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Mediation at TOP OF MIND

You may quote me on this: Mediation needs to get closer to a ‘top of mind’ status with consumers if we are to accelerate the development of our profession and to accomplish more positive effect, sooner than later, in service to our culture. To do that, we need to invest ourselves in the marketing of our profession and more broadly and thoroughly deliver the message about the alternatives for conflict resolution we bring to the market places we serve.

Some mediation practitioners may conjure up visions of unpleasant excesses and stigma with the mention of marketing in conjunction with mediation. Marketing and mediation may represent a combination to some mediators like the mixing of oil and water: crass commercialism does not mix well with what I feel are some of the nobler aspects of our practice. I empathize with those unsavory associations but urge readers to set aside such feelings for the further consideration of the proposition that follows. Vinegar and oil don’t mix either but their combination on a salad is delightful so hear me out please.

‘Top of mind’ is a marketing expression that relates to the presence in the minds of consumers, or prospective consumers, of a product or service. I am discussing this concept in direct relation to how mediation places in the minds of our prospective consumers, and especially relative to, or compared with, how close to ‘top of mind’ other conflict resolution options place in the consumer consciousness. I think we all need to agree that mediation is not yet at the top of the consumer’s stack of options when confronting conflict. It will take a lot more work and investment for us to get mediation closer to the top of consumer’s minds.

There are differences of opinion on this matter in our profession. Consider how there are some mediators, for example, who are willing to only spend $5 per year, or nothing at all, to pay for professional credentialing. That’s what the results of the recent (2004?) credentialing survey indicated. That’s not what’s needed to elevate mediation as a profession into a top-of-mind frame with consumers. I am not on that same ‘bus’ as people who think like that, and I will happily find another ‘bus’ to take where I need to go if I am in the minority with this point of view. I acknowledge that we have a very large professional ‘tent,’ and how we need to respect the interests of as many practitioners as possible – but that is material for another editorial. Let’s get back to mediation at the top-of-mind.

In relation to mediation, ‘top of mind’ describes how when a consumer finds herself in a conflict, or ideally before she gets into one, she would immediately think of mediation as a method of possible route to resolution: Mediation comes to the top of her mind. In a ‘top of mind’ position consumers think about a particular product or service as a first resort. We need to get our profession to a place in the conflict resolution market where prospective consumers think of mediation first, the same way as any of us would think of a plumber in relation to a broken water pipe or a mechanic in relation to a non-operational car. The plumber and the mechanic are in a ‘top of mind’ status when consumers are in the kind of situations that present those sorts of needs. As the practitioners of the mediation process, we need to get the mediation option closer to people’s ‘top of mind’ when they think of conflict.

Here are some thoughts that drive me to speak in such imperative terms. Each day there are untold numbers of people and organizations that become party to conflict. Whether by choice, accident, ignorance, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time they are party to a conflict. Currently, in our culture, when people perceive they are in a conflict, many immediately want to sue their opposition vengefully and punitively. While litigation may certainly be the best route of approach to resolving a conflict in some cases, it is too often the only choice the prospect knows of in the conflict resolution marketplace simply because they are unaware of other viable choices. There are many choices, and blends of choices, that may stand to serve their net self interest far better than conventional adversarial litigation. If consumers can’t compare the aspects of several options, they can’t make choices that serve their self interest more advantageously. We need to make them aware of alternative choices they have so they can choose. We need to market mediation more aggressively.

Does the combination of the seemingly philosophically opposing concepts of mediation and marketing stand up in your mind any better now? Does it seem less un-savory? I hope it does.

Considering our apparently predominant cultural knee-jerk preference towards an adversarial and hostile approach to a conflict situation, and how our conventional systems of conflict management so often only exacerbate those destructive tendencies, it is important that we evangelize to the public about the alternative opportunities available. If consumers are not made aware that there are viable alternative choices available to them, they will likely never select an alternative option that might be far better for them.

Simply put: there is a lot of pain and expense created each day in our world by conflict and how it is managed. Some of this waste can be reduced substantially by expanding public awareness of mediation. Increasing societal awareness to alternative options of conflict management requires rethinking of some predominant cultural norms and concepts. Predominant concepts which might be entirely appropriate in some situations, but which are often miss-applied and over-used simply due to lack of awareness of other options.

We mediation practitioners have a professional obligation, an imperative, to popularize the more constructive, collaborative conflict resolution alternatives that are available to consumers in conflict. It is incumbent upon our profession to help escalate these options to the top of the consumer mind; to the top of their awareness.

It is the evidentially prevailing ignorance of the viable alternative choices of conflict resolution techniques available that leaves many consumers to conventionally sally forth into conflict with guns blazing, taking no prisoners, and leaving only scorched earth behind them. If consumers don’t know there are choices available, they have no chance of choosing a more optimal response to their particular situation. Fuller knowledge of the breadth of choices the conflict resolution continuum offers needs to be more widely known in the marketplace so that consumers have the chance to choose from an informed perspective. It is up to us to get those choices out there before them and to establish them more predominantly in their awareness.

Who are the prospective consumers of alternative conflict management services, particularly mediation? Any person, recognized entity, or group of entities that have a conflict with any other entity, who are unable to resolve their differences themselves directly, may be defined as a prospective consumer of conflict resolution services. This includes individuals, corporations, organizations, divisions within organizations, etc.

The aggressive use of marketing to advance and promote mediation into a more common top-of-mind frame with a broader range of prospective consumers is absolutely required by our profession. This is far more than just a bald-faced initiative designed to generate more work for mediation practitioners. This ‘top-of-mind’ approach, or something with the same effect, is almost a social obligation or responsibility of our profession. Look up any profession in the yellow-pages. Each has brought with it their own particular version of societal benefit with it as they advanced their own professional interests and made their livings. It is time for mediators to do the same thing in our own way; to get mediation into a ‘top of mind’ frame with prospective consumers.


Tom Oswald

Tom Oswald is a civil/commercial mediator and conflict consultant from Boston. He practices both domestically and internationally and has been employed as a civil case court mediator.  Professional publishing includes editing the Commercial Section for, several pieces in various Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) publications, and others. He has… MORE >

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