Facing the “Chinese Face Issue”

By Xi Cao


Being Chinese and also a mediator, after taking a number of mediation cases related to the Chinese community, I dread thinking of how a multi-cultural mediator, like me, would have fared in a more comprehensive inner-city experience, outside of the center elsewhere in LA.

LA is known as a cultural melt-pot in U.S. People here are more open to live through different cultures. On the other hand, cross-culture problem is also standing out. When party one (P1) cannot understand party two’s (P2) culture, and P2 is not aware of P1’s incomprehension, cultural misunderstandings become personal attacks, and then unnecessary fights are ultimately triggered.

According to the large Chinese population in LA, Chinese culture is not strange to LA people. However, when concerned about conflicts, most non-Chinese may be easy to disregard one important characteristics of China, called “Face Issue” (Mian Zi in Chinese). Many foreigners maybe have heard of it, but few people will take it into serious consideration. In China, the society does place a great deal of importance on “Face Issue” within communities, business, and politics. For example, in a business negotiation, if one company gets more material benefits, it’d better give the other one more “Faces”, such as thank you letters or publicities.

 In one case involving both Taiwanese and Chinese mainland parties, the Taiwanese party complained that mainland Chinese woman never paid the Home Association fee on time. But when I reached the mainland Chinese lady, she said the Taiwanese woman always shouted rowdy at her, in front of all neighbors, to remind her of the payment. So she felt her ego was particularly shot and she lost her “Face”, meaning got insulted.

After I passed on this “Face Issue” problem to the Taiwanese party, she was shocked and said the mainland Chinese woman is “too sensitive” about being offended or having her feelings hurt. So even for Taiwanese people, who are actually part of the Chinese Han Nation culture, cannot fully understand this “Face Issue”, let alone other non-Chinese people.

Some non-Chinese people claim that they don’t appreciate the significance of this “Face Issue.” However, APADRC is not a place to police people’s feelings. We are not the palace of nobilities; we are more like a hospital of broken relationships. Our job is meant to identify the problem, to come up with possible treatments, and to restore a healthy relationship. Actually, on another level, this “Face Issue” can also bring about some upsides. It can be good motivation to strive for life dreams. Moreover, people could be more progressive and thoughtful, since everyone tries so hard to protect each other’s “Faces”. Therefore, instead of judging that whether this is a good or a bad moral, more important thing for mediators is to be acknowledge that it’s just part of Chinese culture.

So what does exactly this Chinese “face issue” mean?

China is renowned as a nation of valuing etiquette and propriety ever since ancient times. So they have been educated by the Confucianism to look well-mannered at any cost, especially on surface. Whatever inside they are, they have to keep their appearance pretty, even it is polite pretty. That is the so-called “Face Issue”. Thus, for Chinese people, they do care more about their “Face” rather than the “peace”.

Sacrificing for “Face” is spoken highly by Chinese society. Like the saying in English, “it is an ill bird that fouls its own nest”; in Chinese, they say “Men can’t live without face, trees can’t live without bark.” Chinese culture is more focused on cynical success. Under the severe pressure of fierce competition, they’ve been taught since they were born that “you have to be the best”. If they are not the top one, then they are losers. But that’s not a possible world. Therefore, in order to be not viewed as a loser, at least, Chinese people have to keep their face up ostensibly. So “Face” is their bottom line. Once Chinese people lose their face, they feel they lose everything.

What’s more, Chinese people are taking this “Face” custom for granted and pass on it naturally to people around them. But this pursuit of face is very different from western culture. Although this “Face Issue” is so well-known among Chinese, it’s a very sensitive alarm button. Chinese people always shy away from this topic. If you recognize there is a “Face” fight, it’s better to not touch it and say it out, otherwise it will become another “Face” problem to put this “face issue” on the table.



So faced with clash of two cultures actuated by Chinese “Face Issue”, a tall order for mediators is how to spot this invisible “Face Issue”?

First, since Chinese people would feel mortified to roll out that their “Face Lost” is the real reason of the dispute, for mediators, it’s better keep this “Face Issue” in mind when we try to build up our relationship with Chinese people. For example, if there is a case in which one party feels a Chinese person recently starts to keep niggling the other party for no obvious reason, probably because the other party has already ripped the Chinese party’s “face” off before. Thus, it could be helpful if mediators can try to place ourselves in a Chinese way of thinking, to be a little bit more careful about their “Faces Protection”. Likewise, if non-Chinese people could be more informed about this Chinese “face” culture, we could help parties to seek for the right culprit hidden behind the exterior performance, and it could be easier to find out more practical solutions.

For instance, in another case, P1 is a Chinese tenant, who claimed that P2, the American landlord always deliberately ignores his requests for housing repair service. But P2 insisted that P1 is just picking on her and bothering her by grumbling about small, tiny problems of her house. Those problems however are nothing for other tenants who live in the same condition. It turns out that P2 was a very knowledgeable math professor, once when they calculated the rent price, P1 made a mistake and P2 laughed at him, “you are a fake math professor.” After that, P1 felt that he lost his face completely and took P2’s behaviors as the mere fact that “all she is doing is only trying to embarrass me.” So P1 started to take an eye for an eye.

When I asked P2 that if she had ever noticed that P1 got pissed off from her unconscious “insult”, she said “I saw him confounded at that time, but that was just a joke!” So if P2 knew more about this “Face” problem and could have followed up clarifying that she was just kidding, maybe P1 would not be a lemon to her. In addition, both parties at the beginning never had any intention to mention about this totally irrelevant story, but after I asked P1, “is there anything you feel P2 had disrespected you ever?” P1 confessed this unpleasant incident to me. I explained the whole “Face” culture background to P2, that it is a particularly serious issue for high-educated people. P2 then showed her understandings and respects to this different culture.

