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Building a Successful Mediation Practice

Building a Successful Mediation Practice

What do preaching the mediation process, trying to get referrals to mediate litigated cases, and trying to market to everyone have in common? They’re all too ineffective in today’s marketplace, says long-time mediator Tammy Lenski, and partially responsible for the slow evolution of alternative dispute resolution as a financially viable career for many mediators.

In this interview with the award-winning author of Making Mediation Your Day Job, learn why these methods are ineffective, what to do instead, and why thinking of yourself as a conflict resolver is more important than thinking of yourself as a mediator.

Tammy talks about getting over your humility, getting out there every way you can, whether its by picking up the telephone, networking or blogging.  Tammy also discusses her latest book - the Conflict Pivot.

I've tried to make it easy for you to share this interview with top-flight Mediator Tammy Lenski, so all you need to do is click the 'Tweet icon' below and then click send. Job done!

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Full Transcript

Aled Davies: Hi everyone. My name is Aled Davies founder of home of the passionate mediator. This is where we interview the very best mediators and thought leaders from right around the world. We learn about new opportunities in the field of mediation as well as how to sharpen our skills, develop our thinking and stay ahead of the game.

All right so the big question for today’s interview is this, and it’s a question we get and asked a lot. How do you become a more successful private practice mediator?

Now my guest today is a writer, speaker and teacher in the area of conflict resolution in business and personal relationships. Since 1997 she’s worked with individuals and organisations worldwide as a master mediator, executive coach, speaker, and educator. She specialises in helping people master their reactions, create breakthrough conditions in conflict and problem solve creatively.

She’s been featured in media outlets such as “Bloomberg Business Week”, “Red Book”, “Working Mother” and “ABC News” amongst many others, and has addressed audiences right across the United States. In 2012 she received the Association of Conflict Resolution’s prestigious Mary Parker Follett award for innovative and pioneering work in her field.

She’s the author of the award winning book “Making Mediation your Day Job” and her second book “The Conflict Pivot: Turning Conflict Into Peace of Mind” came out in 2014.

So without further ado I would like to extend a warm welcome to Dr. Tammy Lenski. Tammy, welcome to Mediator Academy.

Lenski: Hi Aled. Thanks for having me. It’s really lovely to be here with you today.

Aled: Look I’m thrilled to be talking to you today and particularly about this subject. It’s something I want to learn more about and I know the audience will too. Look, I want to learn about your latest book ‘The Conflict Pivot”, I mean I’ve got a million and one questions. Before we get there tell me why you first decided to write your first book “Make mediation your day job.”

Tammy: I kind of wrote that book to . . . this is going to sound terrible, to get mediators off my back because I could just hand them the book. What was happening is I had been mediating full time for about a decade at that point and I was getting a lot of mediators contacting me and saying, “How did you do it? What can I do? What can I look . . .?” and initially I said, “Well read the blog.” I had a blog that was dedicated just to that topic. I had another one too but that one . . . but I’d say read the blog.

But then I found that people were saying, “well you know there’re hundreds of articles on that blog. Which one should I read? Which are the best ones? Tell me what you did, I’ll just replicate what you did.” I thought you know what “I’m just going to put it in a book. $14.95. Easy and then I can say, “Read the book. Just do the things in the book that’s what I did, that’s what I’m teaching others to do.”

At the time I was also a professor in a master’s programme in mediation and I could see that really well prepared students of mine who were just elegant mediators were also struggling with the same things. So I was sort of felt a duty too, to respond to them and to give them something that they could do.

So that’s what ultimately led to the book. I sort of said, “Okay here’s the book. Good luck.” and what I didn’t anticipate is that “dong” from a business point of view. But I didn’t anticipate that there would be a lot of people who would be continuing to contact me, and say “Can you speak about this? Can you talk to us about this? Can you coach about this?”

So it has led to a part of my business it’s you know the bulk of my business is still doing conflict resolution work, but a piece of it has always been, since that book came out, supporting new mediators.

Aled: Yeah, you talked about blogging. You are a prolific blogger right?

Tammy: You know I’ve been blogging since the dark ages of blog-dom. I started in 2002 and at the time I really didn’t think about it as blogging per se. I was using blogging software but really for me it was about a way to get out my message to more people further afield. At the time the blog was really about just conflict resolution. That’s my primary blog still.

These days, I blog about once a week because that’s what I feel like I can squeeze out of myself, and it’s what I feel like my readers want. I don’t think readers want to hear somebody more often than that.

Aled: Yeah. I mean I’m deviating now. Blogging once a week, that takes real discipline, right?

Tammy: You know it takes less discipline once you’re in the habit. It’s kind of like any formation of any habit. You know my doctoral work was in forming habit and so I’ve always cared about human behaviour. The making of the habit is the harder part. Once you’re in the habit of it blogging or writing articles for your clients, which is another way to think of blogging, is not a difficult habit at all.

In fact I find it a very enticing habit. I don’t have to work hard.

I know the kinds of things that my readers want to here so as I’m out shopping at the grocery stores or I am online somewhere or I’m walking my dog and hear this conversations or hear this arguments or I watch these things. I think “Oh look at that. That’s an interesting topic.” and I’m able to write about it. So you know the topics come to me, much more easily than they did when I first started. I guess that’s the message.

