How to negotiate your way to the finals
How to negotiate your way to the finals
by Omar Karam*
I had the privilege of participating in the first edition of CDRC Vienna as a negotiator from Saint Joseph University, Beirut. CDRC was one of the most intense and fascinating experiences I have ever had. Every aspect of the competition was enriching and valuable.
The purpose of this article is to provide future participants with an insight and give some advice to everyone who will be participating in the coming years. As one of the negotiators of the finals I would like to share with you what I have learned to be essential throughout the entire process, from the first day we started working on our case, to negotiating our way through the 7 rounds of the competition into the finals, to the last party we had in Vienna to celebrate the end of an amazing competition.
To keep it lucid, I have divided my tips into two main categories: pre-Vienna and Vienna.
The competition requires a lot of preparation. The case is usually very complex. There are many loopholes from both the claimant and the respondents’ side. And as you can tell from your ongoing preparations, a lot is going on between the parties; there are a lot of details, and a lot of events occurring.
My first tip is that you do your homework thoroughly. You need to know every detail. You can’t afford being caught unawares by your opponents during a session, talking about something you didn’t know had happened between the parties (unless it is confidential information of course). Knowing everything gives you strong leverage, because then you would be better prepared and you’d be able to use your solid knowledge of the case’s events to counter your opponents.
If you are well prepared, no argument is a new argument (even if it’s an argument that you’ve never heard or thought of). Strategies may vary, of course, but if you have worked well on your case, no argument can or will surprise you. Any argument coming from your opponents would already be expected, and you wouldn’t get caught off-guard.
During your preparations, train as much as possible by doing mock sessions. In my point of view, this is the most critical and important part of your preparation process. It’s the only way to evaluate and benchmark your performance; to truly make sure that you are ready or not; to check whether you sound coherent or not; to assess whether you can truly express your thoughts and communicate them clearly. A mock session allows you to put your knowledge, your information, your arguments, and your strategy into practice and allows you to confront them to those of your opponents. Mock sessions allow you to determine what to expect from a session in Vienna, and most importantly, mock sessions allow you to better understand your teammates. You will never truly know and understand your teammates unless you are all put under pressure, training together, working on your teamwork skills. There will be disagreements and some criticisms, trust me on this one. But, in the end, it’s going to bring you closer to each other and make you all one formidable team.
One of the most important aspects of the whole training and preparation process, is to use all the time you need in order to build a strong relationship with your team members: the coach and the other mediator or negotiators. This is a very crucial element if you plan to win this competition, which I suppose you do. For a negotiator, teamwork is everything in this competition. If you’re able to form one solid front during your sessions, you make it much harder for your opponents to breach your strategy and push you to where they want you to be.
To tell you a bit about the different roles, the client needs to be able to express his or her anger, distrust, and frustration, while his or her counsel needs to be able to protect the client, ensuring his or her interests are fulfilled and preserved. Good luck pulling this off without a good coordinated strong team! Again, work on your team spirit. Mayssa Khattar and I formed a beautiful duo, thanks to the support of our excellent mediator and our amazing coaches. We were all one, we were all working together, and we were all helping each other. This was our biggest strength. During the sessions, Mayssa and I were always on the same page. For instance, if one of us said something that could be used against us, we were so well connected that the other would immediately intervene in a smooth way, and turn the situation to our own advantage.
The preparations, as much as you work hard on them, are nothing compared to the actual competition. All the real thrill begins as soon as you land in Vienna, because this is where it all starts!
There are too many factors to be taken into consideration during the sessions and I just can’t say what would be right and what would be wrong. Every session is different from the other. Every team has its own strategy; every team has a different culture, a different negotiation tactic.
To me, what made the competition so thrilling and amazing was the confidential information. It can change everything, literally! All the preparations you did, all the arguments you had, all the strategy you had designed, may drastically change due to the confidential information you receive. This is no reason to worry though. The fact that you are so well prepared allows you to easily change and adapt yourself to the new situation at hand. You’ll be able to selectively use the information you already have and match it with your new information.