I know things like this case are kind of sophomoric, but it is common and acceptable that majority people like the feeling of getting their adrenaline pumping. When their ethos and dignities were fenced down and their honor get into trouble, it feels like huge hormones boil their blood and give them a shot of adrenaline. They are no longer fighting for money, they are fighting for their self-worth and sense of pride, a very proud defense.

Second, while listening to words, it’s good for mediators to pay more attention to their body languages and facial expressions. In order to keep “face” good-looking, Chinese people are more likely to be indirect and inexpressive. Primarily, after losing their faces, verbal descriptions could mostly even be the opposite of their real mind. Americans usually go straight to put forward with their goals, in turn, Chinese people feel uncomfortable to bring up their requirements directly. So for proving their righteousness, Chinese parties always tell a chain of stories around the core issue but never are right on point. Most people who are not familiar with this kind of culture, will feel it’s waste of time, whereares, that’s just the very way we, as mediators, start to get glimpse at the case flashpoint.


Under this “face issue”, there is a norm that generally, Chinese people like to show off more than what they have, because they like to hide their real “face” and only appear what they want to show to other people. A typical example is that, even though there was a world war III in the house last night, next morning, the couple still will clasp their fingers and show off affection outside in front of their colleagues or friends. For Chinese, it is a pious “Fake Face”.

Actually that “face”, to me, also has another name, called “mask”. Personally, I would like to say the “Face” on Chinese is literally a friendly “mask”. This intangible “mask” is very vulnerable and fragile. No one could even touch or present it. But this “mask” is also so real and shining that no one could overlook or neglect it as well. If someone dares to tear this “mask” out from Chinese faces, that will be like ripping off their bandages and expose their scars. They will be incredibly irritated to shake up the peace and battle lines are being drawn.

Therefore, if mediators have to peel parties’ mask off, by realizing this potential Chinese “face issue”, we could do it in a more subtle and soft way. It’s better for us to let the party put their “mask” down by their own hands. Chinese people are afraid of risking the shame and embarrassment of being singled out by their friends. In that circumstances, the “Face Issue” is absolutely very ethical interpretation. If only after the first round of mediation, the answer is already a resounding “no”, and it tends that in the further negotiation, both parties don’t want to knuckle under to each other’s demands or they are getting livid with each other, somehow for the way that they’ve behaved before mediation, there perhaps is a huge clash of cultures. Mediators can assist parties in revisiting their older stories to crack the code of their trouble.

For Chinese mediators, vice versa, we need to be aware: it’s common that non-Chinese parties do not see the point of this conventional “Face Issue”. One of my taste of conciliation taught me that mediators have to have the ability and techniques to get parties back, grab them together, slide back over and put them through the tough hatred conversations. In a recent case, I was prepared for what I was going to suffer, but it was still a panic. P1, a Chinese resident was talking from the minute she called, to the minute she hang up the phone, and not listening to a word I was saying. On the contrary, P2, an Indian neighbor was really indifferent and cold shoulder. All her answers are extremely concise. Both parties don’t care about each other’s distinguishing talking style at all, and they are unwilling to be subject to the other. Basically, they are just going to carry on being the way they are.

It’s starting to dawn on me that why things are going so wrong in Chinese cases. I was dying a thousand deaths in a tedious diet of talking from P1, and I was having a strong feeling at the moment that this case was going to fail. Even the most mild-mannered mediators have been pushed to breaking point. So for the time being, I told P1, “you are very good at starting, but what I’m getting is not a clear point of view within your answers”. I tried to convince her that she needs to change her old patterns and adapt to P2’s talking style at first, otherwise nothing will get done. So I told her, “please try to call P2, and only listen to him for a minute, just one minute, silently. If you cannot put up with it, after one minute, hang up and call me back. I will give you one hour to talk whatever you want to share.” After she called P2, she started to calm down and narrated orderly and I was gradually getting a voice or an opinion behind her answers. I started to understand what was important to both of them and what they were trying to achieve.

To the credit of Chinese people, they think they are responding well. It was just the other party that did not give them enough respect. That’s why we need to make Chinese party to reach out their arms and embrace western culture. If None of people had understood it before, mediators are responsible to get this issue straight away, because if we can make western style, which is in stark contrast to the traditional Chinese approach, so much sense to Chinese party, they can willingly unveil their “mask” and put smiles on their real “face”. It’s a learning curve for both parties. It’s maybe a bit disheartening for them, but it is the diverse in peace we enjoy.

It is understandable that nobody is born to apprehend other customs. If they feel those customs are not quite as appreciative. Something are different from their own experience, they will feel hard to accept it, because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to accept. Yet, Facing with typical cultural contradict when misunderstanding builds, as mediators, we are not trying to get parties knuckled down and mold them into best American model of residence; we are not trying to judge which culture system will come out on top; we are just trying to open people’s eyes, help them see the beauty of difference.








When Cultures Smash

By Zachary Everson
Not a lot of international traffic here. One interaction can leave a lasting impression.
Not a lot of international traffic here. One interaction can leave a lasting impression.

The treetops along the west coast of Japan had already long-since begun the cascade of harvest hues, yet my friend and I still had not reserved a location for our English-speaking community’s annual late-autumn pitch-in dinner. We organized many events throughout the year, but none would bring together as diverse a crowd as this one.  Home-cooked turkey dinner, once taken for granted by the Americans in the group, had become a near impossibility while living on an island that has for decades mistakenly treated KFC like a Western holiday tradition. The chance to share a bit of authentic home culture with friends was a simple comfort we came to cherish every year. In spite of our best efforts, no matter how many calls we made, venue after potential venue returned our inquiries with the same message, “So sorry, already booked”.

