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Escaping Mediocrity in Mediation

Escaping Mediocrity in Mediation

Why do some mediators struggle to make the leap from just a handful of meditations a year to a diary rammed full of appointments? We can blame the mediation market for not being mature enough, we can blame prospective clients for not really understanding the benefits of mediation or we can indulge in the effort and grind of making things happen ourselves. Watch this interview with Neil Denny and discover how you can apply the 3 artisan traits of connection, complexity and autonomy to grow your mediation business.

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Full Transcript

Aled: Hi everyone, my name is Aled Davies founder of, home of
the passionate and ambitious mediator.

A place where mediators and dispute resolution practitioners new and experienced come and listen to other experienced mediators tell a story about how they built their mediation practice or shaped their career.

How they’ve handled particular challenges or dilemmas that they’ve encountered in their career and what they’ve done that’s helped them become successful and effective.

I love these interviews. I find them inspiring. I find them motivating and actually, it’s a bit self indulgent, because I learn so much from these.

I hope you will too and go out into the big world and create your own success story and maybe come back here and let me interview you and tell a story to my audience.

Today’s guest is an international speaker, collaborative lawyer and expert on conflict and collaboration. He’s the author of two books, “Conversational Rifts: Creating Meaning out of Conflict” and “The Collaborative Law Companion.” From what I gather, he’s got a few more in the pipeline as well.

He’s the CEO and founder of allLD Learning and Development. He’s also published a fascinating collection of interview podcasts called “Little Atoms”, as he journeyed right across America last year. I love it.

His latest venture, “Get Artisan” is all about helping practitioners like you, like me, develop their skills and grow their business within whichever dispute resolution process they choose.

I’ve invited him on here today in the hope that he’ll share with me and you, my audience, tips, tactics and strategy that can help grow my business, because I don’t know about you, but I could do with a little bit of advice on this front.

Neil Denny, welcome.

Denny: Hello. Thank you. Thanks for having me on. You know sometimes, were in dispute
resolution, and we’ve realized that we’ve misunderstood, we got the wrong end of the stick and it can be a bit awkward about how we deal with that and how we recover and that kind of thing, but Neil Denny, who does the ‘Little Atoms?’ That’s not me.

Aled: It’s not you?

Neil: No. I have a podcast, but that’s not my podcast.

Aled: Love it. Brilliant. There’s a Neil Denny out there who’s got a free plug?

Neil: Yes, it happens all the time. I get people pulling me over saying, “Hey, you’re the
‘Little Atoms’ guy,” and I say, “No, I’m the other Neil Denny. There’s a few of us around, you know.”

Aled: He’s got a beard, right?

Neil: OK. That must be it.

Aled: I’ve seen you. Have you got a beard? Have you grown a beard before?

Neil: I curved it down. I curved it right back yesterday.

Aled: That’s why I made the mistake.

Neil: That’s what it is. It’s a great podcast that he does. I ran a podcast for about a year on
collaboration and mediation. In a way we reach out to people in the community, just talk to them about stuff. Pretty much like we’re doing right now and that works very well.

Aled: Brilliant. Well listen, there’s a little note to improve the quality of my research

Neil: The rest of it’s mine. The books, they’re mine, the ‘Speaking in America,’ and stuff like
that. That’s me so you’re on the right path.

Aled: I invited you on here today. We had a little conversation a few moments ago. In the
past, part of which has motivated me to start Mediator Academy is just meeting so many frustrated mediators out there who are struggling to get opportunities, struggling to get mediation, struggling to put their talents, their passion to good use.

Your latest venture, “Get Artisan.” For me it was really interesting, partly because I saw it as someone else doing something similar to what I’m doing. I’m curious to know how you’re going to go about doing what you’re doing.

I’ve looked at your website. It’s a great website. It’s got some lovely content on there. Some nice interviews, but you’re using the idea of a craftsman, a craftsperson and the kind of approach that a craftsperson would have in terms of developing their business.

The way they approach their work and suggesting that us as mediators, we can learn from them. Is that right?

Neil: Yes. That’s right.

Aled: First of all, tell me a little bit about why do that? What motivated you to do that?

Neil: I was supposed to deliver a keynote at the 4th European [Collaborative] Conference in
Edinburgh, about this time last year. They had a title for their conference, which was ‘Creating Concensus.’ I thought well, there’s stuff that we can do that we could work with that.

I did some research around this idea of creating and I like this idea that the work that we do is really building something tangible instead of just talking in a room. That took me to research about craftsmanship which is quite a fashionable idea. I read some brilliant books.

There’s a book by Richard [Sennett] called, “The Craftsman,” which was a great help. I delivered this keynote and it just took off. I’ve been anxious about it. I always want to do a good job, as I’m sure you do. I gave this talk and I sat down in the auditorium afterwards.

The guy who was speaking after me was the Vice President of the Scottish Law Society. He stood up at the lectern and he put his notes to one side.

He said, “You know, I was going to talk about this, but actually I don’t want to. I want to talk about this ‘Get Artisan’ idea. This is a real message for our times. This is what we in our profession need right now, so let me just respond to that right now.”

I’m standing in the auditorium thinking, “Oh crikey, there’s something here. This is bigger than I thought it was”. The feedback that came through on the rest of the conference was alarming. That people wanted more. How could we take this forward? How can we run with it?

There’s a challenge and an immediate demand that brought collaborative practitioners and mediators to have a model that they could really work with so that they could take away this and use that [inaudible 00:07:09] that we’ve given them so that they could then turn that into really good work and business development.

Aled: You said a moment ago collborative practitioners and mediators, help me understand the
difference between the two, if there is.