At the expense of sounding contradictory, it is also crucial during the competition that you let go of your homework. Yes, sometimes you need to let go of the things you’ve worked on for weeks and months so that you can be more flexible with your strategies. If you do not do so, it can sometimes turn against you. You might find it tempting to lay down an argument that doesn’t necessarily “fit” in the conversation you’re having. Even if you have an argument in mind, and you have a clear chance to say it, sometimes, it’s better not to do so. Let the conversation flow and do not hold the negotiation back. You do want to achieve your interests but sometimes, pulling off an argument, even if it’s the best one you’ve ever had, at the wrong time is nothing but a bad move.
Besides, the confidential information can, to a certain extent, make all of your arguments invalid. This is also why you need to be able to let go of what you’ve worked on, and be flexible to the given situation. You do not need to worry about that because, and again, if you’ve worked hard and understood the situation well enough, you wouldn’t need a readymade argument to tackle a difficult scenario. You’ll be able to come up with a new one on the spot.
One important thing that helped me the most during every session was active listening. Never ever stop listening to what your opponents are saying. Don’t lose a single word. Firstly, because you will need to answer once they’re done. And secondly, because when they are talking, you are gathering information; answering your question; or expressing their thoughts and telling you what they want. Even when they ask you a question, it can give you an insight on what’s going on in their mind. Why are they asking me that? Why do they want to know? If you listen carefully to what they’re saying, you’ll be able to catch something that will take you much further in the conversation.
What I also found to be very important was to respect your opponents’ culture and strategy. For example, if they’re friendly and like to talk a little before hitting the core issues, don’t immediately oppose them. Go along with them, show them that you are trying to share their vision and that you respect their culture. However, I’m not saying that you should let them talk for 30 minutes about their families and hobbies, but that you should give the time to your opponents and to yourself to set the stage for good communication between everyone. This way, it will be much easier to gently lead them to where you want them to be, as you have managed a fertile ground for furthering the conversations to follow. Otherwise, it will be an arm wrestling match between all of you, with every side trying to impose their own negotiation culture on the other. In mediation and negotiation, it’s not about crushing your opponents’ hand. It’s about keeping all of your hands on the same level (maybe with a little extra benefits on one side), so that everyone involved can enhance their commercial collaboration, partnership and relationship in the long run.
I think that the most valuable part of the competition is the privilege of receiving feedback from the expert assessors after every session. Indeed, these are the most valuable tips you could ever get. Listen to them closely and intelligently. Do not feel frustrated if they point out what you did wrong. Learn from what they are saying. They are far more experienced than you are, and they know far more than you do. My teammate, Mayssa, and I used every tip to our advantage. We learned from our mistakes, and we applied what they advised us to do. These tips and advice we gathered from the assessors were one of the main reasons we were able to win the competition. Use what they are telling you, correct your mistakes and make sure you don’t do them again.
CDRC Vienna 2015 was a great experience. Make sure that you enjoy and benefit from this event as much as possible. It’s not all about winning. The competition in itself, the people you meet, and the things you learn through the workshops and the assessors are a win by itself. Meet as many people as possible because everyone is interesting! We all come from different backgrounds and it’s always nice to meet new people with enriching perspectives. Thanks to their huge effort, the entire CDRC team manages to make it easy for all of us by organizing social events where we all get the chance to meet and spend some fun-time (away from the fierce, yet friendly competition). Hope you will enjoy CDRC Vienna in the years to come!
Currently completing a masters in Law and Economics at HEC Lausanne, Omar is a law graduate and a member of the Young Global Ambassador Program (YGAP). He participated in last year’s first edition of CDRC as a negotiator on Saint Joseph University’s team. Through his masters, Omar aims to grow his knowledge and specialize in corporate and business law by gaining an insight in the financial, economic and management aspect of corporations. He truly believes in the alternative dispute resolution process, as it is a cost and time effective, sustainable solution for business clients. He is a member of the YGAP because he wants to help promote commercial mediation in his home country, Lebanon.
published May 31, 2016