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Building a Mediation Business in India

Building a Mediation Business in India

My guest takes bootstrapping a mediation business to a whole new level. If you think getting started as a mediator or setting up a conflict resolution consultancy is hard enough in the UK, US or anywhere else for that matter – think again.

If you need inspiration, if you want to understand what motivates someone to go the extra mile, maybe you just want to be reminded about why you got into mediation in the first place – this is the interview for you.

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Full Transcript

Aled: Hi everyone. My name is Aled Davies, founder of, home of the hungry and passionate mediator, and a place where a new and aspiring mediators come and listen to experience mediators from around the world tell their story about what’s helped them become successful and effective at what they do. Now what you see and hear or Mediator Academy isn’t something that you typically find on a mediator course of. Much of your growth, much of your development will come from experience, and this is what my guests bring.

So my hope for you is at the very least you leave this interview with some clear, actionable steps that you can take to move one up step closer to achieving what you want to achieve in this field and improving your effectiveness. I get inspired. I get motivated by these interviews. I hope you’ll feel inspired so that you take one actionable step, make one change a week, build your own success story, and maybe then you’ll come back on to Mediator Academy and share that story that with my audience.

All right. Bangalore in India might be the new tech start-up capital of the world. But could it also be the mediation start-up capital of the world as well? Well, let’s find out. What I want to gather from this interview is how do you build a successful conflict resolution practice on another continent where culturally it might be challenging? Something else I’ll also be exploring, maybe in the second half of this interview is, what are the dispositions that are important for mediator effectiveness? And what sensibilities must we cultivate as practitioners?

Now my guest today is the founder and executive director of Meta-Culture, India’s first full-service conflict and dialogue facilitation centre with an impressive client list I must say. Before this, he directed a successful organisational conflict resolution programme in Cambridge, MA, mediating hundreds of disputes. As a professional facilitator, his experience ranges from working with Fortune 500 companies to mid-sized organisations, governmental and non-governmental groups, and educational institutions. He’s got a Masters in Critical and Creative Thinking from the University of Massachusetts and advanced training for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Harvard Law School and Center for Dispute Resolution in Boulder, CO. He’s a former board member of Mediators Beyond Borders. He writes and speaks on a range of subjects in this field to audiences across the globe. Meta-Culture, his organisation, was the recipient of the 2010 Outstanding International Leadership award presented by the Association for Conflict Resolution in the USA. So if there is anyone who knows how to build an outstanding organisation, it’s my guest here today Ashok Panikkar. Ashok, a warm welcome to Mediator Academy.

Ashok: Thanks Aled. It’s an absolute pleasure to be with you today primarily because I know we have something in common. We are great fans of Leonard Cohen.

Aled: Indeed. Indeed, and I hopefully we’ll be meeting each other when you travel over to see the nimble Leonard Cohen perform on stage live in London.

Ashok: I certainly hope so. I look forward to it.

Aled: Fantastic. I’m just going to go off topic because a thought popped into my head a moment ago as we were talking then. When you told me you were coming to see Leonard Cohen, I was gob-smacked, and I’ve been reflecting on why I was gob-smacked, and I thought I made some assumptions about the kind of music, you an Indian man, might listen to and might not listen to. For a moment I thought culturally some assumptions that I hold in my mind, that other mediators hold, I did a mediation yesterday and the same thing happened. I made some assumptions about the parties in the conflict. I just thought I’d throw that in there because it came to my head. Because I’m sure we might talk about some of the cultural challenges, peculiarities of doing what we do, but particularly, doing what you do in Bangalore.

Ashok: Sure. Sure.

