Wednesday, August 23, 2006

“I Am A Croissant!”

OK, not a croissant; how about “I am a jelly doughnut!” OK, how about none of the above! One day we may find ourselves [if you haven’t already had the experience] mediating cases where there is a language barrier. Immediately you think – interpreter, right?!? Clearly that works [although not without pitfalls]. What about the necessity, though, for the mediator to build rapport with the disputing parties? How would you develop this in that scenario? How about speaking a phrase or two in the other language – at least trying to do so – that might do it. It’s fun to try if you have a good sense of what you’re about to say. Be careful, though, you certainly don’t want to mis-speak in the other language.

Remember 1963 [please say yes!]. In any event, after the Berlin Wall was built as a barrier to movement between East and West Berlin, President John F. Kennedy gave a memorable speech in West Berlin as morale boost for West Berliners who lived inside East Germany and who feared a possible East German occupation. He said:

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’

He said he was a citizen of Berlin [to build that rapport] although it was widely reported that he said he was a jelly doughnut [which, of course, he was not!]. His unmistakable accent may have lead to that urban legend.

Think about it for a minute – how do you feel when someone who isn’t fluent in your language tries to communicate with you in your language – feels kind of nice sometimes; don’t you begin to feel a tinge of rapport building?

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