Intercultural Communication
and Mediation Process in
Multinational Contexts
An anthropological approach for observing
and interpreting situations
Aline GohardRadenkovic, 2010
What about my itinerary?
Since 1997, I have been a Professor in « Didactics of Foreign
Languages and Cultures » in a plurilingual and intercultural
perspective at the bilingual University of Fribourg (F/G)
 Before I was a teacher for FLE in Austria and Turkey ; then
Attachée linguistique or Advisor for Linguistic, Educational
and Academic Cooperation in Australia, South-Korea and
Russia; then a Consultant at the Rectorat of the Academy of
Grenoble for International Relations and Language Policies.
Because of the diversity o these linguistic, cultural, personal and
professional experiences in foreign languages and international contexts, I felt the need to start again my studies in
the anthropological and sociological fields.
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What about my context ? 3M7 German; 1M4 French;
760.000 Italian and 50-6000 Reto-romanch speakers
What about my context ? A bilingual University in a
multilingual country
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Switzerland is conceived as an official multilingual country in
the Constitution of 1848: it means that the three languages
(F/G/I) are in principle equally recognized and treated on a
national and administrative level; in 1939, the Romanche
(endangered language) acquired the status of a national
language. The Swiss Confederation gives general
recommendations encouraging the learning / teaching of the
«partner language» but each canton decides its own language
policies, above all in the bilingual or border cantons…
For instance my University is officially bilingual because
located on the borderline of the French speaking and German
speaking regions.
What about my context ? The city of Fribourg
located on the border-line
What about my context ? Gaps between official
discourses on multilingualism and local realities
Until a few years ago, the «partner language(s)» was/were
tought in every canton at the Primary and Secundary levels (I
& II) based on the sacred principle of a mutual learning in
order to maintain the social peace and political cohesion….
 With the neoliberal trends on power at the CH that promoted
«Englisch über alles» at each level in every sector, against the
partner languages, this remarkable recripoctiy is dying…
It seams that Schultheis (1995) was right when he declared:
«Switzerland is multilingual but the Swiss people aren’t! »
In other words, the unique and remarkable linguistic balance
and the social peace are clearly threatened by a language war.
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The main aims of the Workshop
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to work on the intercultural communication
process in multinational professional contexts by
studying the expectations, references, stakes,
status of the diverse actors in different situations;
to make hypothesis on the possible reasons of the
misunderstandings and the conflicts through
study cases;
to identify the “emerging mediation strategies”
to face, to repair or to resolve (or not) the
conflicts, improvised or elaborated by the actors.
How to identify the origins of misunderstandings in
the intercultural communication process ?
Which anthropological tools do we need to identify
the social and cultural dimensions embedded in
the intercultural / inter-individual
communication ?.... in order to understand the
hidden sociocultural rules and to identify the
misunderstandings that may appear in the (daily)
professional communication in multinational
teams and… de facto in multilingual and
multicultural contexts
The inter-individual communication is a
complex process… why?
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Because we are used to “reproduce” or
“interprete spontaneously” situations according
to our grid of cultural references, values and
beliefs, our social background, our life history
and experiences of “otherness”… wearing from
our younger years sociological lenses on the
“others” on their ways of behaving, speaking,
thinking, breading up, eating, etc.
Cf. Gohard-Radenkovic, A. «Comment analyser les rapports identitaires entre
groupes et entre individus en situation de mobilité?», Igitur, 2007
The inter-individual communication is a
complex process
Representations, images, cliches, prejudices, etc.
 Hidden values and beliefs, « invisible evidences »
 Cultural norms, social rules or rituals, expected
behaviours in formal and informal situations …
 Reproduction of social classifications, hierarchies…
= this grid of references hasbuilt an «implicite socioculture»
shared by actors belonging the same speech community
and the same social group
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Cf. Gohard-Radenkovic, A. Communiquer en langue étrangère, De compétences
culturelles à des compétences linguistiques, 2004, 1999
How to identify the origins of misunderstandings in
the intercultural communication?
Three fundamental anthropological concepts used as
objects and tools :
 Representations (Doise): system of perceptions in
which the models, beliefs, standards and values of
a social group are in contant interaction. The
function of these representations, inheritated
from our social group, is to interpret the reality
that surrounds us by symbolising it, giving it,
meaning and by mentally restructuring it.
Stereotyped representations and their effects
on the communication process
A stereotype is a linked with a
generalisation and reduction process on
one unique caracteristic on a country or its
people taken as granted and admitted as
the truth
a relation to alterity mostly built on a binary
and oppositional conception transmitting
prejudices: « I versus the Others »…
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Representations, on one’s self and on
the « others »
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One example of mutual stereotypes on the
others or «hetero-stereotypes», and on
one’s self or «auto-stereotypes» from
people - here businessmen - being used to
work together for a long time in bi- and
international firms.
