Conflict resolution and peacebuilding includes not only global work, but also domestic career pathways. In the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia), there is a tendency to assume that everyone who is interested in conflict and peace issues is looking for NGO, foreign affairs, and international policy careers. That is not the case. Professionals working on local issues of violence, disagreement, and polarization are more important today than ever before!
Early in my career I was a family mediator (and also worked in community mediation, which I still do on occassion), so I am always interested in those who are trying to make a difference in their own local communities. Last night, I attended the summer quarterly meeting of the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution, which is a practitioner association of those working mostly in private settings as mediators. The focus of the meeting was on “Building Your Professional Practice,” an important issue for those trying to make a go of it as a full-time (or part-time) paid conflict resolver.
The panel was moderated by Barry Weisman, who is the treasurer of MCDR and not a lawyer (I point that out, because many domestic mediators have law degrees). His work focuses on advising and mediating those going through divorce and separation. Starting off the discussion, he focused on the importance of marketing for mediators. For him, the starting point is taking a personal inventory: who are you, what are you wanting to do, what are your strengths. He emphasized the need to match strengths with the conflict and clients. He talked about the Four Personality Types as a way of understanding potential clients: mediators need to match their own style with those of the clients.
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Barry also discussed the importance of marketing materials including business cards and brochures. A website presence is also important including an up-to-date LinkedIn profile.
The next panelist was Charles Franklin who is president of Franklin Technical Services, LLC . Charles is an engineer who mediates. He emphasized the importance of networking. Keeping curiosity alive will thrust you into new spaces and with new audiences that we benefit from mediation and conflict intervention approaches. He also talked about mentorship and bringing younger professionals into the field: a point that I also emphasis in my work. The more diverse your network, the better, he felt.
Harold Cohen is the past president of MCDR and a mediator. He has a PhD and is a board-certified healthcare management. Harold has extensive experience in the field of emergency response and is a nationally registered paramedic. He works closely with the Executive Fire Officer Program in Emmittsburg, MD. This was of interest to me because of my work with the Forage Center. Harold also emphasized networking and being part of communities of professionals. He stressed that one should expect it to take from 3-5 years to build a practice.
Bob Morgan, the only lawyer on the panel, recently concluded his career as a litigator and is moving to mediation. He is still learning, and was thankful for the professionals on the panel and organizations like MCDR. He was disappointed in that promised referrals from colleagues did not happen, but recognizes that it is hard work building a practice. He shared his business card to show how one might create a tagline emphasizing mediation: his is “achieving resolution.”
Finally, Heather Fogg shared her thoughts and ideas. She is the quality assistance director of the Maryland Program for Mediator Excellence (MPME). Trained as a psychologist, she emphasized that mediators need to play to their strengths and be self-aware particularly of where one needs to grow. MPME is a resource for mediators and allows practitioners to be part of a greater community.
A few questions followed the presentations asking about definitions and practice limits. The biggest take away for me was the importance of networks and matching skills and abilities to the task. Panelists agreed that finding one’s niche is important then marketing it to the right audience the key to success.
David J. Smith is a career coach and author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). He was works with those just starting in the field including recent grads, as well as older professionals looking to make a career change. David is based in Rockville, MD and can be reached at email@example.com.