A year on - reflections after ‘giving up the day job’



It was almost exactly one year ago that I took up my virtual pen to write my first blog.  I called it ‘Don’t give up the day job!’ as that was the advice I was given when thinking about setting up my mediation business.  So in this latest blog I thought I’d reflect on the intervening 12 months and in particular my experiences of the mediation world.

Firstly I must unashamedly give myself a pat on the back.  My conclusion a year ago was that “there is much hard graft ahead and I’ll be calling as much on my marketing ability as my mediation skills” – how spot on I was with that point!  With apologies to any of my former bosses reading this, I must say I’ve worked harder in this last year than in any of my years in corporate   life.  Despite this, it hasn’t felt like hard slog as I really feel I’m working on something that is important to me and I’m continually learning.  I was also right in thinking my marketing skills would be sorely needed.  I always knew that I’d need to do a lot of profile raising activity.  Perhaps I underestimated that in addition to telling people about myself, I’d also have to put in a lot of effort to help people understand mediation itself.  It has certainly been my experience that whilst a lot of people have heard of mediation, they are not really sure what it is – things I’ve heard include:Mediation not meditation

    • Oh yes, I’ve heard of arbitration
    • That’s what ACAS do isn’t it
    • My brother had to do that for his divorce but it didn’t work
    • Oh it’s great for relaxation, I make sure I do 10 minutes everyday

So I’ve spent a fair amount of time bringing people up to speed on what mediation is really all about and that mediating every day may not be as calming as mediTating every day.

What has surprised me somewhat though is that the mediation industry itself is not doing more to get the word out.  Instead there appears to be something of a preoccupation with a more inward focus with much debate around questions such as ‘who are we’, ‘what should we be’, ‘what do we call ourselves’.  Let’s look at some of these debates that have been raging in both real and virtual forums:

  • To accredit or not – this is an issue which is taking up a lot of time of the Civil Mediation Council at the moment, with a consultation currently ongoing.  It is a perfectly valid debate and one which I have actively contributed to, but there are many conflicting views and finding a ‘right’ answer will be very difficult.  So yes, let’s debate by all means but not to the extent it becomes the main preoccupation of the CMC and the annual conference.
  • Lawyer vs non lawyer – a lot of energy seems to be expended debating whether mediators should be lawyers, or whether lawyers can be mediators and who makes the better mediator a lawyer or a non-lawyer.  For me this totally misses the point.  There will be good mediators who are not lawyers and there will be some lawyers who make good mediators.   The key point is that the mediator does not require ‘knowledge’ (such as being up to date on current employment law )to do the job well but ‘skills’ (such as good listening, rapport building, patience etc.).  These skills can be gained in many professions – this includes the law, but the two are not linked.
  • Labelling the ‘type of mediation’ – admittedly this is an argument that seems to prevail more in the US than the UK, but there does seem to be an obsession with chopping up mediation into different types eg.  facilitative, evaluative, transformative.  There is debate as to which technique is best applied in what situation, how they differ etc.  This may interest the academics but the bigger point is that our potential market is still struggling to understand what mediation is, let alone these various sub-brands. 

So as I look back over my first year I see  that I was right to expect to be focused on marketing.  For my second year, I’m going to be even more focused on marketing because it is critical that we mediators help our potential clients understand the options open to them.  My suggestion would be to shift our focus away from these inwardly directed debates and concentrate instead on really understanding what it is that will encourage people to use mediation, what are the barriers that will stop them and how we can work together to overcome them.  There is no doubt that conflict exists everywhere we look.  That offers enormous potential for mediation and unlocking that potential should be where we as a profession focus our intellectual, creative and financial resources.