Aled: Yeah, I often wonder actually you know how does one, first of all I want to find out how I develop this habit because, I think it’s a brilliant habit. I think I’ve got some good habits and I also think I’ve got some bad habits. There is an expression I heard once: “Bad habits are easy to form but hard to live with. Good habits are harder to form but easier to live with.” You’ve clearly got a good habit. First of all how do I get a good habit about blogging and getting good content out in the world?

Tammy: I think a lot of people think that blogging is the thing to do. It is if you like to write or are willing to develop the interest in writing. For those who truly hate writing or are truly bad at it and don’t want to develop the ability to do it better. Writing isn’t for them. I say that right up front.

Podcast or do audio, do video, do something else. Some people are much more natural talking to the camera. They love that and they don’t want to do this, you know. So when I say “blogging” here, you could expand what I’m saying to be relevant to whatever the method is that people use. Podcasting, video casting whatever.

Aled: Okay.

Tammy: The best way to get started is just like anything else. Create an account somewhere and get started and make a commitment like any habit to try to do it every day.

Aled: Yeah.

Tammy: Don’t even worry about publishing it right away. Just write and don’t worry about how great it is. Just write. In fact there’s an argument to be made not to publish it. But sit down, write for 15 minutes every day. Write about a topic that, here’s the key, that the people you’re trying reach in your market care about.

What I see a lot of ADR bloggers do, are things like “Frequently Asked Questions About Mediation”. Well, you know, there are 9 million Frequently Asked Questions already out there. Your market doesn’t care. They’ve already got those questions answered or they will, if they become really warm prospects and they want to hire you. They’ll get [inaudible 00:07:39]. But think about what’s on their mind, what they care about, and that’s what you want to write about.

The other thing is that don’t worry about making it a long thing. Most of us who learned to write in college wrote long books. A lot of attorneys who mediate are used to writing long documents right?

Article writing for your clients is more about short and sweet. It depends who your market is. My market tend to be leaders, managers, folks who work full time and have very busy careers in work and they’re not going to sit and read a 2,000 word article from me very often.

Occasionally they might want to take a real deep dive into something but for the most part they want to hear an idea. A really tiny little idea they can put to use tomorrow or that can, sort of, worm its way into their brain and leave them thinking that’s really what I’m trying to do, is engage people to think about conflict differently.

So it’s that kind of habit it’s just doing a little piece and then eventually thinking, “Look I have some articles there.” When you have five or ten and you think, “My market would love those”. You have a reason to believe that, then it’s time to start putting them out there in the world. Then doing it as frequently as possible, at least once a week, and make the commitment to do it for six months.

Aled: And do you have some kind of template just in terms of the structure of a . . . Let’s say stick to blog posts for now . . . The structure of a blog post or the maximum word count, just some parameters?

Tammy: I tend to keep it for me and my readership is between 250 and 500 words typically. It may be less. It may be a quote sometimes, it may be something longer. The template, I don’t really have. because I write different kinds of posts for different kinds of things.

So I love to tell stories as a way to help an idea have a hook in someone’s head you know they have a hook to hang on. So if I’m telling a story I might use a fairly typical template for writing good narrative. If I may be chairing an exercise that someone can do in the mediation room or if they’re a leader or manager they can do it if they’re informally mediating between two colleagues.

So if I’m writing an exercise I may just sort of walk through the steps that you take to do the exercise, we don’t really have a template beyond that.

Aled: I received one of your emails, it must have been last week, about one of those exercises.

Tammy: Oh the fists? Yeah, yeah.

Aled: Yes, fantastic. I mean a great idea. You could use that to illustrate something in a workshop or just having a conversation with someone to demonstrate one’s natural tendencies.

Tammy: Exactly.

Aled: Okay lovely. So it was really helpful thinking about just writing and not feeling under pressure to have to then publish it. I think that’s a helpful start.

Tammy: You know it’s a little bit like it’s a tension point there. You got to feel enough pressure to do it but not be overwhelmed by the pressure of, “Oh I have to publish it and the world has to see it. Then they’re going to judge me. Oh no.”

So if you take too much pressure off yourself it’s easy to shrug and say, “I don’t need to do it today”. You do. So it’s trying to find that sweet spot between letting your sort of inner gremlins get in the way by saying, “You’re not good enough, the world doesn’t care, everyone is going to judge you. Oh, the horrible things that people are going to say.” All of those little terrible things one’s voice says and the sweet spot between that and sort of gutting it up and doing it and getting started.

Aled: Okay brilliant. I’m going to reverse back down and come back. Get back on track now. All right. So the thinking behind the book was mainly to get mediators off your back, in the nicest possible way. But to reach out to more mediators than one could by conversations, emails and so on.

But in terms of the theme of the book “Making Mediation your Day Job”. A lot of people are struggling with that, right?

Tammy: A lot.

Aled: What are some of the fundamental problems we’ve got, as mediators, when it comes to winning business or promoting ourselves?

Tammy: Right. There are some big ones and I suspect . . . You know I talk to mediators all over the world now and I’m finding that these problems are coming up again and again and again across many many cultures. So it’s not just an England thing or a New Hampshire thing or a U.S. thing and I think we’re seeing this happen in many places.

