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Success Leaves Clues: Gini Nelson

Success Leaves Clues is my occasional series of interviews with interesting ADR professionals who have effectively navigated the intersection of technology use and ADR practice-building.

Gini Nelson and I re-connected a few weeks ago and agreed to exchange interviews, and I’m delighted she’s agreed to be profiled for this series. I first met Gini in person a few years ago at the Minneapolis ACR, when I attended a terrific workshop she lead on the neuroscience of conflict. I’d been teaching a grad course for years that integrated that topic into the course and was curious what Gini might add to my thinking about it. She was a dynamic presenter with good content and I’ve followed her blog and newsletters ever since.

Gini’s an active user of the web, as you’ll see in her interview below. She blogs at Engaging Conflicts, offers self-assessment tools at My Working It Out, and maintains a site for her law and ADR practice at NM Legal & Mediation Services. It seems that whenever there’s a cool group of mediators doing something together, Gini’s there! That says something about her activity level and smarts, and something also about how highly others think of her.

Tammy: Gini, what’s been your most successful strategy for building your own ADR practice and why do you think it was effective for you?

Gini: Tammy, let me first thank you for the work you do helping mediators and other conflict specialists better use business approaches in their practices. In my Engaging Conflicts Today interviews I ask professionals what they think the biggest crises are in the field. I think economic survival concerns underlie many of the problems. You help individual practitioners build better businesses and that’s helpful for all and necessary for many.

Now to your question: Hands down, my blog, Engaging Conflicts, and its private subscription newsletter Engaging Conflicts Today. I live in a smaller city (Santa Fe, NM) and it’s hard to find locally a critical mass of people at any one time who share my particular interests and questions. Blogging affords me a global pool in which to find people to talk with. But a blog doesn’t permit you to reach out to specific people. I started the newsletter out of a very selfish reason — it lets me approach anyone I’m interested in talking to who otherwise has no reason to know who I am or care. It’s a delightfully affirming experience — most people are very generous when you ask them nicely to share a little bit of themselves.

Tammy: Have you had a business misstep and if so, what did you learn from it?

Gini: My biggest business misstep was quitting my day job as a practicing attorney with my own law office to develop what has now become my non-law business, Engaging Conflicts, LLC. I did not know much about how to grow such a business, and I spent the first years learning the hard way — spending down my savings and not making any money. In other words, I developed it not as a business, but, rather, as a passion. I justified it because I knew I could return to my day job as a private practice attorney and again earn professional-level fees. It was a misstep because it demonstrated my ignorance about business success and naivete about what it takes to find and keep clients for something that is voluntary (as contrasted with, e.g., use of an attorney in a bankruptcy). I couldn’t afford it; I did it anyway. Even with Engaging Conflicts, LLC now established, I have returned to and maintain my law practice. Economic “success” as a conflict specialist is hard for most practitioners, I think, and I am no exception. Engaging Conflicts remains my passion.

Tammy: How have you leveraged technology in your ADR practice?

Gini: Beyond Engaging Conflicts and Engaging Conflicts Today, I emphasize use of technology for basic office setup and management. I use Skype, GrandCentral, and MaxEmail for most telecommunications; Gmail and Google apps, such as Calendar and Documents; and am developing more skills with online conferencing and all forms of distance dispute resolution.

Tammy: What technology do you find most essential to managing your day-to-day work and why?

Gini: Really, as I stated above. They are effective tools and keep my office overhead low. Because they are largely web-based, they also are available to me from any computer, whether it’s my laptop in the living room during morning coffee (instead of at my desk), or when I’m traveling.

Tammy: What three online resources would you recommend to your fellow ADR professionals?

Gini: Please permit me to emphasis just one, but it’s a big one. Overall, I believe ease of use of what the internet offers for professional, business and personal development. This is the theme of my online media workshop, Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs, Oh My! I’ve presented it at the Association for Conflict Resolution conference in Phoenix (2007), as well as at both the New Mexico Mediation Association and the New Mexico Bar Association conferences.

Tammy: And do you have a favorite book to recommend?

Gini: Because I believe it’s important to get the concept first (and then get the tools), I recommend Beyond Neutrality: Confronting the Crisis in Conflict Resolution by Bernard S. Mayer. It’s not a new book (2004) and it’s not explicitly “business,” but it explicitly discusses what I have displayed over my computer monitor as my #1 business reminder: “It’s the client, stupid!”

Tammy: I’m a big fan of Bernie’s book too and want to echo your recommendation. In fact, his book was one of the reasons I wrote mine. Given your own experiencing building your ADR practice, and your interest in Bernie’s book, what do you think it’s most important for mediators who want successful private practices to know?

Gini: To first know themselves, then to really know that others are different (in healthy ways), and to then know how to work with those who are different. This goes back to that first business maxim: “It’s the client, stupid!” What happens if we assume that how we see the world is the only or best way, and don’t truly accept that others legitimately see the world quite differently? We won’t understand what others mean as well, we won’t be understood as well, and we won’t be as effective in our practices, because we won’t be able to be “protean” in the ways Peter Adler and Robert Benjamin so persuasively and entertainingly espouse. While there are many lenses through which to view ourselves and others, one of my favorites is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I was so impressed by its practical applications that I became a qualified administrator of it and recommend its use in my practice.

Tammy: Gini, I knew when I first met you that you were a kindred spirit. I’ve been a certified MBTI administrator for about 20 years and occasionally still use it with clients. Twenty years ago people still looked at you oddly if you said something like “ENFP” …today, clients often tell me their styles up front! I look forward to following your new series.

Thanks so much for exchanging interviews with me and giving me a chance to re-connect with you, Gini. I admire your work and encourage others to follow what you’re up to.


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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