If we can't solve a conflict, we tend to give up or hire a lawyer. There can be a better way: A mediator can often help resolve a dispute less expensively and with less conflict, whether it's a divorce, a discrimination claim, or the parent of a special-education student demanding more services from a school.
Mediators don't decide who's right. They guide a discussion so the disputants can more wisely reach agreement and move on with their lives. Most mediators love their work, helping people beat their swords into plowshares.
The problem is that there are more mediators than mediation jobs. In part, this is because the barriers to entry are so low—most mediators are required only to complete a 30-to-40-hour training course.
The oversupply means that most mediators do not earn a middle-class income for one to five years. And even to do that, a mediator must embrace marketing by establishing a niche—disputes among postal workers, people of different races, parents and teens, or even participants in the online world Second Life. Until mediators develop a reputation, they must schmooze with potential referral sources, write articles or give talks on mediation, and find well-connected champions willing to recommend them.
Nevertheless, if you have the gift of establishing trust, generating creative solutions, calming angry disputants, staying calm amid ambiguity and dissembling, and are willing and able to market yourself, mediation can be a win-win career for both you and your clients.
Most mediators charge between $100 and $250 an hour but need to supplement the work with other employment to end up with a middle-class annual income. Jim Melamed, CEO of Mediate.com, estimates that there are 10,000 mediators earning around $50,000 a year from their mediation. A larger number earn less.
There are many styles of mediation, each of which will be valuable in a particular situation. You'll want significant exposure to as many as possible. So take two or more of the 30-to-40-hour comprehensive mediation trainings. A list is at www.mediate.com/training.
Family and divorce mediators will want to take a training approved by the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACRnet.org).
You can get brief exposure to top mediators' styles by attending workshops at the Association for Conflict Resolution Conference and the American Bar Association Section for Dispute Resolution Conference. There are also a wide range of state and regional conferences, which you can check at Mediate.com/calendar.
- Mediation Information (Mediate.com).
- Google "mediator" and explore practitioners' websites.
- Improvisational Negotiation: A Mediator's Stories of Conflict About Love, Money, Anger and the Strategies That Resolved Them by Jeffrey Krivis
- The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict by Chris Moore
- Mediation Career Guide: A Strategic Approach to Building a Successful Practice by Forrest Mosten
- How To Make Money as a Mediator (And Create Value for Everyone): 30 Top Mediators Share Secrets to Building a Successful Practice by Jeffrey Krivis and Naomi Lucks