Aled: In the pre-interview Ashok, we spoke about almost like a compulsion a mediator has, one has to enter this field. I called it a calling, you said no, it’s more I feel compelled to do this, and I think it’s, and I’m making an assumption again, I think it’s something that many mediators can relate you. And they feel a sense of, this is important. This is wonderful. I must do something, and that led you on a journey from the U.S. to Bangalore. I want to find out why, first of all. Why move? Where this drive came from, and I want to find out the how? How did you go about doing it? Because I imagine it has taken you some time to create the organisation that you’ve created, and I want to hear a little bit about more of that as well, but I’m thinking, if I’m a mediator watching this interview now, and I’m thinking, I have that. I can relate to that fire in my belly to do something, to make a difference, to leave a legacy, to leave the world in a better place than I found it. Where do I start? You know that might be going around in my head. Anyway I’ve just been talking for far too long, over to you.

Ashok: Well I like what you said. You need to have fire in the belly, and I say this because there is a considerable difference between practicing mediation in Cambridge, Boston or Cambridge Massachusetts and trying to do something like that any place in India. And the primary difference is that even though conflict resolution and mediation are not main stream professions in the U.S., it’s far greater acceptability, it’s far more evolved, and there are clients who are willing to hire mediators and dialogue facilitators. And even if we don’t get paid as much as Investment Bankers, it’s possible to make some kind of living. I did this work in Boston for about eight to nine years, frankly I think I was extraordinarily lucky. I got the right breaks, and I always had it fulltime job doing what I enjoy. And at one point I realised that, that life was good. I really enjoyed living in the north east, and frankly it’s my favourite place in the whole world, Cambridge Massachusetts. I would rather live there than anywhere else. It has the perfect mix of intellectual stimulation, natural beauty, great weather, the seasons, an extraordinarily diverse environment, and a fantastic peer group. The peer group, I cannot emphasise how important it is to have other people who think like you, by and large, and who basically are willing to tolerate you. In one sense, everything was going well for me, but on the other hand, one of the things I realised was when I kind of stepped back and looked at my life at the age of, I think I must have been 45 or 46, and I asked myself, ‘You know what, this is a key point in my life. Do I want to spend the next ten years continuing to do this in the U.S., because I really enjoy being here or can I make more of a difference elsewhere?’ It became absolutely clear to me that given my background, I am from this part of the world, India. I spent a lot of time as an adult too in India before I went to the U.S., and I knew this context well, and I figured that if I really wanted to do justice to the kind of person I had come, and the kind of skills I have, then I owe it to myself to go back to the one part of the world that I can, in a sense, claim some kind of a basic understanding or fundamental understanding of, and two, a part of the world that doesn’t need a visa from me, and basically, they can’t throw me out. And a part of the world that also needs this work. And frankly, it was because I felt this kind of work was very, very necessary in India, and I thought I was well equipped to actually start this feeling [sounds like 0:10:02] so to speak, in the country that I decided to come back.

Aled: I’m feeling really inspired already. There are things that you say that I can really relate to. One of which, I’m Welsh right? I’m very Welsh. Born in Wales, brought up in Wales, that’s my first language. I live in London. I love London. I love England. I love the people. There’s a part of me that feels as though what I’ve learned, I feel privileged. You talk about feeling lucky, I feel I’ve had experiences in the world that I know a lot of people in my community where I was brought up haven’t, for whatever reason. And I feel some sort of duty or obligation, to kind of put something back in and go back to Wales. I don’t know what that’s going to look like, but I know that at some stage, maybe when I turn 45 in 20 years time, you know, maybe when I reach a point, I want to come back to that by the way. I’m curious, was there a particular event that triggered this kind of moment of thinking, reflection that you did. But I really feel inspired by what you said, so was there something, and if I’m a bit nosy, tell me if I’m a bit nosy, but was there something that sort of triggered that thought that ‘I must go back to this?’

