in Sweden.

Jeremy Lack

Jeremy Lack is an ADR Neutral specialized in international dispute prevention and resolution processes, as well as an independent lawyer specialised in new technologies, start-ups and intellectual property. He is a Vice-Chair of the Independent Standards Commission of the International Mediation Institute (IMI), the Chair of the Swiss Chamber of Commercial Mediation (Section Romandie), and a panellist with AAA/ICDR, CMAP, CPR, FIMC, IBMS, ICC, INTA, IMI, JAMS, SKWM/CSMC/SCCM, SIMC and WIPO. He qualified as an English barrister in 1989, as a US Attorney-at-Law in 1990/1 (NY State, CAFC & USPTO) and is admitted to the Geneva Bar since 2003 as a foreign lawyer. Jeremy is an associate Barrister with QUADRANT CHAMBERS in London, an advisor to CHARLES RUSSELL SPEECHLYS LLP in Geneva and London, and counsel to HELVETICA AVOCATS SARL in Switzerland, SCHONEWILLE & SCHONEWILLE LEGAL MEDIATION in the Netherlands, and NEGO-MEDIATIONS SARL in Switzerland. He has a MA (Oxon) degree in Physiological Sciences and in Jurisprudence from Lincoln College, Oxford University, is a registered US patent and trademark lawyer, and is a co-founder of He is an adjunct faculty member at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. Jeremy handles international negotiations, mediations, conciliations and arbitrations, and combined hybrid processes in a wide range of fields and industries. He is a certified IMI mediation advocate and has written and lectured extensively on Guided Choice dispute resolution. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Geneva, Switzerland. For his IMI mediation and mediation advocacy profiles, see:

Joel Lee Tye Beng

Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. Joel has extensive experience as a teacher and trainer of negotiation and mediation and is a consultant with CMPartners (USA) and a principal mediator with and Training Director for the Singapore Mediation Centre. He is a member of the ADR Advisory Council of the Subordinate Courts of Singapore, the co-editor and co-author of the book "An Asian Perspective on Mediation" (Academy Publishing, Singapore, 2009) and an Associate Editor for the Asian Journal on Mediation.

Professor Ian Macduff

Singapore/New Zealand/Malaysia
Director, Centre for Dispute Resolution, Singapore Management University. Ian is an independent mediator and trainer in a number of fields of dispute resolution. He has been consultant and trainer for the World Health Organisation for a capacity building programme in Sri Lanka from 1999 to 2001 and again in 2004. He is co-editor of Ethnic Conflict and Secessionism in South and South East Asia (Sage, 2003); co-author of Dispute Resolution in New Zealand (OUP 1999), and of Guidelines for Family Mediation (Butterworths, 1995).

Hannah F. Tümpel

Senior Counsel and Manager, International Centre for ADR, International Chamber of Commerce, Paris Hannah is a qualified German lawyer and trained mediator. She heads the department of the International Chamber of Commerce in charge of mediation and other alternative dispute resolution. The Centre is also in charge of hosting and organizing the annual ICC International Commercial Mediation Competition and the ICC International Mediation Conference. Hannah was a member of the IBA Taskforce which drafted the IBA State Investor Mediation Rules and she is a member of the IMI International Standards Commission. She is a regular speaker on mediation at international conferences and teaches mediation and ADR courses in various universities in Europe.


These Criteria are the result of the Task Force’s work, which was part-funded by the General Electric Foundation. It involved, during 2011, online public consultation and pilot programs in Paris, Brisbane and Singapore, with participants from across the globe who provided active and direct input into this initiative, for which IMI is very grateful.

Training, professional and provider organizations wishing to offer IMI Inter-Cultural Certification are invited to submit their applications to become Inter-Cultural Qualifying Assessment Programs (ICQAPs) to the Chair of the IMI Independent Standards Commission (ISC) [1]. Once approved, ICQAPs will be displayed at: This link will enable mediators seeking this certification to easily find approved ICQAPs offering training programs. 