Just as we were nearing the point of weeping and gnashing of teeth, we found an opening. After hurriedly driving over to discuss plans, however, we learned that no one would ever be allowed to host anything even resembling a Christmas party at that facility. That particular rule, which they had inexplicably excluded from our conversation on the phone, came about because of one past dispute. Apparently, the disparity between what the Japanese small-town community center thought would be a Christmas party and what the lively Brazilian ex-pat community once actually held as a Christmas party was so unbearable that Christmas had to be indefinitely canceled. At least, they thought it was probably Brazilians. Different culture, at any rate. From the sound of things, they had engaged in an activity we foreigners came to nickname the “gaijin smash”. “Gaijin” is an impolite word for “foreigner”, and a gaijin smash is what happens when an impolite foreigner barges into an establishment and completely disregards any but his own way of doing things. What really mattered, the staff stressed, is that no one ever have a Christmas party at their facility ever again. They would not under any circumstances endure another smashing. Never mind that we weren’t part of that one ill-fated festa. Never mind that we were only hoping for a quiet dinner event. Never mind the conspicuous lack of any specific holiday theme in our plans. Nope. No Christmas. Goodbye.

On the drive back that night stars faded and time slowed as the Ghost of Christmas Failure led us by the arm and showed us the stern, grimaced faces of all the good people we were about to disappoint. Carols turned to cursing as an entire snowy village of period piece extras lined up one by one to cross their arms and spit in our general direction. Last of all, normally affable Tiny Tim hobbled himself up on his good leg and proceeded to wreck our shins with his adorable little crutch. “Could these shadows really be our future?” we wondered as we stopped at a traffic signal not but five minutes from home.

Anxieties of Christmas yet to come vanished from imagination with a screeching, hollow crunch as the driver following us failed to notice both the red light and the automobile between himself and the open road. Thankfully, my friend and I suffered no noticeable injuries, but it was clear that she would never drive that car again.  The adrenaline from the momentary shock stirred all the frustrations of the evening and somehow froze them all at once. Anger, fear, and resentment circled meticulously like hungry predators beneath a transparent layer of ice. Already emotionally drained and utterly knackered, one careless driver had shoved our dead nerves beyond Hades to the vacuous, chilly Tartarean depths below. So, naturally, when he approached to check the damage and exchange information, we did what many exasperated people in similar situations have been known to do.

We apologized.
We did not apologize from a sense of guilt. In fact, the police report would later place 100% of the blame on the other driver. We apologized because such humility is the only proper beginning to potential conflict. This was not our idea, of course, but rather a lesson from Japanese textbooks and the orientation program for our job. Apologies are integral to even the most casual of relationships in Japan. Even after a car accident with an obvious guilty party, both parties express regret. This custom struck hard against our Western sense of self-preservation. We had come to a complete stop at a red light. We clearly had done nothing wrong. Normally, to us apologizing would be an admission that we shared the blame. In our home countries this would not only be viewed as absurd but also might even cause some liability for us. Nevertheless, we followed the advice of our teachers, pushed back against our instincts, and greeted the man that had wantonly ruined my friend’s car with a polite bow.

We didn’t even finish speaking before his assurances of personal culpability overwhelmed the interaction. We bowed. He bowed lower. We were sorry. He was deeply sorry. When the police arrived he explained the situation and hid nothing. He not only paid our examination fees when we went for a check-up that night but also stayed with us until he heard the results. True to cultural norms, he called his workplace and his boss came from the office to apologize to us and sit with him. My supervisor and my friend’s supervisor were also present. A small community came together in a hospital waiting room to handle the aftermath of a traffic incident that ultimately would leave no serious injury.

What we had always understood as little more than an act of admission of guilt we came to see as the humble recognition of how an unfortunate situation affects all involved. This basic lesson on cultural differences helped us avoid friction during a potential conflict. We can’t know what would’ve happened had we not known the importance of apologies in Japan, but we can be fairly certain that the other driver’s willingness to work with us after the accident would’ve been affected had we reacted in a manner foreign to his experiences.

Simple efforts to communicate and reach understanding can smooth over many of the rough edges of cross-cultural conflicts. Fluency is never required. The mere conciliatory effort of recognizing the validity of the other side’s approach to the situation is usually enough. In our small English-speaking community we often directly felt the impact of different approaches to disagreements. Those who chose to approach situations with apologetic humility may not have always achieved their ideal results, but they did succeed in proving to the locals of our rural community that non-Japanese could be reasonable. Those whose chose to smash their way through disagreement, however, not only left behind a negative impression of foreigners, they ruined Christmas.

*               *               *

Wishing to conclude on a happy note, I would like to add that we did eventually find a community center willing and available to host what was certainly the largest gathering of internationals they had ever seen. We were extra careful not to resemble the sort of foreigners that force their own way, and the center welcomed us back every year thereafter.



When an Irresistible Force Meets an Immovable Object

by Hansol Choi

We have all been there before: we are in what initially begins as a friendly discourse with someone

when all of a sudden, we find ourselves in the heat of an impasse about a disagreement that seems to

have lodged itself right between us and the other party. As the conversation transforms into an

argument before our very eyes, the disagreeing positions from both parties clash in the air like flying

arrows, and our feelings suffer as collateral damage from the growing conflict in what seems like an

impossible scenario: when an irresistible force meets the inevitable immovable object. What do you do?

As mediators, we try our very best to prevent impasse from taking place during the development of the

case. The hostile environment that ensues when both parties convey a mutual desire of antagonism

toward each other can be a stressful red herring from the focus of the mediation – resolution.

However, we do recognize that as difficult as they can be, impasses are not synonymous with failure; in

fact, an impasse can be an opportunity in disguise, as the seeming roadblock pushes the mediators to

think beyond the boundaries of the situation to bring the parties back into a position of resolving the

case. Sometimes, this may require using the strategy of reality checks. This is a useful tool to utilize

when the mediator recognizes that the disputants have constricted their vision from the grand picture

of the situation into a narrow focus of just one detail.