Neil: Yes. A collaborative practice is a model which is specific to family law at the moment. Collaborative practice is different to a mediator, my original career was as a divorce lawyer. Now within mediation, a divorce lawyer would send their client off to meet with a mediator or two mediators if they could [inaudible 00:07:39].

The lawyer kind of then sits in the wings. The clients would meet with the mediator and then in between mediation sessions, they would loop out checking with their lawyers. This is what we’re talking about. What other documents do we need? What kind of questions do I need to ask?

Then go back into the mediation without the lawyers being there. Within collaborative practice, what happens is the collaborative lawyers together with the clients, come together and they sit around a table in a series of meetings and they talk through the issues and the problems that need to be resolved.

They commit to one another that “We’re going to keep on collaborating. If anyone pulls away from the negotiation and says I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to go court instead”, the lawyers are then disqualified, so they are off the record.

The client, the couple have to instruct new soliciters, who will then deal with the ethicacy and the court application.

Aled: You’ve moved from being a practitioner as it were, a collaborative lawyer, a
collaborative mediator, collaborative practitioner, to now helping other practitioners, collaborative practitioners, mediators, dispute resolution professionals be more effective and successful?

Neil: Yes. Absolutely.

Aled: And it was a result of that experience at the conference that gave you a light bulb
moment, “hold on there’s something big here”, is that right?

Neil: This is a kind of journey I’ve been on for the last six or seven years. When I trained in
collaborative practice, back in 2006, I think it was. I had this realization. This was my first, if you like, exposure to dispute resolution work. I realized that this is silly.

We as lawyers, as practitioners, as professionals access this information about how to have the dialogue, how to have the debates and end the argument. Yet we only share this with the public at the time when they’ve already committed to separate, to coming apart.

I thought, this is crazy. These couples, they needed this information six months or six years earlier before they got to this stage. That then became important to me. What can I do in my work to broaden the awareness of what is it that the mediator does, what the collaborative practitioner does?

How might we equip people, whether in organizations or families, to implement some of these kind of questions [inaudible 00:10:11]. To ask some of those themselves and what might the impact of that be on those organizations, those families and the communities that they find themselves in?

Aled: Reading a few bits on your “Get Artisan” website, you talk about sell more, sell at full
value and be happy. Yes? Tell me a little bit more about what that means.

Neil: There’s something about the dispute resolution setting, particularly with the family
mediation and I’m not quite sure what it is, but there is kind of aversion, a lack of comfort or ease with the idea of earning a good living from doing work that we really love to do.

As you said in your introduction, there are so many mediators out there, dispute resolution professionals who are passionate about their work. They really enjoy it and when you get a chance to do the work, it really brings it to life and they serve their clients deeply. At the same time, there’s this aversion to earning a living from it, charging a fee.

Within family law, we’ve got a big debate at the moment about public funding. If the legal aid can continue for mediation, on what basis will it continue? How will we earn money if this part of the market isn’t accessing the service? It just strikes me as a very strange place to be in.

From a business point of view, if you are looking to service a market and you’ve got something which is really valuable and has got immense benefits, then that value becomes a transaction.

We try to get mediators, practitioners to develop a more commercial mindset. If they’re doing this and they’re not getting paid for it, then the work becomes unsustainable.

If that was the work that I was doing, it becomes unsustainable, I can’t feed myself, I can’t feed my family and what happens? We receive really brilliant practitioners, falling out of the industry, falling out of the sector and reversing to a legal professional teaching, whatever it might be.

Aled: I can relate to that tension I’ve been there myself with the dilemma where I’m doing a
piece of work for a client. It’s a mediation. I’ve got my sort of standard fee structures. The response I get back is, “We know you’re the man for the job. Everyone wants you to mediate this particular conflict. We just can’t meet your fees.”

There’s a little part of me that doesn’t feel good about that. It doesn’t necessarily mean I go back and reduce my fees. I’ve done that in the past. How I manage those conversations, I guess, is one question I’ve got.

But also, how do I reconcile that, maybe, a clash of values in my own mind? I’m doing the right thing by sticking to my guns.

Neil: Absolutely. Charging the fee enables you to do the right thing and doing the right thing
is important to you. It’s work which is honest which you really believe in. When you’re doing that work, you’re doing it brilliant and they know you’re the right person.

A really good question to ask these people is what would be the value? If you were to do this work, what value would I bring to, not just to the conflict but to the organization and getting them to really understand that value.

Getting them to vocalize it, to talk about it. Then the question, whether you’re charging an hourly fee, a session fee becomes much more proportionate. This is what I find. So that question of what is the value to you of letting me do this work with you is always very influential. It’s an easy question to ask.

Aled: It’s almost kind of developing some sales skills I guess.

Neil: Yes, yes. Absolutely, and not being embarrassed or awkward. Sales has a kind of dirty
name to it. We might think of really pushy people. All they’re doing is just entering into transactions. They’re making an offer which is still up to the client whether they take that or not and you know, they are able to discern for themselves whether that offer has value to them.

Aled: The kind of, sell at full value and be happy, then means that you sell more I guess.

Neil: Yes. I think that we can be much more resilient on our pricing point. I think that we
can take a view and we can go to the market.

We you know that we are good practitioners. We know that we’ve got skills, real artisan level cutting edge skills, benefits that we can do to the market.

We need to be more confident in that and we need to be able to say, “This is the work I do, these are the benefits I bring to your organization, your family and this is my pay rate.”

Aled: It’s interesting because in the commercial mediating sector, there was a study carried out
by CEDR, last year, I think. They concluded that something like 90-odd percent of all commercial mediations are conducted by about 5% of mediators.

Now those mediators don’t have any problems negotiating their fees. Some of them are earning close to a million pounds in fees.

Neil: Yes, I saw that. The top earning was about three-quarters of a million.