Cf. F. Gauthey and D. Xardel, Management interculturel. Modes
et modèles, 1991
How to identify the origins of misunderstandings in
the intercultural communication?
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Invisible evidences (Carroll): a social rule (expressed
verbally and non-verbally: ex. politeness rules) that is
obvious to you and not to the others ; a rule consequently
that is unaware, invisible to the others BUT invisible
TOO to yourself because you reproduce it as « natural »
without thinking.
Implicits (Zarate): a cultural or social reference that is not
said or explained in the interaction but that each actor in
the communication may identify and understand
unconsciously… because belonging to the same « speech
community » and,or social group, it was initiated to the
same socio-historical (collective, national) background.
Implicits and their effects on the daily
professional communication
The English don’t have a clear position in meeting, notes
Sylvie : “Other experiences I’ve had with the English have
always been vague. I mean, we never get anywhere to have
a clear yes or no, it’s always somewhere in between”.
It’s the same for Daniel, “What’s puzzling is the vagueness,
meaning they (the English) are sometimes incapable of
getting their point across. They can have certain demands
of you and then you leave, for example at a reunion where
you made sure everything was black and white, well, not
black and white, but you said things to each other stating,
‘Ok, Ok, you need this, etc.’ So, you leave their meeting
saying, ‘Tomorrow, I’ll confirm everything in writing’, he
will confirms... And then, three weeks later, nothing. You
have to pester them every day. Everything remains
undecided.”
Cf. Christine Geoffroy, La mésentente cordiale. Voyage au coeur de l’espace interculturel franco-anglais, 2001
Implicits and their effects on the professional
communication
For John, the “heated” quality of discussions with French
partners is taken for rudeness and provokes an irritation:
“Often, it gets heated, which isn’t very polite. In England,
we’re a little cooler and sometimes people meetings aren’t
as heated, they don’t argue about the little things. They
don’t get moody in front of others. And really, it annoys the
English to have French who argue in a meeting when they
don’t think it’s necessary.”
Weary from the conflict in discussion, the English partners
prefer to withdraw, Donald asserts: “We often leave
meetings totally exhausted. We even sometimes stop fighting
for what we believe to be a better idea. We just tell ourselves,
‘I can’t communicate, I’ll never get anywhere with this
person because they’re not open to other suggestions’”.
Cf. Geoffroy, op. cit., 2001
Expected behaviours in Business Meetings:
making hypothesis on the misunderstandings
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What sort of misunderstandings could you
identify in these discourses?
Where do they come from ? Can you make
hypothesis ont these differences of expected
behaviours during business meetings ?
Have you any ideas to resolve such
tensions?
Other tools to observe the invisible evidences
in the communication process ?
Examples of this « implicite shared socioculture »
through…
 Greeting rituals, giving-giving back rituals, etc.
 Expected speech and behaviours (politeness rules)
in different situations (formal-unformal),
 Organisation and relation to hierarchy,
 Working methods (or relation to work),
 Space, time distribution, etc.
Attention: we must care about any abusive generalization on
these sociocultural rules !
Respect of the social rules and hierarchy
in a formal situation
Film: Tampopo from Juzo Itami
Japenese businessmen belonging to two
different firms are celebrating an event in a
very “chic and trendy”French restaurant
in Tokyo. Nobody in the staff is actually
able to read the menu written in French…
except one person…!
Cf. Gohard-Radenkovic, A. : « Mise en scène de 'l'autre' dans des films de
fiction : lieux de catégorisation, lieux de (re)médiation du rapport à
l'altérité », in Entre médias et médiations : les « mises en scène » du
rapport à l’altérité, 2010
To loose versus to save one’s face
Questions to understand and interprete
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Can you identify the title and function of the
different participants around the table?
Why are the boss(es) about to loose their faces ?
Which strategies are mobilised to save them ?
Why the situation is becoming unbearable ? Who
is responsible for the tensions and why??
Can you identify the non verbal signs of tensions
around the table ?
Why the conflict doesn’t explose ?
A fundamental process in the communication:
to loose / to save one’s face
These verbal and non-verbal (implicit) rules may
interfere in the daily professional communication
and generate “misunderstandings” and even
“conflicts”. It is a normal process in every
situation of communication, in every group, firm,
institution, more widely in every society. But a
fundamental process called the “preservation of
my face / of your face” allows to maintain and, or
to repair the communication
Cf. Erving Goffman, Les rites d’interaction, 1974 (Interaction Ritual)
Conflicts and mediation : steps and
strategies
Film: When the green ants dream from Werner Herzog
Context and situation: we are in Ayers Rock (Uluru
now), in the very deep Australian bush where are
used to live two Aborigenese tribes. The firm
Ayers Mining has sent a geologist, Lance Hackett,
to explore the soil, expecting to discover minerals.