Ashok: Well, great question and I am going to try to do justice to it while being as circumspect as possible. So, one, I think when I turned 45, I started asking some basic questions of myself in terms of, I was always the kind of person for whom finding meaning was more important than achieving happiness of any kind. For me happiness and being comfortable was never as important as being driven to making a tangible difference. Okay? Which also meant that most of the time I was extraordinarily unhappy but happy about being unhappy. So at 45 I had to step back and ask myself some questions as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and at the same time, two minor triggers kind of happened. One was I broke up with the woman I was dating at that point in time. Actually I had broken up with her a year earlier, and I think that it took me a while to get over that. And two, a job that I had taken up, a corporate training job just didn’t work out. It was just not my thing. And rather than look for another job or start an independent practice, I figured, ‘You know what? This is as good a chance as any to make a dramatic shift in my life because frankly I would be doing what I always wanted which was to be an entrepreneur, and create the kind of organisation that I felt I could live with.’ It was like all of the forces were coming together, converging, and frankly, it was a no brainer.

Aled: Okay, you see because I think many people feel like all of the forces are pointing in a particular direction for us, and yet we don’t take those steps. I think it takes a huge amount of courage to do what you’ve done. To leave somewhere where you had a good job, you had that peer group stimulation. It sounds like a beautiful place, to kind of go halfway across the world to start something in what may have been familiar culturally, but I imagine has moved on, it is now the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore, isn’t it? Which actually, interestingly for entrepreneurial, the buzz there, you must have a different kind of peer group, I imagine.

Ashok: Well, let’s not get into that, because I have never been able to recreate the kind of peer group and the kind of social environment that I had in Cambridge, and I think coming back, re-entry into India was much harder for me than leaving India socially. I was spoiled, spoiled for choices, spoiled for a certain environment intellectually and emotionally that satisfied many of my needs, and India is in a very different place. But I came in the midst of the economic boom, and everybody was chasing money, and starting a company, and getting investor capital, and going for an IPO, this was what was driving most people, and this was a world that was completely alien to me. I’m thoroughly uninterested in taking my company public, or making pots of money, that was just never an interest of mine. And also I didn’t expect to but I didn’t realize how affected I would be by not having a peer group that could nourish me.

Aled: Very interesting. I say that because I’ve spoken to a number of people that watch these interviews, and one of the things that they keep telling me is, ‘Aled, it’s lonely out there. I feel isolated. It’s hard to connect with people, to talk to people that see the world the same way as I do, that have the same challenges, dilemmas, to even talk about cases, difficult pieces of work.’

Ashok: And philosophically, people who are aligned with you, and you know, just to give you a sense of the hardest part in the first two years, was that nobody understood what I was trying to do. And I got extraordinary flack and criticism for even trying to do what I was trying to do. It was just seen as a new fangled American or Western idea that was completely irrelevant in the Indian context. And everybody else seemed to know exactly how to deal with conflict, and felt it fit to tell me how to do my job.

Aled: Okay, so tell me what it was that you did when you arrived to get the message out there? What was your message? What were you trying to achieve? How were you going about it? I mean ultimately, getting clients, winning business, finding opportunities.

Ashok: I was very clear coming in that I didn’t want a successful individual practice. I mean I really didn’t come to earn a living, not that I had any savings. But I was very clear about my mission. My mission was to establish an organisation that could outlive me and that could continue to do this work. Not to build ‘Ashok Panikkar Incorporated’. I was very clear that was not the intention. So I was very focused, so I still remember that within three weeks of coming here, I had already found an apartment, which is very difficult to do if you know anything about how India works. Within four weeks, I had hired my very first staff person, and within about three weeks, I got my first client who happened to be a friend who ran a company, and he happened to be going through a very challenging period with this, company and he gave me an opportunity to test out many of my materials, and I did so for something like almost four months, and that project, it was the only work we had for almost a year, and it didn’t pay us anything, peanuts. But that gave me the confidence and actually made me feel like I was doing something concrete instead of sitting in my office brooding about what was going to happen. You know, is very important to have something.