In one particular case I am currently working on, I found myself stuck in a situation where both parties

adamantly refused to move from their positions. Party 1 firmly believed that Party 2 had performed

malpractice services and did not want to make any further payments. Party 2 on the other hand,

expected a full payment of the services rendered and did not agree with the malpractice claim made by

Party 1. During the duration of a month, neither party could be convinced from their positions: we were

stuck in an impasse. As a mediator, I have found that in situations like these, it would not be conducive

to the resolution if we continued to push for an alignment of the two different perspectives. Instead, the

mediator must shift the focus away from the roadblock. The strategy I employed in this particular case

began with carefully crafted questions of self-reflection to each party, followed by possible

consequences that are likely to arise if the disputants continued to refuse to disengage from the

impasse: first, I made sure to maintain rapport with the parties by fully listening to each respective

account; then, I began the reality check by asking guided questions that would help the parties think

about the responsibility of their actions – did they maintain communication during the escalation of the

dispute? Had they directly contacted the other party? Finally, I reminded each of the parties of the

options that were available to the other should they fail in mediation, followed by the incentives of

pushing forward toward a resolution past the current impasse, should they succeed.

This strategy may not work in all cases of impasse, but I have found it of much help in this particular

case. As mediators, I have realized that it is important to always remain in control of the process, as the

content of the case may shift when different facts are brought to light. We also have to accept that the

details of facts from each party will never align with one another due to differing perspectives. However,

as long as we remain firm in managing the process of the mediation, through an impasse or not, we will

be of most help to the disputants in guiding them out of the woods of the conflict into the light of the

resolution so that they can move forward with their life.

As a Law Student

Jacob Yum
Conflict Mediation Specialist

As a law student, I initially wanted to work at the APADRC because I believed it would greatly enhance my ability to properly resolve conflicts while providing an avenue for me to utilize my skills to help others. Today, after working at the APADRC, I can confidently say that I have achieved both these goals, and much more.

My early experiences were the basis of my desire to join the APADRC. As an early Korean immigrant, I saw my family go through many unfair struggles due to language and cultural barriers, and ever since, I sought for ways to help those who are in the same position now as my family was back then. The APADRC allowed me to do just that – it provides a unique resource to those who are not familiar with the American society or lack the language skills to communicate properly with others in this community. We provide assistance in English as well as various Asian languages, and cross-cultural mediation is a frequent occurrence at the APADRC. By accommodating such languages, we seek to eliminate any existing cultural barriers while offering empathy and support to our clients.

One of APADRC’s most fundamental beliefs is that through mediation, we can reach an optimal solution that makes both parties happy without needing to sour the relationship between them. It is a logical objective – an idealistic one, I admit – but it remains, at least in my humble opinion, one of the most appealing aspects of mediation and one of the biggest reasons why I was drawn to the APADRC. The program at APADRC strives to teach each and every one of their mediators how to reach that very solution – and how to foster a stronger relationship between the parties in the process. It starts with a three week training program to teach the basics of mediation, after which you are put to work. During your tenure at the APADRC, you will be faced with a wide variety of cases, from unpaid hospital bills to complex contractual disputes; whether it is cross-cultural mediation or not, each case is unique, and they are always interesting. At the end of the program, you are presented with a certificate that certifies you as a mediator.

Throughout this process, you will learn firsthand how to be an excellent mediator. One of the most rewarding aspects about working at the APADRC is the work environment – namely, your peers and supervisors. My experience at the APADRC would not have been the same if it were not for the cordial group of peers and approachable supervisors that not only helped me when things got tough, but also enriched my life by sharing their life experiences with me. Whether it was debriefing after a mediation or chit-chatting during the slow hours, the work environment at the APADRC never failed to be a comfortable and friendly environment. It truly was an environment that perfectly blended the personal with the professional. Through their friendship and mentorship, my peers and supervisors taught me important life lessons and broadened my perspective of this diverse community.

My stay with the APADRC was invaluable, and I strongly urge anyone who is interested in mediation to apply. Not only is mediation a growing trend in law, but it is also an amazing tool to have, as conflict resolution is something we all do throughout life. I appreciate everything that the APADRC did for me, and cannot wait to see the impact it has on you.

The Hague Abduction Convention Goes into Force in Japan: The APADRC Divorce Mediation Program and Community Education

Hague Convention Workshop in L.A. showing participating organizations.
Hague Abduction Convention Workshop in L.A.: Participating Organizations
Huge Issue between the U.S. and Japan

International parental child abduction is on the rise all over the world, as international marriages are rapidly increasing. For years, child abduction from the United States to Japan has been a huge issue, not only on individual and societal levels, but also on a diplomatic level between the two countries. Although child abduction from the U.S. to Japan can occur between parents of the same nationality, the majority of parents who experience it are binational, where one spouse is American and the other Japanese.  This problem is not as prevalent with couples involving a spouse from another Asian country (e.g., Korea or China).  It may have something to do with the fact that Koreans, Chinese, and other Asian immigrants usually obtain U.S. citizenship and consider the U.S. their new home, whereas many of the Japanese residents in the U.S. choose not to obtain U.S. citizenship and maintain close ties with their home country.

Hague Abduction Convention Workshops
Hague Convention Workshop in L.A. showing Mikiko Otani (lecturer) and the attendees
Hague Abduction Convention Workshop in L.A.: Mikiko Otani (lecturer)

In April 2014, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“Hague Abduction Convention” or “treaty”) went into effect in Japan, raising hope that it will provide some solutions and deterrence to the problem. The Hague Abduction Convention requires a prompt return of the abducted child to the child’s habitual residence country except for some situations.

The APADRC’s Divorce Mediation Program, along with the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles, the Little Tokyo Service Center, and the Centenary United Methodist Church, has been instrumental in educating the Japanese community in Southern California about the impact the Hague Abduction Convention will have on them.  We held two workshops; in Los Angeles in April and San Diego in November.  For both workshops, we invited Mikiko Otani, a renowned international family lawyer based in Tokyo, as a lecturer.  She served as an adviser to the Foreign Ministry of Japan in implementing the Hague Abduction Convention.  She explained the purpose of the treaty, how it was implemented in Japan, and what implication it would have for Japanese parents in the United States.

