What should I charge?
I've heard it more than once from fellow mediators, “I feel bad asking for money.”Some of my colleagues even want to give away their services for free. There is nothing wrong with considering the financial circumstances of a client, or even offering pro bono services to those in need, what I believe is wrong is feeling guilty for asking for payment for a valuable service.
I recently attended a one day conference held by the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation and a workshop entitled “Money and Emotions--The Ties that Bind: Issues and Interventions.” The workshop was focused on managing the strong emotions of divorcing couples as it relates to discussions and decision-making about money, but it got me thinking about mediators who feel it is wrong to charge (or charge too much) for services. My friend Beth Danhey, MA, was one of the presenters and she suggested mediators consider when working with clients what the presenting emotion is telling us about their values, “so that we can get that on the table and work with it.”
So if you are struggling with asking for money for the services you provide, I would suggest you stop and consider what you are feeling when you think about asking clients for payment. Happy, sad, scared, shameful? And what value are you placing on your service and money that might be driving the feeling? For example, if you are feeling awkward about asking for money because you believe that helping is something that should be given freely, that's a pretty big insight. Where did that come from and how does it relate to the work you are doing? Go deeper and ask yourself what money represents to you. Freedom, evil, security, power? Where did those beliefs come from?
If asking to be paid for the valuable service you provide is difficult for you, Iʼm challenging you to consider why so that you can determine for yourself what your relationship is to money and how your feelings may be blocking you from getting what you want. At the very least this exercise might help you become clearer about why you are doing or saying what you are in regard to the fees for your services. Just like our clients, when we understand why we feel the way we do and what need we are trying to fulfill through our actions, we can make conscious choices that serve our needs today.
I believe what we offer is unique and should be rewarded. Our culture needs people who are wiling to work with conflict, who are skilled at helping people sit with their feelings and make decisions and choices for themselves. Not everyone can do this work and do it well. Those who do should be compensated at a level commiserate with other professional services offered to those facing these same challenges. When we do not ask for what we are worth, we not only undermine our own sense of value, we undermine the value of mediation.