I would suggest to anybody getting into this, that you should take up voluntary work in this field. I don’t mean serving in the soup kitchen, which is fine but if you really want to feel useful as a professional in an environment where a market doesn’t exist, offer to do free work in the beginning, because you need it to sustain your own commitment, and to keep your own skills sharp, very, very important. And this four month project basically, let me put it this way, I milked it for the next two years, even though the project was only for four months. I talked about it. It gave me something to talk about, and of course after that, it was an extraordinarily uphill struggle to get work.

We found that the only area we were able to break into was the corporate training environment, where I had to develop conflict management courses and negotiation courses, and cross cultural training courses, that I was able to start offering to companies, at least for the first couple of years, before I started pulling in consulting gigs. It was like, training was the way we actually sustained ourselves as well as we got the word out into the market that we exist, and we’re specialists. We’re not a training company. I went out of my way to tell people, we don’t do soft skills training. We’re not a bunch of trainers. We’re mediators. We are consultants. We do intervention in organisations. We work with the social sector. Our mission was very clear. We used to say that our primary purpose was to change the culture of discourse in India. It doesn’t get more arrogant than that. A 5,000 year old culture, and we presume to want to change the culture of discourse, and we were bloody clear about it. And we haven’t changed that.

Our tagline or the way we articulate our mission has remained consistent, and in fact has become more and more emphatic as we go along. Because in a fast moving economy like India, of course things have slowed down in the past three to four years, but even so, compared to the West, is still has a good growth rate. It’s very easy to get swayed by the marketplace and to start doing things that the market wants. I completely resisted that. I refuse to do things merely because there was money in it, because I felt we would dilute our positioning in the market. We would actually become a shop that would basically offer anything just to keep going, and I felt that would not do justice to our mission. In fact, it would make us weaker in terms of holding steadfast to our primary purpose.

Aled: Change the culture of discourse in India. So, I imagine you had a range of reactions to that mission?

Ashok: Yeah. The most common was ‘You arrogant bastard.’ and they were right.

Aled: And what was your reaction to that?

Ashok: Well my reaction was, ‘You know what, I may be arrogant, but the fact of the matter is this country needs so much help in so many ways. And it’s one thing for you to tell me that I’m not needed in this country, but I’ll just turn back and ask you, if this country can manage without a better processes in terms of conflict management or dialogue facilitation, then why the hell are we in the mess that we are in?’ India is conflict capital of the world. South Asia is, it’s not just India. Whether it’s in the civic space, whether it’s in terms of political conflict, whether it’s in terms of the breakdown of the family. Things are actually breaking apart at so many levels. And I personally don’t believe that we should pretend like things are better than they are. That’s disingenuous, that’s insensitive, and more than anything else it’s ostrich-like behaviour. If you love a place, if you are sensitive to people, you have to address the issues that prevents them from being as well, or, I’m trying not to use the word ‘happy’. But, as healthy as possible.

Aled: Okay. I’ve got a million questions going around in my head at the moment, but I think a part of what I want to try to do is just to break down in some smaller steps the things that I think you’ve done along the way. You talked about the challenge for you entering this environment, not just from an economic perspective and a commercial perspective, but socially, and it got me thinking, you know, some of the decisions that we make, often we don’t consider all of the other elements, all of the other variables, and we kind of jump into some things without thinking it through.

At one level, I think that’s helpful, because if we do think of all of the things, it can lead us to procrastinate and to put things off, but to just make sure that we are making informed decisions about what we do, and we are aware of the risks that we take. I liked what you talked about in terms of finding something, doing something whether it’s in the voluntary sector, or just a piece of work that’s related to this field, to sustain your own commitment, you said. Because again that’s something I did.

When I came back from Africa, I had this similar compulsion to do something. I didn’t have a clue of what I wanted it to be, but I knew I wanted it to be in the field of mediation conflict resolution dialogue, and I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t have any contacts or networks. I just found a local community mediation service, joined and just threw myself at anything that involved conflict dialogue. I found a mentor and I carried his bag. I made him cups of tea, anything I could just to clock up some hours, get some experience. Because, then you said you milked it for a few good years, and it was useful for me, the voluntary work, the carrying bags, the experiences, all became reference points for me to have conversations with people. To talk about, ‘Well, let me give you an example.’ The other week I was, or there were two people, there was this group, and you build up these sorts of reference experiences.

