A Lawyer's Guide to Cross-Cultural Depositions
Copyright © by Nina Ivanichvili, CEO, All Language Alliance, Inc.
Understand Deponent's Background
Cultural archetypes, or the "deep-seated collective attitudes and values formed by a culture,"12 are the "eyeglasses" through which people look at the world. People evaluate, assign priorities, judge, and behave based on how they see life through those lenses.13 Culture influences the communication process in significant ways, such as the selection of language, thinking patterns, interpretation of verbal and non-verbal cues, the role of silence in face-to-face interaction, perception of time and personal space, and concepts of respect and politeness.
Before the deposition, the attorney might want to learn more about the deponent's culture to gain an understanding of the potential communication issues that may arise. Nonetheless, it is important to avoid stereotyping; beliefs about the deponent's background and expectations about the testimony may prove to be inaccurate. For example, a deponent could be influenced by such factors as: (1) how long the deponent has resided in the United States; (2) the deponent's familiarity and comfort level with the Western cultures; and (3) the level of the deponent's education and professional status. On the other hand, even though the individual's background is not necessarily indicative of anything, it may provide a glimpse into his or her psychological mindset. Consider the following hypothetical. An older Russian male is asked to recall the date of an automobile accident in which he was involved four years earlier. He states that he cannot recall that date. When the deposing attorney gives him the date on which the accident allegedly occurred, the Russian-speaking witness immediately agrees. When asked how he suddenly remembers what he could not recall a minute ago, he replies, "Because you have just told me that your paper says so." The deponent has resorted to a familiar behavioral pattern of unquestionably submitting to authority-in this instance, represented by the American attorney.
To understand this behavior, the attorney needs to remember that Russia only recently emerged from a culture dominated by a totalitarian political system. In that environment, the predominant motivation for behavior was fear and avoidance of retribution by representatives of the totalitarian regime. This mindset still might be deeply rooted in the psyche of the ex-Soviets of the older generation. In the above example, where the attorney provided the date of the accident, the witness potentially compromised his credibility by bowing to authority.