Hague Convention Workshop in L.A. showing participating organizations.  The farthest table is APADRC's.  The closest two guys are the Consul and the Deputy Consul General from the Consulate General of Japan.
Hague Abduction Convention Workshop in L.A: Participating Organizations


Although the Hague Abduction Convention may bring legal solutions to, and have deterrence effects on, child abduction, the problem would not be resolved without addressing fundamental reasons why people abduct their children to their home countries.  According to Professor Geoffrey Greif of the University of Maryland, parents abduct their children to their home countries when they do not fit in with society, have significant support in their home countries, do not agree with the court’s custody decision, want revenge against their spouses, are subjected to domestic violence, have difficulty finding work (financial issues), or have psychological problems.

To address these issues in both workshops, we invited community organizations which provide culturally and linguistically sensitive services in the areas of family, divorce, domestic violence and mental health.  They kindly provided information as to how they could assist those who are faced with family problems, yet are excluded from access to local services due to cultural and language barriers. The participating organizations other than the Little Tokyo Service Center and the APADRC were: Center for the Asian Pacific Family, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Korean American Family Services, Union of Pan Asian Communities, Azuna-kai, and Japanese Family Support Center.  The workshops also included a presentation on how parental alienation affects children by Midori Dekura, MFT, and a presentation on police procedure on domestic violence by retired LAPD officer Ron Hasegawa.

Both workshops were well-received and garnered positive reactions by attendees.  Many of them thanked us at the conclusion of the workshops and told us that they would let others know about the workshops and the participating organizations.

           —– Toshie Ozaki

Abduction Prevention Mediation

The divorce mediation the APADRC conducts for binational couples often entails child abduction prevention, in which the couples discuss and agree on logistical steps they can take to prevent child abduction.  In addition, divorce mediation can be effective in prevention if it is done in a way to provide couples with the opportunity to work together to address their concerns about their post-divorce lives, thereby easing their stress and emotional pain incidental to divorce.

APADRC in Japan in 2014

Toshie Ozaki, Mikiko Otani, Melissa Kucinski - training for Hague mediators in Tokyo
Toshie Ozaki, Mikiko Otani, Melissa Kucinski: Hague Mediation Training in Tokyo
Hague Events in Tokyo

In September, mediation training was conducted in Tokyo for mediators registered to handle Hague Abduction Convention cases. Melissa Kucinski, the American Bar Association’s international family law committee chair, and Mikiko Otani, international family lawyer based in Tokyo, conducted the training, while the APADRC’s Divorce Mediation Program Director Toshie Ozaki discussed cross-cultural family mediation.  Toshie was also invited to the Hague Abduction Convention expert meeting at the United States Embassy in Tokyo.  The meeting was attended by representatives from the Department of State Office of Children’s Issues and from the Foreign Ministry of Japan, as well as judges, international family law attorneys, and mediators from both the U.S. and Japan.  California’s Deputy Attorney General Elaine Tumonis was also present. The meeting started with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy congratulating Japan for implementing the treaty, followed by discussions on the Convention procedure, domestic violence issues, military divorce issues, benefits of mediation, and more.

ADR Symposium in Okinawa

Toshie was invited to the ADR Symposium in Okinawa. Approximately 100 lawyer-mediators and law professors attended the Symposium.  Toshie gave a presentation on the APADRC and its programs, as well as the roles of the community mediation centers in California.

Restorative Justice in Action: PART 2

by Sean Dwyer, Assistant Program Director

So we enter into the next phase of the Restorative Justice process, as much in a given case as in the program’s implementation in general. In the first official RJ case, we have continued to work with the parties, carried out a circle and now are into the follow through phase with the possibility of a second circle in the air. In the program, we are looking to get more volunteers more actively involved and then also needing to get more and more quickly convincing about the process to the clients. In both cases, we need to hold strong, taking to heart our successes as much as we are not shaken by the continuing difficulties.

Even the morning of the day that we were to have our first, official Restorative Justice circle, I was not entirely certain of anything. Would the parties show up? Did we have enough snacks for everyone? Were they happy with the proposed agenda? Were they going to be able to find their way into the building? I put signs up and checked the doors from time to time. Finally, pretty close to the scheduled beginning time, the mom and son arrived, having come together! A good sign!

One of the support people showed up soon afterwards, and my co-facilitator was already there. That was good enough! Another support person and their wife were going to be a little late, and in fact ended up not being able to make it unfortunately. Two community members were able to show up a little later, and that made quite an impact indeed (Jojo Sanchez and Julie Matsumoto from Operation Street Kidz, very important partners to APADRC’s RJ program!) The absence of the other support people, however, and then even the way the seating ended up, meant that the mom actually ended up feeling quite vulnerable, whereas Isaac had support and encouragement. I whispered to my co-facilitator then to work on playing the support for the mom to some degree, and we were able to keep a very good balance throughout.

The circle went through the items on the agenda with only a few squiggles and hiccups, and the mom and son went through emotions from anger to sadness to acceptance and love. There were tears and hopelessness at first, and eventually tears and openness to change and improvement in the middle. This paved the way for working finally with options. A very important aspect of an RJ circle is organizing what gets said such that it can be used as an official reminder afterwards to show what was accomplished and what was agreed upon for going forward. In this case, we had a number of general principles as well as some specific applications within the context of waking up for school and work in the morning. A successful circle that has cemented relationships based on the foundation built by the preparation work accomplished and providing a solid platform to begin following through on long term improvement.