Ashok: Absolutely.

Aled: And if you’re not, to borrow an expression from Silicon Valley, which is you know the lean startup?

Ashok: Sure.

Aled: Yeah. Eric Ries and so on. They have this idea where, if you’re building a tech product, you go through various iterations, and part of this process is customer development, where you actually leave the building to go and speak to real people.

Ashok: Yes.

Aled: And I think when you start out, I know myself, I was more preoccupied with setting up my office and getting all of my papers sorted out instead of getting out into the real world and speaking to real people and talking about this work, and their issues, and their concerns. So a couple of things for people watching this to think into. And then you talked about developing a couple of products, because you had an opportunity for some corporate training. You were very clear that you weren’t soft skills, you knew what you were, you knew what you weren’t, but you found some piece of work, you’d take the boxes in the short term to get you a little bit of momentum. But you stuck to your mission, which was to change the cultural of discourse in India.

You see, what I like about that Ashok is putting yourself out there gets people interested in what you’ve got to say. I think the more controversial it is, sometimes the more one stands out. I know when I’ve gone to visit clients, and I’ve talked about this on Mediator Academy, when I’ve gone for panel interviews for particular assignments, or big corporate organisations, and they asked me if I’d do executive coaching, and do I do lead ins. I say, ‘Look, I don’t do any of that. If you’ve got a conflict, if there’s some who struggling with a difficult conversation, I’m your man, but if it’s strategy, leadership, don’t bother calling me.’ What’s interesting is that’s not a reaction that they are familiar with. And as a result, they remember me. And of course, they call me for all of these different other assignment now because they think, ‘Aled was a straight kind of talking guy. I think he could do this.’

Ashok: Absolutely.

Aled: Okay, so you started, you developed some training products. You started getting some opportunities and eventually… you talked about, the dialogue… It was a service you provided.

Ashok: I can’t recollect.

Aled: Something dialogue you said.

Ashok: So what was the question Aled?

Aled: I question I had in mind was, in talking about what you did, to what extent did people could understand what that means or I know what problem I’ve got, that that would solve?

Ashok: Well, let me put it this way. I was extraordinarily taken aback by the resistance to this work. Apart from, and we continue to experience that, there are a key people in the larger Indian Society or South Asian society that need this work. They need this work more than anybody else. They need a better process to resolve some crippling conflicts in their context. They need facilitators who can bring together feuding groups. They need to learn how to talk better when there are differences. And yet, we get slammed, over and over again because the overwhelming response to the work we do is cynicism. ‘Nothing will work. If at all anything will work, we know it already. Who are you to come in and do this?’ And even if by some chance they are willing to give us a chance, ‘What, you want to get paid too?’

In other words, ‘Not only must we give you an opportunity to actually do this work when we’re not entirely certain that you can make much of a difference, and two, you want us to pay you top dollar? You must be crazy.’ So this hasn’t changed in eight years, and I really need to make it very clear to your viewers that when I look back at a micro level, or someone looks at what we’ve done, and they look at the fact that, ‘Okay, you know what, in eight years Meta-Culture has developed all of these products that we have actually managed to get a track record. What’s missing in that are two or three really critical things. The first is an extraordinary amount of resistance to doing this work. The lack of a market and therefore the financial investment we have had to make, and the debts we had to get into in order to sustain ourselves.’ So that doesn’t show in the website and in most interviews that people have with me or my colleagues. That’s the ugly side of the whole thing. So I just want to put it out there. The second thing that doesn’t show is we were always very clear at Meta-Culture that we would focus not only on doing work, we will also focus on training young people to do this work in India. So we spent thousands and thousands of man days trying to attract the right kind of person to this field in India training them, trying to get a certain level of competence and quality and that’s been backbreaking.