I say, when I speak to mediation groups, that mediation has the challenge of being a solution in search of a problem. If you think about how most, not all, but how most business becomes a business. Most ideas or services or products come to be, is that someone saw a problem in the market place, and said, “Oh, people have that problem. Gee, what solutions can I find for that problem that might help people fix that problem?”

So mediation for most mediators, is the opposite. It’s like, “I have a solution. Now I just need to find the people who are willing to let me impose my solution on that.” That’s a really difficult way to build business. There’s a reason why most business doesn’t evolve that way. For attorneys who work and I’ll say more about this fixed pie in a minute. But attorneys who are mediating are working in a very fixed pie of the litigated case, or maybe just before litigation, just a pre-litigated case. Something like an employee grievance for example. It looks like it could head to litigation if it isn’t going to get resolved soon.

So the purview that most attorneys, and they say, “Hey, we already know where the problem is. It’s all these people who are litigating.” So let me return to that in a minute. I’m setting that aside for a minute.

For most mediators they’re out there saying, “Don’t you want to let me do an opening statement, do a bunch of things in between, and do a closing statement? What I do in-between depends on who trained me, what my school of thought is, what my philosophy mediation is, all of those things.” So the mediator is out there saying, “Here’s this one solution that I have. This what I’ve been trained to do and I just want people to let me do it to them.” That’s a very hard thing to do. So that’s sort of the big problem.

Now let me go back to the fixed pie. The next problem. It’s a problem that plagues attorneys who mediate, and it plagues people who come from other professions of origin who also want to mediate litigated cases. This is the problem. Everyone is fighting over a limited pie.

The person who has filed a litigated case right, the person just filed a case or is in the midst of litigation. There are only so many of those people in the world. I told you a story I’m going to tell again, a long time ago when we spoke last. I said let me give you an illustration of why that’s a problem. I was appointed to an ADR committee where I’m a regional mediator committee in [inaudible 00:15:01] where I live, and I was their token non-attorney. A phrase that I just despise because it describes me by what I’m not. That’s why you will not hear me use “attorney mediator”, “counsellor mediator” any of that, and I don’t like the non-version of it.

At the first meeting of this committee the judge who was overseeing it turned to me and said, “With all due respect, Dr. Lenski, I really don’t want people like you to get any of the pie. If it’s a litigated case I want the pie to belong to attorneys and retired judges. I don’t want people like you, who don’t have that background, to get those cases.” And for once I was really on top of my game that day. I was very proud of myself for being on top of my game, and I said, “Oh your honour, not a problem.” He kind of looked at me and I said, “I’ll take the other 99% of conflict out there.” And that’s when – you could see him think . . . It may have been the first time that it occurred to him that people hire mediators outside of litigated cases. In fact there are, and I tried to get this data from the Association for Conflict Resolution here in the U.S. a few years ago, and they didn’t have it.

My anecdotal informal is that half of mediators out there, maybe more, aren’t attorneys. They come from other backgrounds. They’re not only serving the litigated case. They’re not only serving divorce cases. So the fixed pie, everyone is fighting over this pie, the litigated case. There’s no version of that, that you can increase that pie or extend the pie in mediation terms, we call it. You can’t, because only so many cases that are going to be [inaudible 00:16:47]. There are only so many cases that are going to go to mediation and they’re only going to be certain number of cases that are right for mediation. Everyone’s fighting over that pie.

The problem is easily solved because if most mediators look to the right and look to their left and think about the conflicts they’ve had in their lives that they filed cases in court, over them. Most of them will say they didn’t. Aled, I have to say I meet very . . . I can probably count one hand the number of mediators I have met in my life, who ever filed a case and used mediation to resolve a case in court.

So why would people who aren’t mediators and probably care less about mediation than we do, why would they do it? So the key is to look where the conflict is, and serve people in other markets, in other ways.

Aled: So it’s almost like going up-stream isn’t it?

Tammy: It is. There’s this old story about you know . . . I’ve forgotten who I heard it from, about fishing holes. If you don’t fish where the fish are if you go somewhere else you’re not going to get them. Or you’re going to be fighting over everybody else who’s at that other saying fishing [sounds like 00:17:58] I’ve got to go find a new one.

So the key is you’ve got to – I really encourage mediators to think beyond the litigated case and to think beyond mediation as a single process. The only thing they sell when they start thinking of themselves instead as conflict resolvers not mediators. Mediation, if you think of an umbrella of conflict resolution, mediation is just one service, one method, one process within the larger conflict resolutions.

Aled: In effect by just trying to sell a process that, for most people, may not seem attractive as the solution. Particularly if you’re going after the litigated case, they’ll go, “Well hold on a second, the reason why we’ve come this far is because we tried to talk about it and that didn’t work, and now you’re offering a talking solution for me.”

Tammy: I think it’s hard. It may even be easier to sell it with the litigated case than with all the other conflict out there. For some it’s a long set of reasons, but the word “mediation” is widely misunderstood and misused. I mean, half the time when I hear the word “mediator” on television they’re talking about an arbitrator. They’re talking about somebody else entirely, and not a mediator.

Sometimes they are talking about a meditator you know. You see typos all over the place. Just go to Twitter and search on “mediation” and you’ll find some typos that were actually searching, meaning to type meditation.