So now that we are convinced entirely that not only Restorative Justice works, but also that we have the means and the capacity to apply it, we want to do it more! And the cases did indeed begin rolling in! So the entire system gets put to the test, and the difficulties become evident: Communications between supervisor and volunteers, volunteer availability and willingness to move cases, but most of all client ability to understand the process and willingness to participate. This last point is in the context of a single phone call in which a volunteer facilitator, new to the process themselves for the moment, makes an attempt to explain the process and sell the person, a person who only knows their case as such as seen through the lens of the police and the charges pressed recently.

This makes for a very difficult mix of vulnerability and weak confidence against which we must tip the balance. So we have further developed this aspect of the system in order to better, and in a more official manner, inform the parties about our process and assure their participation. This means a letter with all useful information and benefits about the program sent out to them as well as limiting the initial phone call to informing them about the letter that is coming and arranging for an in person meeting as we now have been assigned their file by the Sheriffs, Police or probation as the case may be. At the in person meeting we can then more adequately describe the process, clarify our position and the possibility for them to seriously profit from this experience.

In my own case, with that first case that can be called a successful Restorative Justice case, I went to the client in person and was able to make a connection that has now lasted through inspiration, difficult realizations, facilitated communication and hopefully artistic collaboration even. The sky is the limit when building upon restored, or even transformed, relationships.

Preservation and Reparation of Relationships through Mediation

by Karina Cordero, Conflict Mediation Specialist

Alternative methods of conflict resolution, such as mediation, have grown in popularity in recent years due to their low cost and less time consuming solutions as compared to the traditional court system. However, during my time at APADRC I have discovered that one of the most valuable aspects of mediation is the ability this process has on preserving and/or repairing relationships. Mediation doesn’t only help parties understand each other’s views, but also leads to better communication. Through mediation, people in conflict find each other in a safe and confidential environment where they can air grievances, personal, and non-legal issues. This makes mediation ideal for a variety of cases, especially those in which parties wish to maintain a connection or wish to continue their lives without hanging on to the hurt, frustration, fear or anger that their particular conflict has caused them.

Currently I am working on a case regarding a divorced couple that could benefit from this important aspect of mediation. About twenty years ago, Party 1 divorced her husband, and although they had several properties together, they decided to only sell the house they were living in at that time. Party 1 contacted us because eight years ago she discovered that when her ex-husband called her to sign the documents to sell the one house, she signed off the other properties that they both co-owned. She believes that he misled her in to signing the documents on purpose. When she found out about the proper-ties, she mentioned it to Party 2 and he said it was a mistake and that he would put her name back on the documents but so far, he hasn’t done so. Since then he found a new partner, whom is currently living in the properties that initially belonged to both parties in the conflict. Party 1 mentioned that their communication has slowly declined and that she wants to find a way to resolve this conflict without harming what is left of her relationship with the father of five of her children. In this case both parties seem to care a lot about their children and mediation could be ideal in bringing to the table two parties that are willing to work together to safeguard the well-being of their family. By discussing their sides of the story they might air out areas of miscommunication and devise a creative solution that will allow them to put this issue in the past and move forward with their life; maybe even repairing some of the damage in their relationship along the way.

Moreover, coming from a Diplomacy and International Relations background I have previously studied conflict resolution and peacemaking globally. Through this I found that even in cases of protracted conflict, sitting the parties down and clarifying the underlying interest driving their position can go a long way in improving a detrimental situation. Often conflicts arise when parties believe that both sides’ aspirations cannot be satisfied at the same time, and these aspirations are manifested in terms of standards, specific targets, goals or acceptable minimums. However, there is always room for a possible compromise and/or collaboration that parties are unaware of, because they are more focused on winning or losing. Many people I have encountered throughout my life give conflict a negative connotation, they see it as bad or as something to avoid, yet conflict is an intrinsic part of our lives. Either we choose to take it as a burden, or as an opportunity. While too much conflict may disrupt society, high emphasis on stability and conflict suppression can result in unproductive solutions and even injustice. In the case discussed above, both parties have been guilty of suppressing the conflict and letting years pass by, which deteriorated their communication. Although the process of shared decision-making that is encouraged through mediation is certainly not easy under conditions of conflict and uncertainty, it is an opportunity to create solutions where both parties feel they have benefited. This in turn will make them more comfortable carrying out the agreement they reached and hopefully prevent the conflict from arising in the future.

Restorative Justice in Action

by Sean Dwyer, Assistant Program Director

Communicating is a necessary practice whenever human beings engage in any kind of social activities. Planning ahead, carrying out the activity and evaluating how it went afterwards remain at best imaginings if they do not at least take the form of discussion. There is of course always a risk that our activities do not manifest and take on real, tangible action-based forms, but rather remain at the stage of discussions, perhaps even general, conceptual discussions. Restorative Justice takes place in a particularly dangerous minefield of such risk. To say that a person who has committed a crime has to talk through their harmful act sounds soft and to ask them to create and honor an agreement sounds naïve.

However, as soon as Restorative Justice case workers make contact with the harming and harmed individuals, their families and the professionals involved in their case, they are convinced of the need, the possibility and the power of open, honest and meaningful expression. As soon as case workers begin to apply the established process together with these people, they become hopeful that years of learned behavior, current harmful environments as well as long term negative consequences can be worked through and resolved by structured dialogue and supervised follow through.

The question then becomes of what nature and quality that dialogue must be in order to move the parties through dark, helpless and often life-threatening places to an honest, profound and supportive place where they can heal and move forward. Even after this question has some semblance of a positive answer, there remains the question of the most appropriate consequences and the translation of the dialogue into concrete actions. As many stops along the route, as many moments, for people who have already suffered, accepted the consequences of bad choices or lost faith in themselves, to hesitate, to fear, to once again give up and to fall back into their previous cycles.

