25 and Counting: Company Formation

Posted on: January 29th, 2024

To celebrate our 25th Anniversary this year, we sit down with Founder, Dr Mike Talbot, to look back at some of the key moments in UK Mediation's history.

First up, the formation of the company back in May 1999...

1. What were you doing before starting UK Mediation?

Dr Mike Talbot: I had worked for a number of years as a psychotherapist, trainer, trauma debriefer, and organisational consultant. I had a busy psychotherapy clinical practice, I did freelance work helping people recover from the after-effects of being caught in life-threatening incidents and accidents, and I consulted to a number of organisations on stress management, counselling skills, and work design.

2. What got you interested in working with conflict?

MT: I was often coming across interpersonal conflict and trauma in the stories of various clients I was working with throughout the 1990s. A lot of therapy clients were involved in some form of conflict; I could see that people in organisations who reported being bullied or harassed were in effect getting traumatised, and there was certainly an element of conflict in many organisational situations where people’s stress levels were high.

So, my interest was piqued by what I saw as the relationship between conflict, psychological health, and trauma. My many sessions with people in distress began to veer towards how to better manage interpersonal conflict: not just what people could do for themselves to communicate more assertively and to head off disputes, but also what organisations could do to support employees who found themselves coming into conflict with others.           

3. What was the inspiration for starting UK Mediation?

MT: The big ‘A-Ha!’ moment for me was when I undertook my first mediation training around 1995. This was specifically for community and neighbourhood mediation, and straight after it, I looked for work as a community & neighbourhood mediator. I found some voluntary work with a non-profit service in the West Midlands, near to where I lived at the time, and joined the team of mediators there. I stayed as a volunteer for a couple of years and, given the intensity and history of some of the disputes we had to work with, I learned a lot!

Around that time, community mediation services were being funded by money from the National Lottery, and because that funding was time-limited, services also had to start to look at how they could branch out into chargeable mediation. So workplace mediation came on the radar and it was at that point I thought, ‘Hold on, there’s something in this!’ I could see how so much of what I knew and practised as a therapist could be transferred into working with conflict, and how the established model of neighbourhood mediation could so easily be transferred into something that would also work with workplace disputes, grievance-type issues, and instances of communication breakdown.

I began UK Mediation in May 1999, at that time calling it ‘Midlands Mediation’, but quickly realising the potential and making it more national than regional. And that’s how we began!

4. What were your hopes/expectations for the company?

MT: Luckily, I had already opened doors with the organisations I had so far been working with, and they were welcoming of the idea that we could take what I was already doing and build it into a mediation process that could form part of a bigger dispute resolution strategy. There were certainly hurdles to overcome but, ultimately, I could see that was I was doing was very scalable. My hope was that I would be able to develop a mediation model that would carry much more of a psychological insight into conflict.

The expectation around that time was that I could market workplace and other types of mediation through UK Mediation and get involved with dozens more organisations than the few I had started with. I felt like something big was getting off the ground.