These Criteria will be regularly reviewed by the ISC and may be modified in the future. All comments and suggestions are welcomed. Please send all comments and suggestions via contact IMI

Criteria Summary

IMI Inter-Cultural Certification is available to any experienced mediator who is qualified by an Inter-Cultural Qualifying Assessment Program (ICQAP) that has been approved by the IMI Independent Standards Commission (ISC).  ISC will approve any ICQAP that meets the following criteria: 


  1. Methodology
  2. Transparency
  3. Integrity
  4. Diversity


A.  Knowledge  

  1. Cultural Framework(s)
  2. Self-Awareness
  3. Multi-Cultural Perspectives

B. Skills  

  4.   Communication
  5.   Preparation
  6.   Managing Process 

Cultural Focus Areas (CFAs)

  1. Relatedness and Communication Styles  
  2. Mindset towards Conflict  
  3. Mediation Process
  4. Orientation Toward Exchanging Information
  5. Time Orientation 
  6. Decision Making Approaches 


Any ICQAP must meet the following general criteria in order to be able to qualify mediators for IMI Inter-Cultural Certification: 

A. Methodology

All ICQAPs must implement a performance-based assessment methodology for assessing whether each candidate’s performance meets each of the Substantive Criteria in Section II below. 

Comment: The assessments may be based on written material, role-play or live action evaluations, other suitable method, or any combination, and may include videotaped and online assessments such as web dramas, self-assessments, interviews, peer reviews, user feedback and other in-practice skill evaluations. 

B. Transparency  

The benchmarks and criteria applied by an ICQAP must be published and be openly accessible on the organization’s website. 

Comment: Details of all approved programs will be listed on the IMI web portal and will include a direct link to each credentialing organization’s website for that program. 

C. Integrity

Each Assessor must have substantial experience of evaluating the performance of mediators and in working in inter-cultural situations. At least one of the Assessors on each Program must be independent of the ICQAP training faculty for Inter-Cultural Certification. 

D. Diversity

The ICQAP must be accessible on an equal basis to experienced mediators regardless of their professional affiliations, gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation or other personal characterization. This should be clearly stated on each ICQAP’s website. 


Any training program that offers IMI Inter-Cultural Certification must meet these minimum substantive criteria when teaching mediators inter-cultural elements: 

A. Knowledge

1. Cultural Framework(s): Ability to apply at least one recognized cultural theory in order to identify relevant Cultural Focus Areas for facilitating inter-cultural mediations (See Appendix 1). The theory and approach shall include an appreciation of similarities and differences among cultures. 


  1. Any selected framework should provide suggestions as to how to use culture, and possible Cultural Focus Areas that have been identified using the theory (or theories) taught, while avoiding stereotyping when setting up and participating in mediations. Although there are many recognized and respected theories, the goal is not to learn comparative theories about culture or to master a particular theory. The goal is to be able to apply a selected theory or theories about culture in such a way as to help mediators consider appropriate issues when setting up and facilitating an inter-cultural mediation.
  2. Understanding culturally shaped norms and expectations can help explain parties’ different perspectives and think about possible impasses that these perspectives may create. However, it is important to avoid considering culture as an overly inclusive concept to try to explain all behaviors that individuals may manifest, which may not always be group-related but also can be linked to individual considerations (e.g., age, gender, residence, etc). Mediators should strive to apply their understanding of culture as a tool to understand and foresee possible patterns of behavior while considering mediation as a social process in inter-cultural cases, helping people from different cultures to communicate optimally with one another.
  3. Any discussion of culture in the context of mediation needs to consider how the concepts of “parties”, “participants”, "conflict", "resolution", "mediation", “conciliation” and "process" can have different meanings in different cultures. 

2. Self-awareness. Ability to recognize one’s own cultural influences and their possible effect on the mediation. 


  1. Mediators should be conscious of their own culturally-influenced practices including how culture may form lenses through which they view and interpret the behavior of others.
  2. Mediators should consider how their culturally shaped preferences or behavior might be viewed and interpreted by participants.
  3. Mediators should learn to recognize signs of their own surprise, discomfort, or cognitive dissonances when facing cultural differences, and develop adaptive strategies for re-establishing balance, coping with cultural ambiguities, and managing unfamiliar or contrary practices. 

3. Multi-Cultural Perspectives: Ability to recognize each participant’s culturally-shaped perspectives of behaviors or events. Ability to understand and appreciate participants’ similar and different cultural perspectives, and possible imbalances between them. Ability to manage ambiguities and mistakes that may emerge in multi-cultural situations. Ability to use the mediator’s understandings of these possible differences and similarities to create a workable environment for all participants, including one that optimizes communication among them. 