This possibility is especially dangerous in Restorative Justice, because the process is voluntary and so people can always choose to desist. At the same time, the voluntary nature of the process is also an important source of empowerment, because it is the parties themselves who must realize how serious the situation has become, how much they need to find a way out and what they require to be able to heal. We are there to guide them towards discovering and manifesting the answers to these questions.


Rosemead Family

Those are general, conceptual ideas; we now turn to the real activity in Restorative Justice. I am writing this article on a bus, on my way out to meet with a member of the support network for a young boy in Rosemead whose mother called the Police on him. No one knew what Restorative Justice was when one of the Sheriffs passed our pamphlet to the Mom, but after years of fighting, yelling, swearing, drugs, mental illness, abuse, failed counseling, school changes, calls to the police, occasional cool moments broken by the inevitable routine of fatigue, frustration, miscommunication and anger, all that stands between this young man and continuing down the path of despair, vulnerability and from there very possibly prison, is Restorative Justice. In the last six months, a youth, soon to be an adult, has stopped participating in the community, has lost nearly all of his friends, has begun taking drugs, has contemplated suicide. In his life, he has been abused, put down, used as a go-between in violent parental arguments, had a Father in and out of prison and a Mother over-tired, alone and frustrated, felt useless, judged, isolated and suicidal. Now he writes dark rap lyrics, hangs out with his one friend’s older brothers and doesn’t return any of his Mom’s texts.

So here is how we work this situation. Number one, we talk it all out with everyone. I have met with the two principal parties, the Mother and the youth, a couple times each, I have begun to build confidence with the youth particularly, but with both of them certainly. I have also met or spoken with individuals identified by the parties as potentially useful additional participants, of which there is a pastor and his wife, who has been aware of the entire family situation for a long while, and a family friend, who from the beginning identified herself as a support for the youth, not wanting it to seem like ganging up. Finally, there is someone that I have asked to join the circle, which is from a community organization that seeks to motivate and involve youth who are wavering in their life path.

Throughout the talks I have had with the participants, I have continued to consistently develop their understanding of the process and of various positive communication tools in addition to going ever deeper into the facts of the situation from their perspective. I have been clear from the beginning about the goals of the process; having an opportunity to communicate freely, attempting to gain an understanding of the other and finally coming potentially to a positive agreement for moving forward. We have therefore been talking from the beginning about what they need to communicate, what they understand of the other, what they need for things to improve and what they would accordingly want to receive and be willing to offer in an eventual agreement. Indeed, after two meetings with each person, we already have a lot of good ideas developed for that agreement.

It has also always been a possibility that one or the other of the parties drop out. After the initial phone call from the Mother, I went to their house to meet the youth, who knew nothing about it yet. The last time his Mother called someone about him, four patrolmen from the Sheriff’s department who, from the Mother’s perspective, spoke with him for some time and then told her, “He wants to learn the hard way” and from the youth’s perspective, could be heard talking about him with his Mother, gave him a lot of cold attitude and felt threatening. For my part, I went for a walk with him around the town. We talked about all kinds of stuff, I went over the process many times, underlining the fact that it was his process and that we needed his approval not only to be able to start but to be able to continue and finish. The Mother tells me that he is notorious for saying yes to things, for beginning them even and then for ducking out on them and letting it fall. It is therefore essential to maintain his interest, and hers, as much as it is to push them beyond their comfort zones in attempting to effect change in their relationship. I say pushing them both forward, because finally there is harm that has been done on both sides and so, as is so often the case, the situation is highly complex and involves both responsibility and healing on both sides.

I now have to decide, then, what will be discussed during the session, in what order it will be discussed and how far each discussion will be permitted to continue. We have a good, full group with a lot of good intentions and practical difficulties, we have people who justify and downplay their own negative behavior and who feel ashamed to take pride in their accomplishments. We have people who both hate and love each other, who want to disavow the other but who actually have a lot of similar feelings and relationships to the outside world. We have to find the best way, there were no other way has worked, to get them to get along and communicate effectively.

We are going to organize our discussion, passing explicitly through a number of predetermined points and progressive stages in the process. We are going to attempt to place the perspectives of the other in their reasonable subjectivity and then facilitate their understanding as much as possible by the other party through questions, summaries and reframing. We are going to formulate the needs and capacities of the parties into elements to be made up into an agreement of which ultimately the youth will formulate the terms and for which he will be responsible. He will write them up with his support network and submit them to the rest of the circle for critiques and final modifications.

Afterwards, we will maintain a regular contact with the parties and seek to assure the successful application of the agreement. I will very possibly be, as agreed upon in the terms of the agreement, meeting the youth once a month to see about the respect of the agreement and the on-going relationship at his home as well as seeing about producing some of his hip hop music in a video form. In this way, from negative energy and hurtful miscommunication will hopefully come a new, positive relationship of mutual support and open communication; from increasingly antisocial behavior will come positive activities and mutual encouragement. Life will certainly not become easy after one session, but they will be facing it together instead of running away from it separately.

Challenges in Mediation: David’s Case Experience

David Birch

Having recently graduated law school, my perception of the world and the various circumstances within it has changed. Before sitting the New York bar in February I have accepted a position as a conflict resolution specialist (mediator) at the APADRC, given my interest in mediations and conflict resolution. The experience I am getting at the APADRC is invaluable as the skills and techniques will surely be useful in my future career. One way in which my perception of conflicts has changed so early on in my career as mediator is how conflict sometimes just doesn’t have a right answer, solution or side. In situations like these you realize that as a human, you immediately try and decide who you believe is right or wrong and what solution would be fair according to you, even though your role is to neutrally assist both parties to communicate in the hope that they resolve their conflict peacefully. When you constantly change your mind after every development in your case you realize that perhaps there are a lot more things you don’t understand, making you question your capability in helping both parties, as a neutral third party, resolve their dispute.  However, one thing I have underestimated is how feelings, judgment and frustration play a major role in the day to day practices of a mediator and how they feel about themselves after failure.