So I think it’s very hard to say to people, “You have this conflict and your conflict must fit my premises. My only solution is this one process for you.” I know that’s a tough thing for some mediators to swallow because they say, “Hey I just spent all this money getting trained as a mediator, just my basic 28, or 40, or 80 or whatever it is, hours”. I think it’s a tough message, but it’s the message and I don’t think there’s a way around it.

Let me contrast it with what I do. Someone calls me and they say “I need a mediator and someone gave me your name.” I say, essentially, “Tell me about your situation.” As I’m listening to them I may be thinking: they don’t need a mediator they need a coach; or they don’t need a mediator they need a therapist and I know a good one; or they don’t need a mediator they need a financial analyst.

Who knows what they need, but I could then say to them, “Here, let me squeeze what’s going wrong for you into what I do, or I can often take the same set of skills that I use, my good listening all these various tools in my toolbox and reformat them, to serve them as a coach or to serve them in some other consultant capacity. Or I refer them to someone who can better serve them as, a counsellor or if they a financial analyst, whatever they need.

I think most mediators should stop thinking of themselves as mediators who have one process and start figuring out the problems that their markets have, that need solutions, that their markets want solutions for, and figure out how to reconfigure their skills into other services that meet those needs. The mediators that I love seeing, who are very successful in today’s market, that’s what they’re doing.

Aled: Okay well let’s think about some of those successful mediators, including yourself. What would you say are the the key components to having, or to building, developing a thriving, private, mediation practice? When you say “a private mediation practice” that’s distinct from working for or being an internal mediator in an organisation is that what . . . ?

Tammy: There are folks who have those jobs. But yes it’s serving in an outside capacity, serving an organisation, or a family, or any entity really as a mediator, who is not connected to them in any other way.

Aled: Yes, what would you say are some of the key components in that process?

Tammy: I think the first thing that people need to decide is who they’re serving. I feel like some days that I beat this one to death, but I cannot emphasise it enough.

Mediators need to pick a target market. They need to pick a target market because there’s an old marketing truism, that when you try to market to everybody you market to nobody. If you’re spending all this energy blogging, or podcasting, or speaking, or networking, and you’re trying to get people to visit your site, sign up for your email list, create a connection with you that you can cultivate, and they come to your website and you are vanilla fudge.

They don’t care about you. They want to see themselves when they land there, they want to land there and go, “Ah, he gets me.” “Ah, she gets me. Oh look at that, she serves doctors. I’m a doctor. She knows something about conflict and doctors’ practices. Oh my, I’m interested in that.”

I think mediators are often afraid to commit to a target market, a really focused market because they’re afraid of saying no to everything else.

Aled: Is that a problem that just mediators have and if so what is it about mediators that’s you know I . . . ? Go on.

Tammy: No, I’m sorry go ahead.

Aled: It does strike me as, it seems the obvious thing, to focus in on a particular area that you have intimate knowledge of, have acknowledged expertise in, that is a respectable authority in, doctors’ practices disputes, or whatever it is. Why not just focus and be disciplined and go after that . . . ?

Tammy: I have asked that very question of hundreds, maybe thousands, of mediators when I talk to them at conferences, when they call me, when they attend my speaking gigs. The answer I hear I think is largely driven by a scarcity head set.

Aled: Okay.

Tammy: “If I pick this market there’s everybody else I’m missing them and I so desperately want to have a full time practice I can’t afford to miss them.” The misfortune of that is that choice often causes you to truly miss them because . . . Here’s a story I tell: In this very office I’m sitting in, when we bought this house in 2008 it needed a new roof and we hired a roofer. He took all of the shingles off and covered – there was some rain due. He covered it with a tarp and left for the day. [inaudible 00:25:00] Fine. That night we hear thunder. My husband and I look at each other and he goes running outside, I go running upstairs to this, my home office, and the tart has blown off and water is pouring through the roof.

Now this is about a hundred years old, a New England home it’s got all of the original plaster in all in perfect condition, but now we’ve got sodden plaster ceilings in three rooms. So we begin the process of finding someone who can help us. The example I use is, I open up the phonebook – I wouldn’t open up the phonebook these days but let’s imagine that because we all still understand the concept of a phonebook, at least at a certain age we do – We open up the phonebook and we see two options.

We see a general contractor who says “I’m great at everything. I do this, I do that, I serve these people, I serve home owners, I serve commercial businesses, I can repair your fence railing, I can paint etc.” Then I see an ad by someone who is a plaster master and he only does residential plaster applications and antique New England homes, and he knows every kind of plaster that was used, and he knows the chemical makeup of these different plasters, and which paints will adhere properly and which ones don’t. Who am I going to hire?

Aled: Yeah, it’s a no brainer.

Tammy: It’s an absolute no brainer. Because it’s a mess as it is and I don’t want to have to do it twice. So I’m going to hire the plaster master. That’s what I say to mediators. You want to be the plaster master. You want to be the person who isn’t trying to be all things to all people and therefore may be nothing to anybody. But to the people who most want you, and need what you have to offer, that’s the idea of a target market.

When I started out as a mediator in ’97 I had been a college dean and vice president. I had never owned a business I knew nothing about owning a business. It was sort of like I just decided that I was going to do it. It’s a little crazy. I knew enough that I had to choose a market that I knew, and knew me.