Aled: Which is unfathomable. Certainly for me anyway. They’re charging $10,000, $15,000 a
day. I’m did some research, as well, looking at the market’s perception of mediators. I think the market does perceive mediators at that level as crafts people.

They’ve got something very unique that they bring. Whether it’s their skills that they’re buying or that they’re buying some kind of reassurance. It’s a bit lik,e you won’t get fired for hiring IBM to deliver something. Free plug for IBM there.

To what extent at that level they’re evaluating or they’re making decisions on a purchase based on skill, based on craftsmanship or based on other factors. It’s easy for me to say, “Okay, guys, these are my fees and I’m not prepared to budge on my fees and what’s the value and so on.” It’s easy to say that when I’m really busy.

Let’s kind of think about those mediators that are maybe doing three or four per year. What advice can you give them in that respect?

Neil: I think at that level, the mediators who are doing three or four a session, there’s a key
question about identity. A lot of the reasons mediators aren’t doing more work is because as much as they would like to do it, they don’t really have to. They can fall back on their primary career, whatever that might be.

There’s something about this mediation sector, about the profession. Something that we almost all of us have entered this as a second career. There’s something about that transition and very many of us get stuck in that transition. If you think about the lawyer mediator, it becomes very easy to spring back and just fall back on a conventional lawyer income.

Say, “You know what? If I’m doing one mediation, two mediations a year, if that. That’s okay. That manages to keep me awake. I enjoy the work when I do it. It feels like an opportunity to exercise these skills and to do work I really love.” We haven’t really got the need to convert that part of our income into the main part.

There’s a question of identity, but are in that situation, perhaps we haven’t done a mediation for a long time, we will just take anything. We will just grab it, because as you say we’re not doing enough of it. So we need to get strategic about if this mediation work is what I really want to be doing. I’d like to be doing more of this and less of the conventional, whatever my first career was.

I need to be strategic and understand how I’m going to make that transition. So for me, six, seven years ago, I realized that the work I wanted to do, I wanted to do less of the litigation and now I do no litigation at all.

I want to do more of the dispute resolution and also serving mediators, collaborative practitioners, talking about this stuff in a way which really brings it to life.

I always had in mind this image of, this is my litigation work. This is my dispute and my resolution work that over a period it’s going to go like that. That’s exactly how it went.

It’s a question of being strategic, reflective, how am I working on that? Am I making progress in that transition?

Aled: OK. I want to talk about this because I know most of my viewers fit that profile. They’ve already had a career, they’re wanting to make a transition into mediation, for whatever reason. I know that’s a real challenge for people. How do you make that transition?

It’s a challenge for me right now. Let me tell you. I’ve got a very successful consultancy mediation practice. I’m up to my eyeballs, busy as a bumblebee. I want to make a transition because I want to put more energy and effort into developing Mediator Academy.

I don’t know quite what it’s going to be yet. I find it really challenging to make a transition from what I’m really familiar with, what I enjoy doing, what I know will put bread on my table to something where there’s uncertainty. Help me make that transition.

Neil: Yes. I think you’ve touched on one of the key things besides the air of uncertainty. Is
this going to work? We need to get comfortable with that. We need to get comfortable not just with ourselves, but also with the people who are around us. We need to bring them a long on this journey, this transition that we are about to embark upon.

There would be no point in me switching to the speaking and dispute resolution work alone, if my wife, for example, didn’t understand why this was important to me. Why I should prepare to take that risk and indeed, potentially, we might see it as putting the family at risk. I think that’s a question about how much of a risk is it?

If it doesn’t work, we can always go back. We think in terms of risk, I think the risks appear larger than they really are. I’m glad you that you touched upon the Cedar report for example. When we’re looking at these really unique practitoners who are earning three-quarter of a million, we’ve also within the report, there’s evidence of people who aren’t able to do this.

It’s just a question of getting to that stage. It’s a question of building [inaudible 00:22:29]. It’s a question, as I said being reflective, being determined, being strategic about how you’re going to get there. What kind of attitudes, what skills, what resources do you need in place to take you on that journey?

With “Get Artisan”, we have these three traits: connection, complexity and orthonomy. I think those are real key tools to how we make the journey and also how we then do this artisan which really [inaudible 00:22:57] dispute resolution work once we’re there.

Aled: You talk about thinking about other people involved that are going to be potentially
affected by this transition and improving their understanding why making this transition is important to us and part of that conversation then is evaluating risk. You talked about if it doesn’t work out, there could be unintended consequences for us financially.

Neil: Yes. In the short term. I think the financial question actually is really interesting as
well. I get a lot of people talking to me about, “Neil I’d love to do that, I’d love to do what you do, but I can’t because I’ve got to pay the mortgage or it’s the school fees or whatever.” I think this is a real barrier.

There are very many of us who are caught in that financial trap and you’ve got a real challenge there. You can change the situation that you are in. It’s entirely up to you. You can continue being a mortgage slave. You’ve got a 400,000 pound mortgage, whatever it is. You’ve got these school fees. You’ve got a real challenge.

How important is this work to you? Are you prepared to make changes? Are you prepared to move to an area where housing is more affordable in order for you to do work which really brings you to life? Which really [fires you up?] Sometimes people need to make that kind of decision.

Boy, that’s really tough. What happens when we choose that we are prepared that it isn’t that important. That, actually, you know what, the litigation part, the conventional and primary career is tolerable enough. That is where a lot of people are.

“I would love to be doing this, I really would, but…” There’s going to be some really difficult choices. Changing houses, downsizing, just making life more affordable, maybe. That becomes a real barrier to people.