  1. Mediators should be sensitive to the participants’ possible perceptions of the behavior of the mediator, the behavior of other participants, and preferences in handling procedural issues or substantive topics.
  2. Mediators should not react negatively when faced with different ways of doing things, unless the behavior violates the mediator’s fundamental personal values.
  3. When working with multiple cultural perspectives, mediators should learn to deal with possible uncertainty, ambiguous information or circumstances, unintentional mistakes (e.g. cultural malapropisms), and possible unconscious biases or behavioral scripts of participants.
  4. Mediators should consider the best styles and processes for dealing with issues related to multiple perspectives. This includes whether to address them in caucuses or joint sessions or directly or indirectly with the participants, as well as how to generate procedural options that all participants can work with.
  5. When managing multiple cultural perspectives, mediators should consider how and whether to co-mediate with neutrals from other cultures or involve interpreters as cultural consultants when preparing for and participating in mediations. 

B. Skills

4. Communication: Ability to adjust one’s own communication style to the preferred styles of participants from other cultures, and to help participants communicate optimally with each other, including establishing suitable processes to facilitate communications. 


  1. Mediators should be able to employ suitable inter-cultural communication skills when interacting with participants as well as with co-mediators from other cultures. For example, under one theory, the communication style suitable for mediators may involve pinpointing a point on the direct-indirect communication continuum, a point that can be influenced by a number of other cultural parameters such as the power distance index and relationship orientation of the participants or co-mediators.
  2. Mediators need to check for compatible communication styles among the participants and consider whether, how and when to assist participants in communicating in the event of possibly incompatible communication styles.
  3. Mediators should be able to assist participants in understanding how information may be conveyed in different ways across cultures.
  4. Mediators may need to help participants adjust the way they communicate with each other based on such parameters as the participants’ comfort in displaying emotion, their ability to empathize or understand others’ perspectives, their comfort with face-to-face discussion of sensitive topics, and their preference to pursue delicate matters through indirection (e.g., to avoid “loss of face”). Mediators may need to be prepared to help the participants render explicit what may have been implicit in their behavior, or to state less explicitly what a participant may prefer to learn implicitly. Mediators also might help the participants generate a new set of behavioral norms for the purposes of the mediation.
  5. Mediators need to learn to assess if, when, and how to use caucuses with participants to facilitate communications. 

5. Preparation: Ability to prepare for a mediation by identifying possible cultural patterns and preferences (e.g., identifying specific Cultural Focus Areas for each mediation) and designing potentially appropriate processes and possible interventions. 


  1. Mediators should learn to prepare for inter-cultural mediations by researching and anticipating possible culture affects and by figuring out what process may work best for the participants based on any Cultural Focus Areas that the mediator may have identified. When preparing for a mediation, mediators should consider whether to hold preliminary private interviews with the participants, explore whether to design culturally appropriate procedural rules for behavior and interaction, and consider preparatory interventions to help the parties recognize and address any culturally-influenced communications, interests, or impediments.
  2. The aim of this preparation should be to construct hypotheses for how to proceed initially given what a mediator may know about the participants, their representatives and their wider constituencies, and plan how to test and adapt these hypotheses as the mediation progresses. It should be remembered, however, that preparation only gives rise to hypotheses, and mediators should not assume that their hypotheses can be relied on.
  3. When considering interests, mediators should consider the possibility that there may be wider interests at stake than only those of the participants at the table. Those interests may include the interests of other constituencies or stakeholders (e.g., family members, elders, communities, tribunals, affiliates, and regional, national or political groups or entities). This analysis also should consider whether there may be impediments due to the participants’ different sense of status or different needs for procedural certainty, autonomy, fairness, or relatedness.
  4. Mediators should be flexible and open to re-assessing and modifying their procedural preferences and styles of intervention, as illustrated by the following examples: 
  1. Whether to convene a pre-mediation meeting with each party, certain parties only, or their representatives.
  2. Whether to request prior written submissions and the type of submissions that may be helpful.
  3. Where the mediation should take place, who should attend, and what venue, food, dietary needs, external resources, social activities or welcoming rituals should be considered.
  4. Whether to work with the parties to design a procedure to meet any needs for mutual respect, autonomy, affiliation, certainty, or procedural fairness, in which statuses and roles are relevant (e.g. dress code, seating arrangements, and forms of address).Whether to help participants avoid cultural norms that may be deemed politically or culturally incorrect by others, as well as avoid being manipulated by cultural norms.
  5. How participants or their representatives should communicate optimally with one another prior to and during the mediation, including whether or not to specify the role of the mediator (e.g., as non-evaluative or evaluative), the need for co- mediators or interpreters, who may speak and write, the order of any initial presentations, possible deadlines, the length of mediation sessions, and how time should be allocated.
  6. How proposals might be presented (e.g., in some cultures, parties may not be comfortable presenting options, may not be familiar with brainstorming processes, may not understand what is expected of them, and may not want to present because may appear weak, unfocused, lose face, or lose the respect of other participants or stakeholders).
  7. Whether and if so, when and how to provide for evaluative feedback. 