I worked exclusively in higher education and at the time no one else did. I was probably one of maybe two or three mediators in the United States who worked in higher ed. I knew lots of president because I had served them. I had been on a number of think tanks in the United States so I knew people in that role. People knew me, they knew me as a dean and a VP, as a problem solver. So it was a fairly short leap to see me as outside problem solver now.

Colleges and universities often have medical schools and hospitals associated with them so that led to hospitals and medical schools, and things evolved from there. But I am very clear that if I had not had the clarity, and in some ways just the blind dumb luck, to choose a market that I had access to and I understood them absolutely. My practice might have evolved eventually but I would have had to be a kept woman for a much longer time. I would have had to beg my husband, “Can you support me while I do this?” and that’s not in my nature.

When I knew colleges and universities and I reached out to them, when they came to my website or they came and read all of my materials, they saw themselves because they understood. I was using language that they knew. I knew exactly where the purse strings were, I knew who held them. I knew that presidents often have small side budgets for extenuating things. I knew all sorts of stuff because that had been my work for years.

So that’s the key to a target market, you know them so them so intimately, that you know what to write about if you’re blogging. You know what to video cast or podcast about if you’re speaking your blog posts to them, because you know exactly the kinds of things that they are navigating in their average day.

Aled: Yeah. It strikes me that, as a “mediator” as somebody leaving full-time employment, making a break, going it alone, needs to really I suppose, see themselves as being entrepreneurial, as being an entrepreneur?

Tammy: I don’t know. If you had asked that question 10 or 15 years ago I would have said “Absolutely. You’ve got to.” I think I’ve mellowed a little bit on that because I think the notion of entrepreneurship turns a lot of people off.

They associate it with Silicon Valley and hustling. They associate it with the kind of salesmanship that’s manipulative and slimy, that I don’t want to do, and they don’t want to do. I tend to say to mediators, “You’ve got own a business. Not everyone who owns a business is an entrepreneurm, perhaps. I think there’s probably a line don’t ask me to define the difference between – I probably couldn’t. There’s something in my head that says those two terms are different. When I talk about running a business that resonates in ways that aren’t as scary, for many mediators, as the idea of being an entrepreneur.

Aled: Okay. For me, you see I think of it as being entrepreneurial because I get the impression that the mediators, part of our job is to be market makers in a sense. There isn’t this obvious market place where mediators can go to, to pitch and win business.

It’s almost like they have to go out there and, through conversations, understand their potential customers. To go as far as . . . You’ve come off your mediation training course, you’ve got this process that you described. To go as far as, now to be creative. If I try and sell this process I’m not going to get anywhere. It’s almost I’m a bit weighted down by this process now, because it doesn’t appear attractive, what’s the value add?

It’s very interesting I was reading Bernie Mayer’s book, “Beyond Neutrality”.

Tammy: Right.

Aled: He wrote that in 2004.

Tammy: I know.

Aled: It could have just been published you know because of the problems he describes.

Tammy: [inaudible 00:31:30]

Aled: So . . .

Tammy: You know I think . . . well there are so many directions I could take what we just said. I think that, first of all, mediators are always unhappy when I say this, but I’ll say it anyway.

You’ve got to stop selling your process. You’re really the only one who cares. Your client does not care. They want results. They want relief. They want to know they gave it their best shot. They want to figure out that they can move on with their life, whether it’s solved or not. They want an agreement. Whatever it is, they want. That’s what they care about.

They do not care that first you’re going to do this, and then you’re going to do that, and here’s what it does and here’s what they did . . . They don’t care. We care because we know that good process can yield good results. But we have spent way too much energy selling a process. It’s like when a software vendor who, wants you to buy their product, tries to walk you through all of the bells and whistles of the product. It’s enough to make your head start spinning like Linda Blair’s in the movie. We don’t care. We don’t care about every bell and whistle and how it . . . And what happens in what order. We say, “Can I do word processing with it? Oh good. Can I do this with it? Oh good, that’s what I need to be able to do. I need to produce legal documents or . . . ”

Aled: Coming back to your fixing the plaster analogy then you don’t want to know that this individual mixes the plaster with 30% water and resin and then applies it and then it dries. You just want to know it’s going to look really good and it’s going to stay up there for the next 20 years.

Tammy: Right exactly. If he started telling me that my eyes would glaze over, right? If he started trying to tell me all of that at the hiring stage, I might think, “Oh man I think this guy is going to come in into my house and never stop talking.”

Aled: Yeah.

Tammy: So I want to know, will it stick to the plaster that’s still up there. Will the paint adhere properly to it? Can you say that, short of another flood almost, from the ceiling that that’s going to stay put for a long time? That’s what I care about. I care about the results.

Mediators will say to me, “Well people want to know.” Well people, at the stage they’re ready to hire a mediator, they do want to know, sort of, how do you work? What’s it feel like to work with you? What’s the experience like to be at the table? How will you help protect me from the things that that person is going to say, that are not fair? We want to know those kinds of things. That’s legitimate.

But actually you’re trying to help people understand that you have something that can help them. At that stage trying to say to them, “First you put the plaster in and then we do this, and my process is better than their process for this kind of problem.” They don’t care. I think it’s actually led a lot of mediators to spend a lot of tim spinning wheels, because the market looks at them and says, “So?”