I think the ones who are able to move on, they’re able to take that risk. Maybe they make some of those really tough decisions. They’re able to give themselves a bit more latitude, a bit more room to take on the risk, so that’s what they want to do.

Aled: I can see how we all have choices and we need to make choices with the views of others
and I couldn’t say, “Honey, I’ve been thinking today. I want to stop what I’m doing and put all my energies and resources into Mediator Academy, but that’s going to mean we need to move to Wales. There on the valleys. We could buy a little bungalow, reduce all our costs.

The kids could go to the local school, just so I can have a crack at this. If it doesn’t work out we could stay in the Rhondda”. I know you’re not suggesting that, but ultimately we’ve got choices we need to make.

Neil: Yes, absolutely.

Aled: I’m at the school of thought where sometimes, I think that’s one option. I see this a little
bit differently and sometimes I think we need to put ourselves in a lot of pressure situations.

A lot of pressure, so that we take action because we have to, right? If I want to avoid the bank from coming to repossess my house, if it gets to that it would kind of, what do you call those?

In hospitals where you kick start someone’s heart, jolt someone into action, into thinking differently, almost like a rabbit in the headlights panic. I must do something.

I think a lot of people are in their comfort zones and they justify to themselves why they can’t do this or why they can’t do that and stay in that comfort zone, stay being frustrated.

They’re happy talking to others who are frustrated because that sort of perpetuates or justifies the, well, you know “So and so is a good mediator and he’s only doing five or six.”

I’m touching on something that I think [inaudible 00:27:22] blog articles there I think. Where the kind of people we hang out with help us continue this story that limits our potential in the world. I was thinking am I getting a little bit esoteric here?

Neil: No. The idea about the story is, I think, keep out of my practice. The merits of
mediation technique is keep out what I work with. I just found that it really helps.

The idea that when we are together in groups of people who are moaning, “Oh it’s so difficult to make this work. It’s so difficult to get a mediation [inaudible 00:28:11] practice off the ground” and how people [inaudible 00:28:13] me too. That becomes a bit more.

So then it becomes impossible to consider the alternative. This is something I see a lot when I speak to collaborative practitioners. There’s an exercise that I’m a bit mischievous with where I start off, so “Tell us why you came into collaborative practice or dispute resolution? Talk in small groups about that or share that with the rest of the group.”

As they’re talking in their small groups, I’ll walk around the room and very quickly, within two minutes the conversations has changed to, “I’ll tell you what, I had this one case and it’s awful”, and what happened is…”

We are addicted to these negative narratives about it’s so hard and the cases that went wrong and these are the stories we tell to one another. Therefore inevitably, that we also communicate and transmit outwardly.

Now within collaborative practice, I think this is really interesting. There are a core of practitioners who are doing brilliant work. There’s a friend in the [college] who I work with and he has maybe, 60 to 80 cases a year.

It’s all dispute resolution. I sat there and I’m talking to this man and I’m thinking well if these cases were [clear] and multiply it by that much, it’s a really good fee generation. From which you can then [work at] your income.

The stories are there that this work is possible and yet we are so tied into the ‘it’s difficult’, it is impossible. If we believe the story that its’ possible, then there’s another uncomfortable rub within that and they’ve done it.

I can’t, but they’ve done it and I haven’t worked out, why I haven’t yet? I haven’t made those changes. I haven’t gone far enough. Are you a “Radio Head” fan?

Aled: I’m not a “Radio Head” fan but I have heard some of the songs.

Neil: I look like it though. Radio Head has this song called ‘Just.,’ It’s got this brilliant chorus,
which goes a lot like, I’m not going to sing it, don’t worry. It goes along the lines of “You do it to yourself, you do and that’s what really hurts.”

I’m not [inaudible00:30:34] on his album. “You do it to yourself, you do and that’s what really hurts” and I am convinced for the mediators who are not doing as much work as they want to do, there is only one person responsible for that.

It isn’t the government, it isn’t the law society, it isn’t the mediation counselor, it isn’t the bar counsel. It’s none these things. It is us, ourselves. How much do we want to do this work? How much of this work do we want to do and how committed are you to making that change and doing that journey?

I like the idea of the jolt. Sometimes the conversations we’ll have if I’m coaching people, will be around [inaudible 00:31:14] that situation. Really getting them to go down into, how does that impact you? How does that make you feel? How are you with your husband or your wife or your children when you’re doing that work?

This other work that you want to transition into, what are you like then, when you’re with your spouse or partner or children? What are the differences? That can make all that very real, very meaningful.

Aled: I just want to quickly check, is the audio/video okay on your side?

Neil: It is. You’re looking a bit pixelated. You look like you covered all 64 then.

Aled: All right, just checking. It’s interesting what you’re saying about we do it to ourselves,
because I’ve had an experience over the last few years where I’ve challenged some big, limiting beliefs.

It’s quite interesting. I started running. I’ve never been a runner, right? I was 5’8 -1/2″. I claim every inch, every half inch.

Neil: What’s that, 5’6″ then, isn’t it?

Aled: Well, 5’9″, 5’8-1/2″, 5’9″ unless I’m wearing high heels I’m about 5’11.” You know,
you’re looking at sort of 14 stone. Played rugby, never a runner, never enjoyed it. I took up running. I don’t know why and I remember running to the top of the road.

Someone told me wear a heart rate monitor and keep your heart within this sort of zone. I got to the top of the road and my heart rate was bleeping which meant I needed to start slowing down, but I felt that if I slow down I’m going to get to a walking pace.

It was really interesting, I started walking and my ego, this little voice popped into my head. “Walking? You’ve only run to the top of the road” and it was a real challenge, but I stuck to it.

I remember running my first half marathon and I thought at the time, 13 miles, is that going to be possible and I remember crossing the finishing line. Not in a great time, but I did it. I succeeded, I did it.

