Find Mediators Near You: Featured Blogger Interview: Tammy Lenski

When and how did you get involved in dispute resolution?

I began mediating as a college dean and vice president, as a necessary part of my job. When I began to get requests for mediation help from other divisions at my institution, and then from colleagues and presidents at other institutions, I realized I might have a knack for it. I enrolled in a basic mediation course, and came home afterward saying to my husband, “Uh oh. I think I just found what I want to be doing all of the time.” A year later I quit my vice presidency and studied mediation for a year (500 hours) at Woodbury College, where I later joined the faculty. Over that year I also launched my conflict management firm and began serving clients in 1997.

When and how did you start your blog?

I began blogging in 2002, back in the blog dark ages when it was mostly teens. I think I had eight readers after a year — pretty pathetic. But I sensed that business blogging would take off and I found blogging software very useful for managing content I was creating for prospective and current clients, so I stuck with it. I used Blogger that first year, then discovered WordPress and switched immediately because I find it a superb platform for managing websites of all shapes and sizes.

A few years later I renamed my first blog Conflict Zen after I got clearer what I wanted to achieve with it. I launched my second blog, Making Mediation Your Day Job in 2005 after I started getting lots of requests from fellow dispute resolution folks for help with marketing and managing a practice in an online world.

Do you consider your blog to have a particular voice? Please describe.

I’d like to think my blog sounds like me, like the Tammy people meet in person. I think voice is really important in blogging and I think it takes a while for most bloggers (and writers of any kind) to develop their own voice. The voice I hope I convey when I blog is one that holds my readers in high regard, is informal and even lighthearted sometimes, and is one of an educator as a mediator.

My doctoral work focused on understanding behavior change and what motivates it, and both my blogs tap my interest in that area. Conflict Zen focuses on conflict engagement, negotiation and problem-solving behavioral habits, and Making Mediation Your Day Job focuses on encouraging ADR professionals to adopt more effective and leading-edge marketing and technology habits to connect with clients’ conflict and negotiation needs.

What has been most satisfying about blogging?

Blogging has helped me clarify my own thinking and ways of working, because teaching someone else and writing it out forces me to get really clear on message. It’s helped me connect with people all over the world that I never would have met without blogging — some have become good friends, and some have become clients. And to that latter point, the third most satisfying thing about blogging has been its success in giving prospective clients in my markets a way to sample who I am and how I think and work; it’s become one of my primary marketing activities. I wrote my first novel (all of 14 pages) when I was five, so it’s probably worth noting that blogging also gives me an outlet for continuing my love affair with writing.

What has been most frustrating with blogging?

There is the occasional troll, so called because they try to hide their identities and leave deliberately nasty, caustic, even threatening comments. Anyone who’s blogged successfully for any period of time has encountered a troll or two; it’s just part of the territory. But day to day, there’s little frustration and that’s why I’m still at it eight years later.

How about, most embarrassing?

I sat here for 5 minutes trying to come up with something for this, but nothing is coming to mind. That said, I’m not immune, so there’s bound to be a foot-in-mouth moment at some point!

Do you think blogging has contributed to the growth of mediation? If so, how?

Yes and no. Yes, in that experienced, talented mediators putting reputable content on the web for consumption by the public helps create a more informed public and helps make mediation a bit more up close and personal for them. And yes, in that I’ve always believed that more good work for any good mediator ultimately leads to more work for all mediators because satisfied clients help spread the word about the benefits of mediation. But I think a lot of ADR blogs offer content that’s most enjoyed and understood by other mediators and not necessarily the public; in that respect my sense is that ADR blogs taken en masse don’t yet tap their full potential for growing the field.

How do you see mediation evolving?

Let me just boot up my crystal ball and we’ll see in a few years how well it functioned. Here are three predictions:

1. Five years ago I said to one of my mediation grad classes that we’d all be sending our holograms to mediations all over the world in 5 years. Oops, just a tad premature. But I believe within the decade we’ll be bending time and space in ways that make our current conversations about technology seem very quaint in retrospect.

2. I think the legal world will usurp the word “mediation” and convert its meaning, to the public’s understanding, to one or two specific processes associated with addressing litigation. In response, those of us who don’t practice those approaches and mediate the other 98% of conflict out there will coin a new term to differentiate the value we offer the public.

3. Certification will gain momentum. I’ve written that many mediators who call themselves certified are actually “certificated’; they attended a training and received a certificate of attendance. I think that national and international associations will ultimately organize a way to help assure the public that someone calling themselves a certified mediator (a) is and (b) has a certain level of credible training and experience regardless of profession of origin. Organizations like are leading the credibility-building charge and I suspect professional associations will begin to step up as well.

What advice would you give a fellow mediator who is considering blogging?

You should enjoy writing at least a bit, of course. And I like to talk about four blogging pillars to keep in mind:

1. Don’t be a vanilla blogger. There’s plenty of general mediation and conflict resolution advice already on the ‘net and there’s little benefit to you or your readers from repeating it. Find a unique angle and own it.

2. Be yourself. If you’re blogging for business, prospective clients who meet you will expect the person they met on the blog — prevent cognitive dissonance by blogging with a voice that is uniquely your own. And trying to sound like everyone else is, well, boring.

3. Commit, commit, commit. Most blogs are abandoned within three months of startup. If you’re blogging for business, commit for the long haul, just as with any other marketing strategy you choose. It can take well over a year to build an audience for what you’re offering.

4. Be willing to evolve. I recently read in the Harvard Business Review that more data was generated by individuals in 2009 than in the entire history of mankind through 2008. Yowza! This means that content-generation will have to evolve because the public just can’t keep up with all the noise. They’ll look for the signals instead — chunks of information in the format they want it when they want it. I don’t know what that will translate into yet but I’m watching the evolution and I think anyone who wants to generate content (information) to benefit the world and their own practices needs to be prepared to evolve as blogging evolves or is replaced by something else.

Thanks for inviting me to think out loud about these questions!


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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