It’s not believable anyway. So it’s fair, equitable and just and you’ll find solution you couldn’t find otherwise. Is that really believable if you’re in the market and you’ve never heard of mediation, beyond your brother-in-law used it for his divorce, and the union used it to resolve a contract dispute? Other than that, they . . . you know? So I think it’s really ineffective.

You said something else Aled that I thought was really smart. You said mediators don’t really have a place they can go and stand on the street and say, “Hey, let me market this thing to you.” It’s absolutely right. It’s one of the things that . . . I think it’s why so many mediators try to get on panels, they try to get on panels that are for court cases, or in the U.S. for the Postal Service.

So that they think that those panels will do it for them. They will, but again it’s a very fixed pie and those panels will often pay a pittance. So there’s not a living wage you can make on them, even if you’ve got lots of cases and you probably won’t.

The truth of the matter is a mediator who picks a good target market you know exactly where their target market is and they can go.

Aled: Yeah.

Tammy: So if I’m working in higher ed. and I choose a higher ed. market. I know where the National Association of College and University business officers hang out. I know the conferences they go to, I know that everyone reads “The Chronicle of Higher Ed.” I know that they go to

I know where they go, so I go there. I go there with my writing, I go there with my speaking. That’s where I go and I don’t have to pitch. I hate pitching. Personally I hate it. I don’t think many people really love it except maybe people who you know earned their original flying colours as salesmen.

Most of us don’t want to do that, but when we go to where our market is and we talk about their problems and ways they can approach their problems differently, we’re pitching without pitching, you know.

Aled: Is that one of our difficulties as a cohort, as a group of mediators, we feel almost apologetic about what we do. We feel “selling” is a dirty word. We shouldn’t really sell it because we’re helping people and it strikes me that’s part of the problem. We need to sort of . . .

Tammy: Yes, it is absolutely part of problem and I think it’s a two pronged problem. You just said both pieces of it. One prong is that we don’t want to sell, we don’t want to pitch because the activity, in our mind, is a little slimy, a little manipulative.

We view selling as what the car dealer does. Or maybe the Mad Men pitch, you know, if you’re a fan of that show. It feels slimy. I get that.

Cold calling? All of that. When I was a college VPA, I used to get cold calls. People calling me trying to sell me their services. I used to say to my assistant, “Don’t even put them through. I don’t want to hear them. Let them pitch to you, I don’t want to hear it.”

So when I went into business I thought, “I’m never going to do that because I don’t want to have that be the reaction people have to me.” There may be people out there who love that, so be it. Go for it. I think the vast majority of mediators don’t. So that’s part one. We’ve got to start thinking of marketing not as “pitching” and instead as building a relationship with the market we’re trying to reach.

Aled: Got you.

Tammy: So that’s part one. Then part two is I do think that we are . . . I meet a lot of mediators who are very apologetic. They don’t want to bother people, and they’re not very comfortable, frankly, asking.

I teach a marketing course for mediators and in each week of the course there’s a little tiny ask, that they’ve got to do, and it’s really something very minor. I have that in there because I know how challenging an asking is for folks, and I have been challenged by that.

Aled: Give me an example of the kind of ask.

Tammy: Well, here’s an ask. This isn’t mine. there’s a guy named Noah Kagan who’s in Austin, Texas here in the U.S. and he runs a software company, a fabulous software company, great website.

Aled: Appsumo.

Tammy: Appsumo exactly. He calls it “the Coffee Challenge”. When I teach a negotiation course at a college near here this is one of the assignments that I have. The Coffee Challenge is going to your coffee shop, the one that you visit regularly, and ask them for 10% off. No reason. When they say, “Why?” you can say, “No reason, it’s a sunny day.” or, “No reason.” or “I shop here a lot.” Ask for 10% off and practice doing things like that.

You’ve got to practice. Here in New England, flea-market and garage-sale season is upon us now and go bargain. If there’s a $5 price on something, offer them $2 and negotiate it from there. You’ve got to get used to asking these things because, frankly, if you can’t ask the person who mixes your coffee that you buy every day, and you chit-chat with every day, and you have a nice relationship with them. Or even easier, someone you’ve never met and you will never see again. You just walked into a random coffee shop. You can’t ask for 10% off and so you’re asking for what, 30 cents, 50 cents something in that – cents or pence.

If you can’t do that, you’ll never going to be able to ask people to buy from you as a mediator. It’s much harder to do that. So that’s about habit formation. Start off really small, baby step kinds of things. Get used to asking for those things and build up your muscle memory, your ability and your confidence to do it with the harder stuff which is,”Will you hire me?”

Aled: Okay so you teach mediators how to improve their marketing skills. It sounds like part of this programme is helping them form, cultivate, habits that they’re going to be helpful. Is that right?

Tammy: Great.

Aled: Okay.

Tammy: It’s a piece of it you know and each time I don’t often open this course very often, but when I do open it I’ve always actually add a little more to that because I’ve becoming increasingly convinced that that’s as much a part of the problem as it is anything else.

Aled: Yeah.

