Jackie Bong Wright

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Mediation: A better Alternative

By Jackie Bong-Wright

John F. Kennedy once said, “Our task is not to fix the blame for the past, but to fix the course for the future.” Mr. Tuan Pham uses these stirring words to provide a win-win situation for people in conflict, whether in the workplace, in business, or in families undergoing separation or divorce. He offers mediation services to clients throughout the Washington Metropolitan area.

Solving Problems without Confrontation

Mediation is a collaborative, problem-solving process undertaken with the help of a neutral third party, known as a mediator. Mediation provides a forum for people to air their perceptions of unfairness, which, if not attended to, can quickly escalate into allegations of unlawfulness. Mediation is non-confrontational and it is voluntary.
Parties in mediation make decisions for themselves, and may leave the table at will if they do not feel their interests are being met. The mediator is not an advocate but an advisor. The roles of lawyer and mediator are different, and so are their costs.
Unlike lawyers, mediators owe their loyalty to both sides of a dispute. They must remain neutral in thought, word, and deed toward the parties and the outcome. Their role is to reduce tensions, ease communication and keep the process on track.
No one knows this better than Tuan Pham, a certified mediator at the Supreme Court of Virginia. He received extensive training in alternative dispute resolution, about half of it in cross-cultural mediation. His approach is culturally sensitive and facilitative, focusing on empowerment and recognition. He mediates for the United States Postal Service, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Falls Church courts, the World Bank Group, and others.
Tuan Pham is also a professional speaker and peacemaker recognized for his work in the area of cultural diversity. His programs have been credited with improving understanding between cultures. Tuan Pham’s training clients have included the Prince Williams County Police Department, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and Fortune 500 companies. They speak highly of his services, judging from a collection of testimonial letters he has received.
Tuan Pham comes well prepared for a career in intercultural mediation. His past experience extends over a 25-year career with the U.S. Agency for International Development (in Laos), the United Nations (in Thailand), and Riggs Bank in Washington DC. He speaks English, French, Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese. He received an MBA from the University of Maryland and a post-graduate diploma in banking from the University of Delaware. He served six years as chair of the Maryland Ethnic Heritage Commission and member of the Maryland Advisory Council for New Americans.

Mediation in Business

Mediation skills are also useful in business. That is why American executives seek out Tuan Pham for advice on doing business with Asian-Americans, the fastest-growing minority and one of the most affluent. They have higher median household incomes than the national average. Together, Asian-Americans represent over $107 billion in annual spending power nationwide, and $3-5 billion in and around the beltway.
With 400,000 in the Washington area, there is plenty of scope Tuan Pham’s mediation talents.
Tuan Pham also consults on how to market to Pacific Rim nations, and he warns that negotiating with Asians demands patience. They need time to establish mutual trust and more time to reach a consensus within their own ranks. Decision-makers usually remain behind the scenes. Asians are prone to speak around words to “save face” for themselves and others. A “yes” could also mean “maybe” or a polite “no,” depending on how it is said. “If you don’t speak their tongue and don’t know their language of negotiation,” cautions Tuan Pham, “you may be exchanging smoke signals in a high wind.”
Tuan Pham agrees with John Nasbitt, author of Megatrends Asia, that the most effective way to connect with Asian prospects is via personal references, which according to Nasbitt are “worth more than any amount of money you could throw on the table.”
Tuan Pham uses a Chinese proverb to underscore his work: “A law suit breeds ten years of hatred.” If people of different backgrounds have conflicts, misunderstandings, or miscommunications with each other, mediation is a way of resolving these problems with no one losing face.
Skillful mediators work with parties to identify shared interests and merge differences – in beliefs, values, perceptions, risk tolerance, and communication styles – - to create joint gains. The story about two sisters who had only one orange between them illustrates how mediation works. In the traditional model, one sister gets the orange and the other gets mad (win-lose); alternatively, each sister settles for half of the orange (compromise). In mediation, one sister gets all the juice to quench her thirst and the other sister gets all the peels to show her culinary talent, allowing her to make delicious “Orange beef” (win-win). Both sides get what they need and harmony is restored.

Mediation in Courtroom Setting

How does mediation work in a courtroom setting? The judge refers certain cases for mediation, subject to the parties’ consent. The parties then go to a conference room with the mediator, or sometimes two co-mediators, who guide them through the process of negotiation, leading, hopefully, to a fair solution. If they settle, the mediator helps draft an agreement for both parties to sign. The judge then approves the agreement, which becomes legally binding. If the parties are unable to settle, the case goes back to court and the judge decides who is wrong and who is right, who loses and who wins. The losing party can appeal. If that happens, the two sides will face each other again in a new trial.
In summary, mediation offers a number of advantages. It is fast: most employment and consumer disputes take one session, a typical business dispute from two to three sessions, and a divorce from five to six sessions on the average. (Divorce cases take more time because they are more complex. There are issues of children, support and property, not to mention the emotion and anger involved.) Mediation is also fair: the parties make decisions for themselves, instead of relying on a jury or a judge. Finally, it is affordable: the mediator’s honorarium is inexpensive relative to legal fees, loss of productivity and the aggravation sustained by drawn-out litigation.

For more information, contact 703-205-9888 or Resolution @TuanPham.com