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Frequently Asked Mediation Career And Business Questions…And Some Answers

by Tammy Lenski
November 2009

From the Mediator Tech blog of Tammy Lenski.

Tammy Lenski

I receive certain questions regularly via email, so thought I’d post answers here to save some of you the time inquiring. If you have questions I haven’t addressed here, please do leave a comment at the foot of this post and I’ll do what I can to answer them there!

What was your career path?
How can I get into the mediation field?
Can someone with my background become a mediator?
How do I know if I’d be a good mediator?
What mediation certificate and grad programs do you recommend?
What mediation trainers do you recommend?
How do I get certified?
How much should I charge / how much do you charge?
I bought and read your book. Can you give me some feedback and advice?

What was your career path?

I began mediating when I was a dean of students and faculty member at a private women’s college, as a necessary part of my work. I’d earned an undergrad degree in world literature (Middlebury College) and master’s and doctoral degrees in higher ed leadership (The University of Vermont). My dissertation work focused on human behavior change.

As I started to get more requests for help from other sectors of the campus and the president, then from other institutions, I realized I had a knack for conflict resolution and decided to take a course in mediation. That basic mediation course ultimately led to me resigning what was by then a vice presidency, enrolling full-time in a year-long, 500-hour post-bac certificate in mediation and conflict management, and using that year also to begin building my private practice.

I launched my full-time private practice in 1997 and later became a core faculty member and curriculum designer in Woodbury College’s nationally recognized graduate program in Mediation & Applied Conflict Studies. I have guest-lectured on mediation, negotiation, conflict resolution and mediation marketing at other institutions, including UMass Boston’s doctoral program in higher education, a non-credit course for UConn, and, in spring 2010, Lipscomb University.

How can I get into the mediation field?

  • Get really good training. Skip the trainers that primarily teach via lecture and demo — mediation isn’t a spectator sport. When you see a good mediator at work it looks simple. That’s because they’re good. It’s an entirely different story to have something useful come out of your own mouth in the heat of the moment. Choose trainers who have been and remain successful practitioners, and who teach with roleplays and real engagement. If you have to travel a bit to get better training, go as far as you need to and your wallet will allow. Poorly prepared mediators drag the entire field down.
  • Get more than 40 hours. A lot more. I’m unapologetic in my belief that really good mediators need more than a workweek of instruction. I’ve taught and trained mediators from every imaginable background for over a decade and few can mediate their way out of a cardboard box in 40 hours or less. That includes you, too, attorneys. They don’t call it basic mediation for nothing.
  • Stop relying on panels and rosters to build a practice. I wrote a lot more about this in my book, so I’ll leave it this way here: Rosters pay pathetically and don’t have nearly the number of cases needed to sustain all the mediators who want a piece of the pie. Rosters are a lazy marketer’s crutch (gee, I must have been in a particularly snarky mood when I wrote this section).
  • Start thinking of yourself as a businessperson as well as a mediator. You’ll need to be both to make a living at it unless you’re a trust fund baby.
  • Look for under-served markets and places where there’s demand for people with good human relations, conflict engagement and problem-solving skills. Stop selling a single process and start unbundling and rebundling your skills in new ways. I say much more about this in the book, too.

Can someone with my background become a mediator?

Yes. How do I know this globally, without knowing your particular background? Because I’ve trained thousands of mediators at the basic, advanced and master’s level and I’ve seen terrific mediators who started professional life as horse trainers, realtors, anesthesiologists, builders, teachers and moms. I’ve seen terrific mediators whose profession of origin was counselor and attorney; I’ve seen some truly awful mediators who hail from those two professions, too.

While the flooding of attorneys into the mediation field is signaling to the public that the most common or acceptable background for a mediator is a legal degree, neither of those is true. It’s not about what you did before and in some cases, what you did before will blind you to what you don’t know or don’t do well yet.

How do I know if I’d be a good mediator?

Sometimes co-workers, family and friends will help wake you to your potential skill as conflict resolutionary. I think the best way is to take a basic mediation course, particularly the kind I describe below, and then ask your instructor for honest feedback. If you’re taking a course from a credible instructor, and not one whose primary drive is to get you to enroll in more trainings, then this will be helpful, objective feedback. If you’ve got good potential, happy day! If you stink at it, yes, that’ll be painful to hear, but less painful than investing thousands of dollars and three years of your life to find out others aren’t captivated by your skill.

Mediators, like people in other fields, come in all temperaments and with myriad different talents.

What mediation certificate and grad programs do you recommend?

I can comment on two programs with which I am familiar. I am sure there are other fine programs out there but I’ll restrict my opinions to those with which I have direct experience as a professor or guest. Both offer both certificates and master’s programs.

For a list of some other program out there, check out’s Academic Program list.

What mediation trainers do you recommend?

You mean other than the trainings I offer periodically? :) If you’d like to know each time I announce a training, I recommend you subscribe to my blog. If you want a basic mediation training and don’t want to wait ’til I offer one, either tell me you want one now, dammit or head to Woodbury’s Basic Mediation Workshop — they do a top-notch one and I occasionally still co-teach it.

How do I get certified?

Here’s a post I wrote on mediator certification. I was feeling particularly New York blunt that day.

How much should I charge / how much do you charge?

Here’s a post I wrote about setting your mediation fee, with a link to help you calculate your overhead costs if you’re new to private practice or haven’t yet had the chance to tally those.

What I charge isn’t going to help you determine what you charge because I’ve been in the field successfully for quite a while and probably don’t have the same market you do. Sorry, telling you would just be feeding your voyeurism. ;)

I bought and read your book. Can you give me some feedback on my business/marketing/service idea/plan/problem?

It’s always a treat to hear from folks who’ve read my book and are working to bring their passion for ADR to fruition as a business. And therein lies my dilemma, as I wish I had the time to reply in detail to each of you who so kindly takes the time to write because I want good mediators to get more work. But I have to decline because I can’t offer free consulting help or I’d be doing this 40 hours a week. Thanks for understanding.

Best to you,


Dr. Tammy Lenski helps people resolve conflict in ongoing business and personal relationships and bring their "A" game to difficult conversations. Since founding her NH-based conflict resolution firm Myriaccord LLC in 1997, Tammy has worked with individuals and organizations worldwide as a master mediator, executive coach, speaker, and educator. Author of the award-winning book, Making Mediation Your Day Job, she recently received the Association for Conflict Resolution’s prestigious Mary Parker Follett award for innovative and pioneering work in her field. Her second book, The Conflict Pivot, was released in 2014.


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