Aled: And therein lies the challenge of creating a business that will outlast you.

Ashok: Exactly.

Aled: Wow. Yes, and you mentioned the website and everyone watching this interview right now, I’ll put the link to the website below. It is a beautiful website Ashok. It is probably one of the most beautiful websites I’ve seen. There’s some really stunning…I mean, who did the graphics and those images, they’re beautiful, really they are. Is that your work?

Ashok: No, as a former graphic designer, I guess I interfered in the work but I didn’t do it. We had a wonderful graphic designer, and I might as well give her a plug. Her name is Anisha, and she worked with us so absolutely brilliantly. It took us almost a year to put it together, and she was a stickler for quality, and that really worked with me. She never complained at the number of times I wanted her to redo things. We were able to get someone who was really not much of an illustrator to begin with, but we worked with him to get kind of illustrations we wanted, and that was a really, really long painful process, but it was worth it.

Aled: I love websites. I’m very interested. It says something to me about what matters to people. If I think about communication, those images, those illustrations are just so powerful in terms of communicating the work that you do. It tells me something about what’s important, what you’re passionate about. Interestingly, you talked about the service that you offer and the products, if I was going to that website, I wouldn’t need to read anything. I would just look at the image and I’d say that’s going on in my life, that’s going on in my office. I’m not going to spoil it for the viewers. Please go and check the website out.

I want to come back to that because I’m curious how you market what you do. So you encounter a lot of resistance. People expect you to do this work for free, which makes me think how do you value what you do? How do you put a value proposition on the table where people would go, ‘Oh yeah, I can see. I’m not going to even ask you how much you charge because I know it’s going to be a considerable amount because the value I’m going to get from this service will be transformational for my organisation.’ How do you start those sort of conversations? What are some of the things you put on the table to get people thinking into that?

Ashok: Well, that’s a complicated question. We experimented with different models. In the beginning, we were just not able to get the kind of fees commensurate with the value we felt we were giving, but we always gave more than was expected of us, and this is true in training or in our consulting work. We went out of the way to the best of our understanding to deliver quality. And I can safely say we delivered quality a way that the client never expected it. Now it took us about four to five years, but then we started recognising that we were bust. We were totally broke, and I was borrowing money commercially from banks in order to keep going sometimes twice a year in order to pay my bills and salaries. And I decided to just kind of shift gears, and say ‘You know what, we’ve been around for six years now and I’m not going to do work for any commercial organisation that doesn’t pay me about the same level as you would pay a high-end management consultant, and I was absolutely brutal about it. I would say, ‘If you’re a commercial organization, your executors own houses, you send your children to private schools, you have vacations, you have savings. Neither I nor my team have any of that. If you want us, pay us.’ But we had a very different model from the nonprofits, and for the government, we basically did completely free work, and that’s the model that we follow now.

Aled: Okay. It’s interesting, because earlier on you talked about mediators and consultants, and I wondered if you’d noticed a difference in terms of positioning yourself as consultants rather than mediators.

Ashok: I never sold myself as a mediator. I always say, ‘I’m a conflict resolution consultant or professional.’ I see mediation as one of our modalities. It’s like dialogue facilitation is a modality, consensus building is a modality, but I don’t sell myself as a facilitator or as a mediator. I am a consultant who does intervention and sometimes that intervention is mediation, sometimes it’s facilitation, sometimes it’s giving advice, and giving coaching, but I don’t give coaching in terms of leadership. I give coaching only in terms of conflict. That’s the positioning, very, very specific.

Aled: Was that something you sort of iterated to or did you start out with that view:

Ashok: I think we ended up there, but in the beginning, we really focused on classic mediation, and it didn’t get us anything, one. Two, neither did facilitation. Even though the kind of work we were offering to the public hasn’t changed. I came to Bangalore very clear that this wasn’t going to be a mediation agency. This was going to be a conflict resolution organisation that offers all those three, consensus building, dialog facilitation and mediation.