All of a sudden, running a half marathon, something changed internally in my mind. Then a few years later I ran my first marathon and again, 26 miles, I’d never run that far before and I had all this uncertainty and doubt. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

Literally, as soon as I crossed the finish line, something clicked in my head and it was almost, that belief evaporated. That limiting belief, that doubt, evaporated. Last November, I ran a 47 mile ultra marathon in the mountains in Wales, in Bracken.

What was really interesting, I reached the 30-mile marker and that’s the furthest I’ve run before. I was running with a friend of mine and we said, “Oh well only another 17 to go”, 17 further than we’ve ever run before.

Another six hours of running, but it was quite interesting what happened, something changed mentally for me. It’s almost like a limiting belief that I’ve had about never being able to that just evaporated.

Now I can go out and run a 20 miler and not even be concerned about it, not even think about it, not even be preoccupied about it. I’m trying to take some lessons and learnings from my running, because it’s a bit like can I earn 250,000 pound a year as a mediator?

Neil: It would be nice, right?

Aled: It would be nice. Imagine reaching that milestone. All of a sudden, if that was “Well
now can it be half a million? Can it be $750? Can I become one of the top 5%? I think a lot of it is about mind set. A lot of it comes from that.

Neil: Absolutely. I think the running analogy is really, really helpful. I’ve only done one, half
marathon. That was enough for me, but when I started to train I couldn’t run 300 meters without stopping. I was just hacking away and I think the way you can see your capacity, when you’re training to run, certainly those early stages is amazing.

When you do your first mile and your first three mile run. You’re only a few weeks into your program. To see the distance that you’ve traveled on how far you’ve progressed is really exciting.

This is what we are capable of doing within our business development, as well. There’s something really important as well about training and it’s the fact that we have to do it. We have to go through that stretch, period. You can’t go to your wife and say, “It’s alright, honey. I think you called her ‘Honey’ earlier so I feel like I can call your wife Honey now.

“It’s alright, Honey. I’m going [inaudible 00:36:39] be earning half a million doing this.” It’s not going to work. You have to indulge in that effort, the grind and the stretch, to build up, to do it a certain way.

Where you’ll will have had it and this is what I’m going to do, once I’ve done that. This is going to be my next stretch stage. You have that plan and you’re strategic, you’re reflective, did I do it? What worked well about it? What didn’t work so well? What might I do differently next time? I’ll get some different trainers. Whatever it might be.

Within the training, there is so much learning that goes on. And we still get the uncertainty and uncertainty is an absolute killer. So long as I’m being effective, so far as being effective, so far as executing our plans, I don’t know if it will work.

I think this is why it’s really helpful not to hang out with those people who are having to struggle to get those one or two mediations. But to you know, to hang out with those people who are doing loads.

And just being with them, just changes that group thing. We are now mixing people who are doing all of this work with who are doing five or six mediations a month instead of five or six mediations a year or two years becomes the norm.

Where they’re looking to us and saying, “How are you doing with that?” You go, “You know, it’s okay.” That gives us a belief and a natural compulsion to go and to make this thing work. That’s what we need to do. Uncertainty is an absolute killer. I know when I did the Bath half marathon and there’s a stage that you go around this lap twice.

There’s a really dark stage where you have no crowds on the road and it’s just dark and it’s difficult first time around. Second time around it was even harder, because I was at the ten or eleven mile stage and I knew that in another kilometer or so there were going to be the crowds again.

The demons that were going on in my head then were awful. The crowd’s about a kilometer ahead, 900 meters, 800 meters, if I drop out now, no one will see me. If I just stop, now is the time to do it. The charisma and the persuasion with those demons and those doubts is absolutely massive.

That’s what it is for these people who are transitioning into mediation. It’s really [inaudible 00:38:54]. I haven’t had any inquiries so I might be thinking, for three months or a whole year I went the whole of 2012 without a mediation, so I might be thinking, “Who do I think I am? What do I think I’m doing? I’ll just go back to what I was doing before.”

Instead you need to keep pushing through. You need to break through that. And begin focusing on those people who have done just that.

Aled: Right. You mentioned being strategic a couple of times now and here’s the thought that’s
going around in my head. If I’m running, I’m in control of whether I get up in the morning at some ungodly hour, hit the road. I’m in control of whether I have that pint of beer, that glass of wine, an extra helping of chocolate sponge.

I know if I do then it’s going to impact on my performance. I’m the only one in control of that and I can control those variables. I can’t control if we’re trying to translate that metaphor into work and being more effective and being more successful in business, in getting mediations.

What are the kinds of things that I can control and how do I manage the things that I can’t control?

Neil: We’ve got a lot of control over the work that we do in the same way. The kind of
attitude we have when we come into work. Whether I’m going to subscribe to this narrative of how mediation is really tough or whether we’re going to subscribe to that narrative of there are these brilliant mediators out there doing amazing work and feeding their families really well.

Which one are you going to buy into? We have choices about what we do, how we spend our time each and every day. I am an awful procrastinator in a sense of how I fight with all the time. I know that I’ve got a choice. I can go and have a look at the BBC news website or perhaps I choose not to. That is a choice I have to find.

So it’s about being mindful about the small stuff and the big stuff as well. Being ruthless, being reflective is such a great help. Keeping a tally of what you’re doing during the day, how you’re spending your time. Why did I do that? How did it help me move forward on my plan with the work that I want to do, with the service I want to offer people?

And when I do training, that’s one of the things I do. I get people to get the [pro forma] where they set you on 30 minutes on their iPhone, whatever it is and every 30 minutes you should really (inaudible [00:41:27]) in the last 30 minutes, I did this, I did this, I did this.