But these tribes are watching on the “dream of
the green ants” that must not be awaken…
otherwise that’s the end of the world! We see the
scene when the explosions for testing the soil are
starting… and then when the conflict is
exploding…!!!
Conflicts and Mediation Process
Questions to identify and to interprete
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Can you define the different moments or steps in
the conflict process you observed ?
Can you identify ways of behaving and speaking
during the conflict process ?
Can you identify the reasons, the stakes and
challenges of the actors of the situation?
Could you observe an emerging mediation
process ? When and how ?
Cf. A. Gohard-Radenkovic: « Mise en scène de 'l'autre' dans des films de fiction :
lieux de catégorisation, lieux de (re)médiation du rapport à l'altérité », 2010
Examples of strategies and attitudes
developped during the mediation process
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1- A verbal attitude in the mediation process : To be
a good listener, to repeat, to make the message
explicit, to identify the possible misunderstanding
2- A non verbal attitude in the mediation process : To
try to understand the rationale or the logical
reasoning (logics) of the partners
Cf. Pia Stalder. Pratiques imaginées et Images de la pratiques plurilingues.
Stratégies de communication dans les réunions en milieu professionnel
international, 2010
A verbal attitude:
A non verbal attitude
Mediation process in the conflictual communication:
which competences of the mediator?
Now it is your turn to define !:
 What is the function of a mediator ?
 How can identify the reasons of a conflict ?
 How can we anticipate the conflicts?
 Which strategies to resolve a conflict ?
 Which abilities must have a mediator?
 What are the different types of mediators?
Cf. D. Lévy et G. Zarate (coord.). Médiation et didactique des langues et des cultures,
Le français dans le monde, 2003
Bridge between scientific approach and
pragmatic intervention on the work-field

What are the links between the « mediation
process » and the intercultural
communication ?
Links between the mediation process and the
inter-individual communication ?
V. de Briant & Y. Palau (La médiation, 1999) explain the links
Mediation must be conceived as putting in relation (creating
connections) two elements and two human beings,
individuals between them on one side and the society on the
other side. Every mediation is historically and locally
situated, loaded by social representations that are vehicled by
«the mediated actors» and «the mediating ones» (mediators).
Every mediation is consequently a double process, social or
« societal » on one side, and inter-individual on the other
side (p.43)
The double nature of mediation, e.g. the individual dimension
embedded in a social dimension, makes any interaction
between social actors a very complex process…
Bibliographie
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Briant (de), V. et Palau, Y. (1999). La médiation. Définition, pratiques et
perspectives. 128 / Université / Nathan.
Carroll, R.(1987). Evidences invisibles, Seuil, Paris.
Gauthey, F. et D. Xardel, D. (1991). Management interculturel. Modes et
modèles, Economica, Paris.
Geoffroy, C. (2001), La mésentente cordiale. Voyage au coeur de l’espace
interculturel franco-anglais, Grasset / Le Monde, Paris.
Goffman, E. (1974). Les rites d’interaction. Le sens commun / Editions de
Minuit (Titre original : Interaction Ritual).
Gohard-Radenkovic, A. (2004, 1999). Communiquer en langue étrangère,
De compétences culturelles à des compétences linguistiques, Peter Lang,
Bern.
Gohard-Radenkovic, A. (2007). « Comment analyser les rapports
identitaires entre groupes et entre individus en situation de mobilité? »,
Igitur, Lingue / Culture / Identità, Santore L. (a cura di), Anno VIII,
Nuova Arnica Editrice, Roma (pp. 41-56).
Bibliographie (suite)
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Gohard-Radenkovic, A (2010). « Mise en scène de 'l'autre' dans des films
de fiction : lieux de catégorisation, lieux de (re)médiation du rapport à
l'altérité », in Gohard-Radenkovic, A. Acklin Muji, D., Entre médias et
médiations : les « mises en scène » du rapport à l’altérité, Espaces
interculturels / L’Harmattan,
Lévy, D. et Zarate, G. (2003) (coord.). Médiation et didactique des
langues et des cultures, Le français dans le monde. Recherches et
applications, n° juin, FIPF / Clé international.
Stalder, P. (2010), Pratiques imaginées et Images de la pratiques
plurilingues. Stratégies de communication dans les réunions en milieu
professionnel international, Transversales / Peter Lang, Bern.
Zarate, G., Gohard-Radenkovic, A., Lussier, D. & Penz, H. (2004, 2003)
Cultural Mediation in Language Learning and Teaching Graz : ECML /
CELV, Council of Europe / Conseil de l’Europe.
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Social and cultural dimensions in the intercultural