So I was very clear about that, but we did style ourselves as mediators, and I discovered in a couple of years that wasn’t going to get us anything. So now we’re consultants.

Aled: And let that be a lesson to anyone watching this. And I say that because we had a number of conversations with various interviewees, very experienced mediators, others in the profession, and this seems to be a universal reaction to the term ‘mediators’ and ‘mediation’ that people associate with, I don’t know, something of lesser value, something that’s wishy washy.

Ashok: Something that your grandmother could do, and you’ve never paid your grandmother.

Aled: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. It’s interesting actually. I had a mediation this week, and I won’t say too much about it. It was with a particular organisation. These were very high paid individuals, and I started talking about media and this person cut me off in the first two or three minutes and said, ‘Just let me put you straight on a few things,’ and he just went and sort of reinforced his position. And I was listening to him and I said, ‘Look it sounds like actually you’ve got a different understanding of what we’re here to talk about and the meeting that we are going to have. Mediation it’s this, it’s this, and the person goes, ‘Oh no. that’s just a bit too wishy washy for me.’ And I said, ‘Yes, you know a lot of people react that way. A whole lot of people thinks it’s wishy washy. It’s a really challenging process. It’s not for everyone. It takes a lot of courage to come to the table, and I can appreciate this might not be for you.’ That got him interested.

Ashok: That always works, because people like that don’t like to think you’re rejecting them.

Aled: And at the time, it wasn’t a conscious strategy, and I was curious by his reaction because I expecting to say, ‘Yeah, thanks. You’ve taken up enough of my time. Bye, bye.’ That’s what I was thinking would come out of it. And he says, ‘Oh, hold on a second, hold on a second, tell me a little bit more about it.’ And that was really interesting and we went ahead with it. So people react to the term so I sometime don’t think it’s particularly helpful. I think it’s helpful positioning ourselves in a different way, consulting, whatever it is so that we leave a different impression.

Ashok: You know it’s really interesting. Just hearing you talk about this incident. I discovered that the people who know the least are the most arrogant. It doesn’t matter where they come from, whether it’s the corporate sector, the business world, government folk, or people who are doing God’s work in the social sector. We’ve had to really, really work extraordinarily hard to in order to get any kind of… leave alone respect even recognition in the work we do. But then once we see the work we do, then they know we mean business and we’re good at what we do.

Aled: I think something I put a lot of importance on with my client relationships is quality. Quality is everything, quality of the service that I provide, customer service, going the extra mile, and it does leave an impression. It does make a difference, and also sometimes it can get me into trouble in that I create an expectation that I always go the extra mile, and I don’t often get rewarded for that, compensated for that.

Ashok: In such cases Aled, what I’ve experienced is my compensation is that I have really done something that I’m happy with, and that’s something that as a team we can feel. We know we’ve done something under adverse conditions that we are proud of, and at that point in time, sometimes even if the client doesn’t pay, we say, ‘You know what? We’ve done an extraordinary job.’ That’s it.

Aled: I’m impressed. I’m impressed. Ashok, look, I’m aware of time’s moving on. Can we jump into the next question? Do you have time for that?

Ashok: Absolutely.

Aled: I did want to touch on your website. Maybe we can get a chance to talk about that in the end. And indeed I think we started delving into sort of these dispositions and sensibilities.

About the mediator

Ashok Panikkar Profile Pic

Ashok is fond of saying that, while he is no Mother Theresa or Gautama Buddha, he is utterly fascinated by the intricacies and nuances of conflict resolution and peacemaking. A facilitator for 25 years, he has been called many names, including “agent provocateur.” The many hats he wears include mediator, facilitator, educator, and office clown. When asked why he does this work, he says: ‘Conflicts are early warning signals that things ar... View Mediator