I struggled with this interruption which is an external or I struggled with this distraction which is an internal. Just getting them to go through that and at the end of the day, how well did I do? It would be like you talk about the heart rate monitor, yes?

It’s kind of monitoring that, not about your heart rate but of your productivity, our effectiveness so we can get more disciplined on that and if we’ve got those steps it’s about the kind of things that need to put in place, then you know what it is that we are working towards.

Aled: A way of monitoring your productivity is by keeping tally in what you’re doing moment
from moment. So you’ve got a profile you said, where you every 30 minutes you set an alarm and you spend 30 seconds reflecting on what have I been doing in the last 30 minutes? To what extent has that been contributing to or interfering with my progress to achieve my goals?

Neil: That makes these patterns of behavior really unavoidable. There’s the awful irony that
you’re interrupting yourself every 30 minutes, but I think that’s justified sometimes to get rid of the old habits, we have to disrupt it. We have to become interruptive and quite disruptive about it.

Out of this exercise, you do that for a couple of days and what it shows you, we have this brilliant capacity to delude ourselves, to deceive ourselves that we are doing enough. We can be in the office doing the right thing and developing these great plans.

We get home at the end of the day and we have done nothing. Maybe we’ve been reading really worthy stuff. Doing stuff that makes us feel productive, but at the end of the day we’ve made no real steps towards our goal, whatever our goal might be at that stage.

Aled: What’s causing us to not do the things that we know are good for us, that we know
would move us closer to our goals is this kind of mind set. It almost sounds like it’s a bit of a self sabotaging mentality.

I said at the start, I want some things that I am going to immediately implement and take aways. I’m going to do this 30 minute thing. I’m going to set my alarm on my iPhone, every 30 minutes I’m going to start it on Monday. I’m only going to be able to do it on Monday, actually because I’m running workshops next week, but I’m going to start it on Monday.

Neil: Yes. Try it.

Aled: And let’s see how that goes.

Neil: Yes. Just see what comes out of it. What kind of patterns, what awareness on your

Aled: OK. This is about identifying patterns. Patterns of behavior, alright that’s good. So
there’s a kind of a discipline that we can apply there to be more productive. If I’m thinking strategically about growing my business.

Let’s say I’m a collaborative practitioner, family mediator, how do I think strategically as a family mediator or as a collaborative practitioner in terms of growing my business?

Neil: You have to have a clear idea of what it is that you’re going for. This stuff isn’t new. The
amount of times that I’ve spoken to collaborative practitioners or mediators and I’ll ask, so is anyone aware of Stephen Covey’s, ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?’ And a hand, two hands in a room of 50 goes up and this staggers me.

As somebody within that sector, professionals are accessing well regarded, accepted learning and training on just these kind of things. Which is crazy. We’re trying to make it up as we go along. And a lot of this work has already been done. So being strategic about building a practice and really knowing what it is that you want to do. So having absolute clarity.

This kind of comes into connection that part of the “Get Artisan” [inaudible 0:45:84] connecting our work with who we are, how do we see ourselves? How do we see ourselves being of service to people? I’ll often talked about moving from a sell and charge basis of working with people.

Where we are selling units of time and charging you at the end of the month. Moving from that to a serve and pride concept. Where we have a clear understanding of who is it, what kind of people do I long being of service to?

When we are of service to people, then we do really good work. We cannot help but do good work. I can sell something and I can do it and I can do it [inaudible 0:46:42]. When I am serving the people who I’m selling it to, then there’s this urge and this desire in me to do it as best as I possibly can. To serve them as best as I possibly can.

So that shift from set up charge to serving the client worked really well. So that’s part of this idea of having the end in view. How do you see yourself? How do you sell things? How do you see yourself of being service to people? So having that end of view.

What does that journey look like? I’m going to transition from this to this. What does that look like? Being aware of the obstacles that you’re going to have to overcome, knowing that it’s hard work.

I often talk about the [snap]. This was something I was kicking around for awhile, but the break through which was, it started off with me almost doing [inaudible 00:47:27] the self improvement sector and the break through, let’s see if I can remember it now, was at the end it equaled BT, which was the break through.

It was 4x times S1 over S2 equals BT. So 4x is this attitude. We need to have four different attitudes. One, the attitude that I must do something. Perhaps simply, the pain, how bad is it for you right now? It’s the jolt, the fact that you’re about to lose this house. I really must do something about my practice.

There’s the attitude of must, there’s the attitude of I want it, I really enjoy this mediation, this collaboration, this dispute resolution work and really making sure that want is deeply felt.

The third one is I can do something about this, I can do something to build up my practice into what I want it to be. That’s part of the challenge, part of the offer that you and I offer to the people we work with.

When you’ve got those three attitudes; must, want, can. The fourth one follows quite easy and it’s this idea of I will do it. So those are your four attitudes.

Now, just having the attitudes doesn’t mean that you’re going to get a successful business. So 4x times S1 over S2. S1 is struggle. What are the struggles that you are going to encounter as you develop this? Within the struggle there’s this kind of idea of what work do I have put in? You talked about the training with your running.

It means I’ve got to do the 300, 500 [inaudible 00:49:11]. It means I’ve got to do those walks. It means I’m going to look really [dark and unfit]. Certainly when I was starting running and if I go back to it, I know that I’m going to have to overcome that public spectacle of my less than athletic body.

Aled: We should run together.

Neil: You did 47 miles. I’m not running with you.

Aled: I still don’t look like an athlete.

Neil: What is the struggle? What is the grind that we have to put in? For me, it was about
finding out more. Getting really good at learning the skills. Learning more about what’s going on within these dark hours. We’ve got the struggle ones to look at but then how do I need to build my network? How do I need to represent myself? How do I need to bring my wife along in this journey of what I’m doing for example?