Tammy: You know I say to someone if they downhill ski or if they . . . well I’ll choose downhill skiing, I live in New England. I say, “Do you take a ski lesson and do you go to the top of the black-diamond slope which is the hardest ski slope in Mad River Glen in Vermont, which you know they have a bumper sticker that says, “Ski it if you can” because it’s that hard. It’s icy. It’s straight down. It’s scary. I’ve never done it. Do people do that? “No, no. Who would?” Well somebody probably does. There’s probably somebody out there who said, “I will do that.” But virtually no one who still wants all their bones in one piece will do that. You’ve got to build up to it.

It’s the sort of a thing of saying I’m hanging out a shingle. Now I’m going to go out and ask people to buy me. That’s the equivalent. It’s like people going to the top of it black diamond trail and skiing down. No. You go to the bunny slopes, you go to the little easy general, gradual slope and you build up your ability from there. Doing marketing is very much like that and you’ve got to be able to take these small incremental steps. When you do and you do them, you commit to doing them, it becomes easier.

Aled: I want to just challenge everyone watching this interview right now. Okay. If you are going to buy a cup of coffee today, later on today, tomorrow, whenever it is. Go in and ask for at least 10% off.

There we are. Fantastic. I’m feeling a little nervous just thinking about this and you know there’s little bit of . . .
Tammy: You know I teach this negotiation course and it’s to folks who are in a master’s programme to become healthcare administrators. Hospital CEOs and things like that. In this negotiation course they have to negotiate something every single week of the seven week course and it gets increasingly difficult.

I start off with something simple like the Coffee Challenge and I had this student come in one day, and everybody groans when I say that because they’re all thinking, “I can’t do that. Oh my gosh I can’t do that.” I say, “You’d better start now because they’re only going to get harder with each subsequent week.”

A student came in a couple of weeks later and she said, “I went into Bob’s” and Bob’s is a chain store with sporting goods here in the U.S. and she said, “I was buying $200 worth of merchandise for my family and it was all Red Sox merchandise.” Red Sox is a big baseball team here in the U.S., Boston, Red Sox. If you live in this region, where I live, you’d better be a Red Sox fan. She said, “I decided to try it. I went up to the counter and I said ‘Can I have 25% off this $200?'” You know what most people don’t realise is these folks at the counter have the authority, often, to make these discounts. He said, “Why should I?”

She said, “Because I watch the Red Sox game last night. Did you watch that game?” He said, “I watched the game.” She said, “They stunk, didn’t they?” and he said, “They did.” and she said so, “I’m calling it a ‘25% off, the Red Sox stunk last night discount’. Would you do that?” and he said, “Sure.”

She just couldn’t believe it, and she was off and running. She negotiated by the end of the course, she negotiated something like $12,000 off all of the new flooring that was being put in her house. I calculated at the end of the course that students had in seven weeks collectively saved about $50,000.

So you just sort of have to start and go easy, and then push the envelope a little bit.

Aled: Brilliant. I love it.

Tammy: It’s not just about money things. They’re other ways that we can ask people for favours and do things like that.

Aled: Yeah, so part of it . . . Got some feedback. So part of it is that, having the disciplines, cultivating these new habits. It sounds like it’s bit of a change in mind-set as well, that we need to have. Not just how we view the value that we can bring, the services that we provide.

I want to ask you at the end of the interview actually more about this marketing course, I’m sure people watching might want to find out a bit more about that.

I’m mindful about time Tammy and I really want to learn a bit more about your latest book “The Conflict Pivot”. Can you say a bit more about that?

Tammy: You just gave me a really great entree into it by talking about it’s a frame of mind. I think from marketing, a lot of my work is not about technique. It’s about how you think about the problem that you’re facing, and the way you think about it influences how you solve it.

So for marketing, if people think of marketing as just a bunch of techniques. “First I do this and then I do that, then I do that.” they’re not going to succeed. They have to think about it as a relationship builder with different markets.

“The Conflict Pivot” is a book about conflict in ongoing relationships. Most of the work that I do is with folks who either must, or want to, be in continued relationships. So folks who the co-owners of the business or the senior team of a hospital, or co-workers at an organisation and some couples. So folks who are going to be – either they want to be or someone’s telling them they have to be in continued relationship or they’re going to have to lose their job otherwise.

It’s about how to help people think differently about the conflicts that they face. Over the years I’ve seen mediators make – not mediators – people in conflict make some of the same mistakes over and over. So “The Conflict Pivot” is about addressing some of those mistakes and getting them out of the way, so they don’t keep continuing to make them. The idea of a pivot is very much like a sport. You know if you’re playing basketball and you pivot on one foot, you’re changing direction, to get a better success.

In business, business pivots are well known now particularly in tech startups. A pivot is the idea that you may have started a business to do this, but you’re pivoting to a direction where you see the market really – or the opportunity really is. That’s pivoting.

So it’s the same idea with “The Conflict Pivot”. I’m asking people to not do certain things that people often do in conflict, and do these other things instead.

Aled: Okay so the book is aimed at who?

Tammy: It’s aimed people who in conflict.

Aled: Okay.

Tammy: Mediators and coaches are using the book with their clients. There’s a worksheet in there that helps their clients thing through things but it’s aimed at people in conflict. That’s really my primary work, so that’s still my primary market.

Aled: Okay. All right. So let me understand this. You’re suggesting that people in a conflict tend to follow a particular pattern, is that right?

