Buying the cow: mediators, money, and value

The following article appeared originally on Mediation Channel.

During the many years now I've been in the mediation field I like to think I've given of my time generously on behalf of our profession.

I've devoted countless unpaid hours to serving on numerous boards and committees to advance the ADR field; organizing numerous conferences and workshops for mediators; volunteering in community mediation programs mediating and mentoring new mediators; answering numerous phone calls and emails from people hoping to become mediators; providing tech support to colleagues struggling with ethical dilemmas; helping other ADR professionals master social media like Twitter; supporting fellow ADR bloggers through my ADRblogs.com project and other endeavors; and sharing what I know through this site, responding to every person who contacts me, including numerous requests over the years from mediators and mediation programs throughout the world seeking help locating resources, people, or information.

My digital door is always open.

But ultimately I'm a business owner and a professional, and there are things I don't give away for free. Once, a mediator, just starting off, contacted me to ask me to meet them and their business partner on a regular basis to help them set up their business and web site. When I quoted my fee, I got an angry email in response, wondering how I had the nerve to ask to get paid for something they thought I should give them for nothing. This left me scratching my head, wondering why they didn't respect or value my time as a professional.

I similarly upset some mediators in an advanced mediation training that I taught recently. The organization I was teaching for had provided a comprehensive training manual packed full of many practice forms for the participants to use later. As I was teaching one module, I mentioned that what I'd done in my own practice for this kind of case was to develop a handbook for my clients to assist them in preparing to mediate, suggesting to the participants that they should do the same. One participant raised a hand to ask if I would make my handbook available to them. I told them no, it was proprietary to me and my business, but that they should by all means create materials of their own that would serve them and their clients. I also reminded them that the organization providing the training had generously included in the training manual plenty of client forms for them to use and adapt.

My "no" evidently put some people off. Two participants complained about my refusal to share materials I'd created for my own business. One wondered why I was even there if I didn't want to share my stuff.

This left me puzzled and a little sad as well. I was in fact very willing to share – everything I know, the experiences I've had, the lessons I've learned, it was all available to them, unstintingly. I just declined to share my intellectual property – the content I'd created and customized to use in my business - the work product to distinguish me from the rest of the herd.

Unfortunately they heard only the "no", and not the rest of my message: As a professional be willing to create your own stuff. Construct your own tools, the better to fit your hand.

Perhaps this view is just a consequence of living in the digital age, when we have come to expect content to be free and where the lines between original content and borrowed material have grown.... Surely no one could think that my appearance at the training program constituted a relinquishment of my rights in my own content or the keys to my office door.

But there's another reason, an issue that haunts our profession. Almost four years ago I sent a message to ADR professionals: "Don’t sell yourself short: why fair compensation should matter to m...."

This post urged mediators to value themselves and each other more highly; too often we give both the milk and the entire cow away for free. In our negotiation with the larger world, we ourselves must start placing greater value on our work. To do otherwise diminishes our worth.

To be sure, ours is a profession devoted to helping others. It rests on certain important principles: value creation not value claiming; the notion of the ever-expanding pie; creative allocation of resources; and of course collaboration, teamwork, and sharing. These are noble principles to be sure, embodying the highest aspirations of our field.

This is perhaps why some of us are uncomfortable with professional self-regard. It seems to contradict these cherished ideals.

But just because we place a premium on collaboration does not mean that we must refrain from placing a premium on our services or the content we create as business owners. As usual, the toughest negotiation is always with ourselves.

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