How we get it wrong in marketing mediation.

Let’s face it, mediation is way underutilized.  We help more than 10,000 New Yorkers find creative and durable solutions to their conflicts every year, but we’re about 6,990,000 short of our goal.  Here are some pitfalls I’ve fallen into in my own efforts to get the word out.

1. Elvis Costello asks, what’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?  Nothing. All good stuff, and great aspirational mediation outcomes.  But many, if not most, clients come to mediation because they’re angry, hurt, or frustrated…they’re not looking for the kumbaya moment.  Appealing to admirable concepts like harmony and reconciliation is not meeting clients where they’re at.  We need to tell people in conflict that we provide an opportunity to look their adversary in the eye, tell them exactly how they feel, and assertively express their needs.  Mediation is a safe place for tough conversations.


2. We get caught up in academic Balkanization.  (Apologies to the Balkans for perpetuating this metaphor.  Your beautiful region has a rich and underappreciated history of cooperation and coexistence). Anyway.  Enough with the endless arguments over transformative vs. facilitative vs. evaluative mediation.  There are many rooms in the peacebuilding house, and plenty of space for lots of ideas and approaches.


3. We chatter to the choir.  I love going to local and national conflict resolution conferences, and hobnobbing with our fellow travelers.  But we need to get out more.  This means going not only to our own conferences, but to ones that have nothing to do with mediation.  Conferences on human resources, housing, education, healthcare — you name it — all the fields that really need to embrace consensus-building practices.


4. Our outreach needs to be sustained and creative.  It’s not enough to drop off brochures or give a one-time spiel to a referral source. It’s about the maintenance of effort…regular, ongoing relationships within the community.  The mediation center I worked with in Poland years ago had a great outreach idea: building relationships with beauty salon employees.  Why?  Because their clients continually complained about their husbands, friends, and neighbors while getting coiffed.  The stylists sent many of them to mediation.


5. Quality control.  There are pros and cons of mediation being an unregulated, or semi-regulated, profession.   We may not have the cachet of doctors or lawyers or other lettered folks…but we’re also not beholden to lots of rules and regulations that provide barriers to the field or inhibit our creativity.  Nevertheless, with anyone able to hang a shingle and print business cards, the onus is on us to keep learning, growing, and sharing what we know.

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Comment by Jeff Thompson on August 14, 2011 at 10:29am

Great stuff Brad and looking forward to reading more.

Some comments:

from point #1) I think research needs to be done to see what are the emotional based words associated with those in the midst of conflict. I am sure you are right- “empathy” and “joint problem solving” are not something that will bring them to the mediation table as much as words like “control” “closure” (possibly) will.

#2: This ties into point 5. Some people are “mediating” and it is not mediating in my book. For me, and I agree, the discussion is not able mediation style but rather mediation creditials and professionalism.

#3- I enjoy networking too…. and also with non-mediation/conflict people too. Have a look at the some of the best selling NYT’s books- many deal with what each of would say is “conflict resolution” or “mediation” yet there is no explicit mention of it. I think not only reaching out to the greater ‘potential’ audience, we need to make sure the proper language is used.

#4- What a great idea!

#5- I think having a certification system like the New York Peace Institute and IMI have set in place is a great starting point. Accountability is important and should be within our field. I think benchmarks should be established (like many have done) as well as continuing education too. I know the Nebraska Mediation Association does this.


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