6. Managing the Process. Ability to detect whether, when and how cultural considerations (e.g. Cultural Focus Areas) may be impacting on the mediation process as the mediation progresses including abilities to adapt the process accordingly and design appropriate interventions, that also encompass any settlement and compliance phases. 


  1. Although managing the process is important in all mediations, this responsibility requires special attention in intercultural mediations where signposts of progress and impediments may be less evident. Also, suitable interventions may be different.
  2. Due to cultural considerations, mediators may need to become more or less directive or facilitative at times on procedural issues, depending on the mutual needs or requests of the participants.
  3. Even though the mediator and the participants may feel they are advancing well, each individual may think they are heading in a direction whose outcome may be culturally influenced and different. In order to provide a check and elicit the range of different understandings, mediators should be able to assess the extent to which participants' expectations are aligned, can be reconciled, or can be respected.
  4. Mediators may need to help participants set parameters for a final work product or action items, so that the participants can feel they have reached satisfactory closure.
  5. Conflicts underlying a mediation are seldom ended by only an oral agreement, nor are they always ended when there has been a signed agreement. In inter-cultural disputes, mediators should be aware of additional procedural or ceremonial steps that may be necessary to enable participants to feel that they can bring closure to the conflict. 


Cultural Focus Areas[2]

Examples Relevant to Mediating Inter-Cultural Disputes    


The IMI Inter-Cultural Task Force identified six Cultural Focus Areas (CFAs) that mediators may want to give attention to when mediating inter-culturally. Each of these behavioral categories is offered as examples and may be relevant when preparing for mediation, interacting with participants, bridging differences, and establishing common grounds between participants. Under each CFA, several illustrations are included.[3]

The Task Force does not view this list of CFAs as comprehensive, and therefore encourages the ICQAPs to consider these CFAs, adapt them, and develop others based on the theory(ies) of culture or method(s) of mediation they teach. As more experience is gained with the CFAs, these six CFAs may be refined and new examples added. 

Cultural Focus Areas (CFAs)

1. Relatedness and Communication Styles


  • Formal-Informal 
  • Direct-Indirect
  • Emotional: High-Low
  • Emotional Expressiveness
  • Physical - Non-physical
  • Verbal, Para-verbal and Non-verbal 
  • Personal-Impersonal 
  • Sequential-Circular Reasoning

2. Mindset Toward Conflict


  • Negotiation Attitude (how participants may prefer to negotiate) 
  • Attitudes to conflict: Positive - Negative
  • Risk taking: High - Low
  • Relationship building -Task orientation

3. Mediation Process


  • Expectations about: 
  • Roles of Mediator and Participants 
  • Predictability of Process
  • Need for an agenda
  • Social protocols
  • Separate or identifiable phases during the process 
  • Fairness
  • Goals or Outcomes

4. Orientation Toward Exchanging Information


  • Transparent – Non-transparent 
  • Legal or other norms or social conventions 
  • Broad – Narrow
  • Non-specific - Contextual
  • Fact related – Non-fact related

5. Time Orientation


  • Polychronic – monochromic
  • Long Term-Short Term orientation
  • Past-Present-Future (facts, needs or interests)
  • Deadlines, Deliverables, Punctuality
  • Duration and Frequency (of joint and/or separate meetings) 
  • Expected timelines for reaching outcomes
  • Time Pressure-No Time Pressure

6. Decision-making Approaches


  • Norms-based – Subjective interests-based
  • Mediator as norms-generator, norms-educator or norms-advocator 
  • Individualist, Majority-led or Collectivist 
  • Compromising-Non-compromising
  • Problem-solving-Outcome generating
  • Structured – Unstructured
  • Relationship oriented – Outcome-oriented
  • Participant driven – Constituency driven
  • General-Specific Forms of Agreement (oral, written, behavioral) 
  • Inductive-Deductive Reasoning
  • Measurable – Non-measurable 


[2] The term ”Cultural Focus Areas” was formulated to label the areas that culture can impact on mediating intercultural disputes. Examples of six possible Cultural Focus Areas along with illustrations of each area can be seen below. Each ICQAP should identify Cultural Focus Areas that apply to the types of mediation practiced.

[3] After much discussion, a separate CFA was not given to “relationships” because that cultural category is so pervasive that it could not be easily segregated to stand alone. The category relates to several other CFAs, as noted in the illustrations.