Then S2 is the setbacks. Having an awareness of what these setbacks are going to be. From time to time I’m going to go through [inaudible 00:50:06] periods where I have not got whether it’s dispute resolution or collaborative work. Whatever it might be. So anticipating those setbacks, as well.

Then when you do that, I talk about it as having a bungee vest. Those things you put on and they snap and the elastic stretches and stretches and at some stage, that elastic between where you are coming from and where you are going is going to either snap or you’re going to find some way of reaching behind you with a pair of scissors and cutting that elastic.

There’s something really neat when that happens. We get the snap. The elastic snaps. When the elastic snaps, the first thing it does is it rushes back up and it gets us on the back of the head. It really smacks.

There’s a stage that we reach in our transition where that elastic has gotten as tight as it possibly can and we have a choice. Snap backwards where the elastics at and when it does it gets us on the back of the head and it smarts.

When I reach that stage myself, there were tears in my eyes. It was embarrassing. I was on the [divorce] at the time. I realized the litigation work, I don’t need that. I can leave that behind me. The idea of Neil Denny as a divorce lawyer, a conventional divorce lawyer, I can leave behind and there was an immediate sense of grief of letting go of that.

The old identity has a very strong hold on us. So we need to recognize it. We need to be able to confront it and find a way of letting go and being prepared for all of the loss that goes with that.

Aled: The old identity. That’s a powerful thing, isn’t it? The old identity and the hold that
old identity has on us. Yes, OK.

Neil: Imagine you’re a lawyer and you’re in a great city firm. You’re doing 400, 500,000 fees
every year. You’ve got great status. You’ve got a great reputation for the work that you do and you want to change to be a mediator. There is so much loss within that transition. Loss of income, loss of status, that loss of your privileges, loss of the recognition, peer respect, all of these things.

Aled: Those are the struggles you’re talking about?

Neil: They are the struggle. There’s a guy, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, who’s work I
love. Ronald Heifetz writes about adaptive leadership and he’s got this great line about “people don’t resist change in itself, but rather the loss within it. After all no one ever returns a winning lottery ticket.”

It isn’t the change to becoming this mediator, this dispute resolution, practitioner, very often that we are resisting, that we are struggling with, it is coming to terms with what we are going to lose. Maybe that is income. Maybe that is the safest, maybe it’s the profile. Maybe it’s the sense of losing what I’ve spent fifteen years building up and investing in a legal or whatever our primary career is.

I can remember speaking to my father about, you know you put me through law school, thanked me and that’s really fine, thank you very much and this is now what I am going to be doing with my life. It was like I was coming out. There was a real challenge within that conversation.

What is he going to say? Is he going to be mad at me? How is he going to respond. There are all these challenges. Also, the loss for the other people. If you think about our spouses, our families, crikey, [say], you’re this lawyer, you earn this much, this is what my family’s [inaudible 00:54:07] this is what my [inaudible 0:54:08] looks like.

Stuff like that takes a lot to change. My transition took six, seven years. I get a lot of people saying, “I hate my job, I want to do this, I’m thinking of chucking it all in.” My advice is, “Whoa! Don’t do that yet. Stay tight, you’ve got the income coming in. Get some momentum. Put in your 300, 400 meter runs.

First of all, get some capacity. Get some momentum, get some forward motion. There’s plenty of time to give up the job and there’s enough time in the day, particularly when we are good with our time management, with our effectiveness and we’ve done that [inaudible 0:54:42] o’clock thing. There’s enough time left in the day to be doing the other stuff.

Aled: OK. I’m getting it now. I’m getting it. I like the visual transition thing you are doing.
Reminds me of a jelly fish actually.

Neil: Yes it does. Hey that’s your metaphor, you can have that.

Aled: The jelly fish transition. Anyway, the way I’m conceptualizing this is if I want to give
up my job, I don’t just hand in my notice and then start thinking of signing up for mediation training. I need to think strategically about how am I going to make this transition? What are the attitudes I need to have?

What are the things I need to be doing? Who do I need to be hanging out with? What are the things I’m going to struggle with? What are those challenges I need to be aware of? Who are the other people involved in my life that might be effected by this decision, this transition. And do all of that analysis, all of that work.

Really think it through. Then put some meaningful, productive disciplines in place that then you start doing more of something and less of something else until, eventually that thing snaps. Is that right? Then you’ve made that transition.

Neil: You are at the stage where you’re doing exactly the work that you want to do. The last
four or five, six years have been really tough. There have been some real challenges. At each step of the way, you’ve been learning and growing.

You’ve been learning something about yourself, you’ve been having experiences which you then bring into the dispute resolution work that we do. This idea that, very often in dispute resolution, we have the same problem. Fix it.

We want the same answer, we want the solution. Just being able to have that mind set, that, “You know what, I think we’re going to get there, 47 miles you say? You’ve got to be kidding, I’m only doing 500 meters, a kilometer [inaudible 0:56:59]. I think if I keep going we [can get there]. Seeing that these are attitudes that really help us in delivering the execution of the work as well.

Aled: Yes. Neil, I just had a look at the time actually. I can’t believe we’ve almost done an
hour. I tell you it feels like 15 minutes. I’ve got so many more questions. I mindful about your time. I’m really grateful.

We’ve had a few technical issues and you kind of stuck through that and I really appreciate it. Tell me a little bit about, just very briefly the work that you’re doing in the U.S. I’m really interested in that. I’m sure my audience is going to be interested in it as well. What is that?

Neil: As I witness this “Get Artisan” idea. “Get Artisan”, as I say, we have three traits.
Connection, complexity and orthonomy. We’ve kind of been talking around some of those issues over the last hour, I’m astounded. What we do on there is two day reports. We look at just embedding that into mediators, dispute resolution professionals, collaborative practitioners.