Staying neutral on the surface is easy but in the few cases I have mediated thus far, staying neutral on the inside is much harder especially when, after 3 weeks of hard work and long phone calls, one party decides they do not want to pursue mediation for unclear and misunderstood reasons. In situations like these you may sometimes forget that your role is to help the parties get what they want out of the process and if that is not to mediate their resolution you have to respect it. One of my first cases was a neighbor dispute where one retired South American partywas so unhappy with the neighbor’s behavior that it made the party feels  like a prisoner in their home, scared to leave or try to resolve the matter. In the beginning of the mediation process, emotions where flowing as well as tears, desperation and panic. What to do now? It was the question being repeated constantly over the phone as a seemingly proactive party was determined to resolve this nightmare once and for all. During the first few telephone conversations it became clear, at least from our perspective, that the party could not keep living this way. But, determination quickly turned into doubt as the party started questioning the reasoning behind the decision to pursue mediation and what resolutionscould realistically be reachedthat eventually, with every phone call, the possibility of resolving this conflict through mediation became ever less likely. Unfortunately, one of my first cases made me feel very insignificant.

When one faces the reality that their efforts have only resulted in failure, they can react in a variety of ways. Failure in the above case was due to the fact that I was not able to help the party neither solve their problem nor convince them that pursuing mediation is worth a chance because of how unhappy they were and how it seemed it could not get any worse. I really tried to help the party. I used all my efforts, gave all of the speeches I could think of, tried on a number of days to see if she had changed her mind but all attempts ended in failure. When you try your very best and still fail it really makes you question your capabilities and your character as well. You begin to ask questions; did I do the right thing? Did I say the right things? Did I do enough? Was there anything else I could have done? Would someone else have been able to do better than me? It is clear that this is not good for the confidence of a mediator. Your doubts can quickly turn into quicksand, sinking you deep into a hole of self doubt which can be hard to come back from, especially since your next case is always just around the corner. What I have found is that you have to always believe that after you have tried everything and tried your best in attempting to help any party that any failure is due to their actions and not yours. You have to remember that you are granting them the opportunity to try and resolve their conflicts and that any conflict which fails to be resolved is because of their reluctance to resolve it and not your inadequacy. Nobody has a one hundred percent success rate at anything and given that some cases can be so complex, where there is no right or wrong answer, or right or wrong party, you always have to remember that some cases will get resolved thanks to your efforts and that those resolved cases have made a big difference to the parties involved.

Another of my first cases concerned ownership of a dog. It started off as a clear case of miscommunication, two parties where not sure who had the rights to the estate of a deceased acquaintance. After much communication, mainly through me, it all came down to who could claim the deceased dog and this is a perfect example of a story which has no right or wrong answer.  One party claimed the deceased did not want the other party to have the dog and therefore passed it to their name while, the other party claimed that the dog used to belong to them and that they would love it and care for it.This party had an emotional attachment to the dog due to its significance earlier on in their life; this party had to part with this dog due to abuse suffered by the deceased a number of years ago.  Who deserves the dog? Who should have the dog? Which side is telling the truth? Does the truth matter? This scenario depended solely on the negotiations between the parties, as it always does, but it is clear there is no easy or right answer. You can never be sure that you have the whole story or the correct story but what I have learnt is you have to remain neutral and eventually, since mediation is voluntary, both parties after discussing the facts come to a resolution which they believe is fair. Remember, mediation is all about helping both parties get what they want through mediation, or as close to that as possible.

A mediator will always get emotionally vested in a case, we do what we do because we care about helping but a mediator can never let their feelings influence how they conduct their case, NEVER. However, there are circumstances where the proper authorities must be informed of the details of the case, for example; child abuse, death threats etc. A mediator must always follow procedure and conduct the case neutrally and proactively. Eventually, when the all the facts are laid out in front of the parties, they will decide what they consider to be a fair resolution in light of those facts and the mediator, must always remember that all the progress which is made has happened due to his or her efforts and that any failure was because of the parties not being able to reach a resolution and not because of the mediator’s conduct or inadequacy.

Introducing Our Fall Interns!

by Hansol Choi, Conflict Mediation Specialist

We are very excited to introduce our new multi-lingual team of Conflict Resolution Specialists this fall as a part of our Community& Intergroup Conflicts Program. Joining us are David (Portugese/ Spanish), Yuxi (Mandarin/Cantonese), Hosoo (Korean), Ana Valeria (Spanish), Harrison (Korean), Sakie (Japanese), Andy (Mandarin), Hansol (Korean), Kantong (Cantonese/Mandarin), Karina (Spanish), and Vivian (Cantonese). This diverse group of interns has come from all across the country; represented are recent graduates from UCLA School of Law, UC Davis School of Law, USC Gould School of Law, and Northwestern University School of Law. Some are still pursuing their graduate degrees, while others are already involved in legal communities in the area, and all bring with them a rich insight into the cultural backgrounds of many different areas around the world, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Scotland, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Korea, and Shanghai.


Having completed their 40-Hour Mediation Training, our interns have hit the ground running, actively engaging in client phone calls, performing intakes, and leading cases on their own, as they practice and refine their mediation and conciliation skills. Their diverse lingual backgrounds help to act as a bridge and provide a platform for connection to clientele from the greater Los Angeles area with a focus in the San Gabriel Valley. As many of the disputants do not speak English as their primary language, the language skills and cultural knowledge of these interns are invaluable to the strengthening and growth of our program. Thus, it is with great appreciation and excitement as we welcome the new interns to kick off this next season.


For those interested in interning or volunteering with us, our next 40-Hour Basic Mediation Training is coming up in January 2015. With a combination of online classes, in-person sessions, and coached role plays, the APADRC basic mediation training is a new and innovative way of learning about conflict resolution and developing advanced communication skills. Look out for our flyer in the next newsletter!