The following is part of my 2006-2007 blog to book project that ultimately became Making Mediation Your Day Job.
It was the first day of the new term and of my advanced-level course, Trends and Issues in the Field. I asked my graduate mediation students to work in small groups and answer this challenge:
Imagine that you have decided to create a private ADR practice. On what marketplace trends would you capitalize? Where would you primarily focus to bring in clients?
The small groups took their markers and flipcharts and disappeared for half an hour. As I paused periodically at the doors of the breakout rooms in which they worked, I could see earnest and diligent conversation unfolding, words appearing on paper. This was a smart group of adult students who came back to school after successful careers in other arenas.
The small groups returned and hung their lists on walls around the room. I skimmed through the posters. Surprise made me do so again. And I had one of those moments of disquieting clarity.
Every single group listed only court-, government- and community-associated ADR programs and projects, like these examples from my notes that day:
Try to get on the postal service roster.
Contact the courts in our state to find out what mediation panels are recruiting new mediators.
Contact our state’s child welfare agencies about child guardianship and permanency adoption programs.
Call local community mediation center and volunteer in order to build my portfolio.
Their lists, collectively, included many more such options. They had produced a thorough and exhaustive list of the kinds of formal programs and opportunities that now exist in many states.
The hole in those lists was apparent only to me. And it seemed a glaring hole indeed. As the students discussed their lists, I jotted down several notes to myself. This is what I wrote:
Whoa! Only court, community and government programs. What’s that about?
This explains why so many mediators can more rightly call mediation a hobby than their professional work.
How many mediators do they think these programs can possibly handle?
How on earth do they expect to pay the bills if they’re turning to free and low-fee programs like these for work? More under-employed mediators on the loose…
Why do they only see work coming from opportunities someone else has created?
Why are they the real opportunities so invisible?
The following month, I conducted an informal experiment at the Association for Conflict Resolution New England chapter conference. In conversations with other mediators, I asked the same question: Where is mediation growing in your state? Where do you turn to catch a new wave of opportunity?
The responses were uncannily familiar now. It wasn’t just my grad students.
The seeds for this book sprouted in that moment. It’s a book ostensibly about building a successful ADR practice through effective marketing strategy and the use of online technology to inform, educate and promote.
But it’s really a book about following your passion, uncovering what’s behind that passion and making it visible to others, creating your own opportunities to prosper, and finding the voice that draws others to what you love.
There are far too many under-worked mediators and other ADR professionals in a world that could most assuredly make use of your services. If you’re one of those under-worked mediators, then the time has come to begin reversing that trend.
Are you ready to make mediation your day job?