Tammy: Not so much a pattern but there were certain kinds of mistakes that people make. For example, they spend all of their time facing the past. It’s awfully hard to face forward if you’re looking back over your shoulder.

Aled: Right.

Tammy: So inevitably you’re going to fall.

Aled: Yeah.

Tammy: You’re going to trip over something and fall. So one pivot is to stop focusing on the past and to focus on the future. Sounds simple. Mediators get that instantly. But how do people [sounds like 00:48:12] do it. So that’s a chapter in the book. How do you make that pivot? What do you do that enables you to continue facing forward instead of spending all of your energy back there.

Aled: Got you okay brilliant. Is it a hard copy book, electronic book?

Tammy: You can get it hard copy or Kindle, e-book.

Aled: Right.

Tammy: Be at Amazon anywhere in the world.

Aled: Okay all right brilliant. Tell me just before you go, I want to squeeze every little bit of priceless knowledge. I’ve got a bit of a theme at the moment. I’m trying to understand, I’m trying to get a perspective of all these thought leaders from right around the world.

Where do they see the mediation field going in the next five or ten years? Where’s the big opportunity? What are the big challenges that lie ahead for us, if we want to make mediation or whatever it is, appealing to a mainstream market? There we are. Just a light hearted . . .

Tammy: I think mediation isn’t going anywhere by itself. I think conflict resolution is where it’s at. Mediation being one process for resolving conflict. So that’s really where I think people need to become conflict resolution pros. They need to care as much about resolving conflict and understanding how humans tick, and what influences behaviour. They need to care about that as much as they care about the mediation process.

Aled: Okay. So we need to develop a body of knowledge that is related to conflict resolution, conflict theory, have a real understanding of that. So we bring that kind of expertise with us?

Tammy: Yeah. People hear the word “theory”, I used to teach a theory course so I know this. My students were just like, “Oh no. Theory.” In all the mediation processes that people learn, regardless of what school, those came from somewhere. They came from theories around how people tick, in conflict, and what solves it.

So it all came out of theories for how to resolve things. I’m really interested in helping people understand that if you think of yourself as a “conflict resolver” instead of a “mediator”. Then you start becoming curious about how people tick, what changes their behaviour, how communication helps and hinders conflict. How communication influences the trajectory a conflict makes. How a third person does and does not. You start thinking more broadly around conflict and studying that, instead of just studying course after course on process.

I’m not saying process isn’t important. It’s very important that we know what we’re doing, but you cannot be a great mediator unless you’re a great conflict resolver.

Aled: Okay.

Tammy: And I think that’s the bottom line.

Aled: So mediation is dead, long live conflict-resolution professionals.

Tammy: Oh gosh. Don’t quote me. Someone will put that on a banner and burn it or something. To me it’s the conflict resolution field more than it’s the mediation field.

Aled: And that’s not what I was . . . I know that’s not what you said, yes. So conflict resolution professionals seeing us almost changing our brand in a sense. I’m getting a sense that there’s a pivot coming.

Tammy: Yeah, I think it is a pivot in some ways. It’s a pivot away from selling one process and toward becoming a problem solver for your market, and knowing them and their desires well enough, that you can reframe and repackage this discrete skills you have, into different processes, additional processes that force them not to fit you, but force you to fit them.

Aled: Brilliant.

Tammy: That’s where the opportunity is.

Aled: Yeah, and also the challenge.

Tammy: Yes, actually it’s a big challenge for trainers, to not just train process.

Aled: Okay Tammy before you jump off. This marketing course that you run. You say you don’t run it very often if you do.

Tammy: The last time I offered it was five years ago and then I opened it again this past February. Again it’s only a portion of my work so I have to kind of be careful about how often I offer this, because I just don’t have time. For folks who would like to know when it opens next, it’s all online. They can also get my articles, just for mediators and coaches, around practice building.

If they go to my website click on the thing that says “Solutions” they’ll see a solution around ADR practice building. They can sign up for that list and they’ll get those articles when I write them. Those articles don’t get published on my regular website, they can just go privately to that list. Then whenever I decide I’ll open the course next they’ll get first notice. They’ll get notice before I make it public.

Aled: Brilliant and you’re on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook?

Tammy: I am on all three although I have to say I don’t spend a huge amount of my time on social media except for fun. Facebook is purely private it’s just friends and family. Twitter I use it just to say hi to folks but I don’t use it for marketing. But I’m on Twitter @tammylenski just like my name.

Aled: Okay brilliant. So if you’re watching this interview you want find out more about Tammy, her work, her books, at the very least reach out, say thank you.

Tammy I will be the first one to do that. Thank you very much for your time I really appreciate it. Have a wonderful day and hopefully we’ll speak soon.

Tammy: Thank you so much Aled. You’re doing some really great work with what you’re putting together. I’m really impressed and I’m glad to be part of it.

Aled: Brilliant. Take care.

About the mediator

Tammy Lenski Profile Pic

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps organizations, leaders, mediators, and coaches improve their conflict resolution effectiveness. Since founding her U.S. conflict resolution firm in 1997, she’s guided thousands of organizations and individuals worldwide as a master mediator, executive coach, speaker, educator, and author. Her work today centers on “hacking” conflict resolution – tapping leading edge practices, the latest research, and her 20 y... View Mediator