You’re signed up for these two bits, now these are the highly motivated, ambitious, these are the ones who have those poor attitudes and must do something. You can’t go on like this. I want to. I believe I can. I will do something. It gives them those attitudes.

It gets them to look at connections and connecting to themselves. Connecting to professionals which we’ve talked about. Just the kind of work that you’re doing now. It’s just bringing people on to your show and stuff, like the work I do with my podcast. The other podcast.

Where we go to the top leaders in the field. This is what you do in Mediation Academy. Going to the top leaders in the field and you just talk to them for 30 minutes or for an hour or whatever it might be and really make a connection.

Connecting as well with the whole profession as a whole. Not trying to give us a leg, but just learning from one another. I think there’s a lot to be said about the old guilds system that the crafts people have. We can talk about that.

Then looking at connecting with tools and materials. The craftsman, you think about the craftsman. He is intimately connected with the tools and materials that he has to work with. He or she has to work with.

Complexity, we’ve spoken about that haven’t we? The struggles and the setbacks and snaps and getting people to talk about those. What is their experience so far? There’s this great exercise that we do where we look at what are the obstacles we’re facing? What would we like the alternative to be? What three things could we do in the next week to start moving towards that alternative from the obstacles? Stuff like this.

We deliver some very practical stuff. What does it mean to, how do we go about connecting? How do we deal with an online profile? How do we deal with our own profile? See, there’s some very conventional stuff in there. Who do we need to be speaking to? How are we going to use professional networking? How are we going to use social networking? Are we going to use social media?

What else can we do, writing, demonstrating expertise? We get people over the course of two days to build up their own business plan. They’ve got this solid, very real take away action point theory but it converts into the action [inaudible 01:00:07] they can take away and then start executing as well.

Aled: It sounds an awesome workshop. Why are you going over to America? Why aren’t you
running one in the UK?

Neil: It’s a good question. I’m in conversations at the moment. A couple of mediation groups,
dispute resolution groups, the usual suspects to make it available over here. In America what I find is that there is a different mindset. There is a great orthonomy amongst the practitioners and a willingness to invest in training and personal development which they need to do business.

As I say, the awareness of this kind of material here in the UK is pretty low. It’s just there’s a path of least resistance. You get great cities like Seattle or [inaudible 01:01:00], New York in May which I’m really excited about. Toronto, great places like that.

Aled: Living the dream.

Neil: There’s something in that. It’s the orthonomy part, the connection complexity in front of
me and one of the signifiers of orthonomy is doing exactly the work that you want to do and not just when it comes about that be known to create these opportunities as well.

Being so convinced of the value and the benefit that we offer throughout mediation work for example, that we then become utterly confident and can speak to an organization or a party about the benefits of this. It becomes much, much easier to do.

Aled: Look, I love the sound of it. Whilst you say there’s a receptacle in America, I’m sure I
know lots of mediators. I’d sign up for your workshop.

Neil: Great. I’ll get some dates in the diary.

Aled: Yes, definitely. It sounds really, really interesting. I think it sounds interesting because
I’ve attended lectures on “Build your mediation business”, right? Workshops, nothing like what you’re proposing and it’s the kind of same old, same old stuff and I just, “You know, come on guys.”

It doesn’t inspire or I don’t know, it doesn’t get any transformational change out of people. I don’t see people leaving these thinking, right, tomorrow’s another day. Tomorrow’s a brand new day.

Let me not do the same thing tomorrow as I did today. You know, that kind of thinking. I don’t see that shift. It sounds like that’s the kind of shift people get from your workshop.

Neil: Yes. Absolutely. I’m a big subscriber to the transformative school of dispute
resolution, for example. I think the work that we do, we can be transformed ourselves in making that transition. Part of that deal and part of my obligation and service to people is to help them reach that so that they really feel this stuff, as well as doing it.

Ronald Heifetz who I mentioned earlier has got this other great book. This is difficult work and it needs us to work on above and below the neckline. This idea that there isn’t just a headwork. It’s the heart, soul and guts as well. For the people who are really doing it and really love this stuff, it really means the world. This becomes their life. They would do the work for the sake of the work itself and that is really what the “Get Artisan” mindset is all about.

Aled: Just sounds brilliant. Neil, look I really appreciate your time this morning.

Neil: It’s been a pleasure.

Aled: I know you’re a busy guy and it’s just good to reconnect. Let’s not leave it. I won’t leave
it as long. I’m sure we’ll stay connected anyway.

Look, I know people are going to want to reach out to you, say thank you. Find out more about “Get Artisan”, find out when the London workshops going to be running. What’s the best way of them contacting you?

Neil: The best way of contacting me would be at That’s where you can find out
more about the blog and where the details are. The email is You can find me on twitter as well, @neildenny and that’s where I share my breathtaking tips.

Aled: I’ll put all that up on the website and underneath the interview when it goes live. Let me
be the first to say, “Thank you.”

Neil: It’s a real pleasure.

Aled: Thank you very much Neil and I look forward to staying in touch and hearing about
“Get Artisan” growing and this kind of movement developing.

Neil: Excellent. All right, thank you very much.

Aled: Thanks, Neil.

About the mediator

Neil Denny Profile Pic

Neil Denny is an international speaker, collaborative lawyer and expert on conflict and collaboration. He’s the author of two books; Conversational Riffs; Creating Meaning Out Of Conflict and The Collaborative Law Companion – from what I gather he has a few more in the pipeline. He is the CEO and founder of allLD Learning and Development. His latest venture Get Artisan is all about helping practitioners develop their skills and grow their bus... View Mediator