Saturday, July 29, 2006

Don't sell yourself short: why fair compensation should matter to mediators

Fair compensation for mediators"If you do it for money, then you're cheapening something special and meaningful that should only be done for love, out of the caring in your heart."

Does that statement refer to

1) Sex
2) Raising dairy cattle
3) Cultivating cymbidium orchids
4) None of the above

If you chose 4), None of the above, you'd be right.

Believe it or not, what that statement actually refers to is mediation.

It was precisely what a volunteer community mediator said to me one long ago day when I mentioned to them my plans to go forward with a full-time mediation practice. "How are you going to support yourself?" they asked. I was puzzled for a moment, and then I replied, "Well, I'm not providing mediation services for free. I'm charging for them." This was greeted at first with an appalled silence, and then, moments later, by those words this post began with.

The work mediators do is undeniably valuable. Mediators boldly go where angels fear to tread--right into the very heart of conflict. And, like intrepid guides, we are able to lead disputants to level ground. We help people achieve resolution and overcome their differences, even in the face of seemingly intractable conflict. We give them tools to improve their critical relationships, be they personal or professional.

As incredible as it sounds, there are still those within the mediation community, as well as those outside it who benefit the most from mediation’s advantages, who devalue the work of mediators.

Two dispute resolution professionals have written passionately and eloquently on behalf of underpaid mediators everywhere. Begin with Charles Parselle's article from the most recent Mediate.com newsletter , "L.A.'s Policy Of Free Mediation Benefits Everybody But Mediator". Then visit Mediation Mensch, published by ADR entrepreneur Dina Beach Lynch, who has written several articles exploring this issue: "Pay for Mediators Threatens Status Quo," "Pro Bono NOT Volunteering," and "Pro Bono Strategies for Mediators".

We all need to ask ourselves: how do we value ourselves and the services we provide as mediators? Are we inadvertently devaluing our own worth? And what are we individually and collectively doing to increase or depreciate the value of the work we do? Mediators, you have nothing to lose but your chains.