And so it ends, with the Universities of Bonn and National Law School of India University, Bangalore sharing the spoils at CDRC Vienna, but I got a distinct sense that everyone - participants, organisers and experts - left this beautiful city with a victorious glow and a fuzzy feeling inside, not to mention a serious sleep deficit (you know who you are) .
As the Viennese humidity evaporates from my frontal lobes and as I step back into the real world where deckchairs are found on sandy beaches and the Utopian atmosphere witnessed around the negotiating tables of CDRC Vienna remain a noble aspiration, I reflect on what I gained from participating as an expert in this negotiation and mediation competition.
Whether you were there in Vienna on the deckchairs or not, I hope this brief account will inspire you to return next year or enter into the spirit of Olympic-level mediating and negotiating and participate in one way or another at this or other similar event. Until we meet again at the deckchairs..
Mediation and Negotiation Expert - Moi?
I know what you're thinking, expert, me?
Let me address this straight away, as flattering as it sounds, the title of 'expert' doesn't sit comfortably with me. I always try and approach every task or challenge with a 'beginner's mind'. In the words of the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, 'In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities but in the expert's mind there are few'.
I also suffer from an all too familiar psychological phenomenon known as impostor syndrome which tends to surface when in the company of distinguished mediation and negotiation experts, many of whom were at CDRC Vienna!
That said, it was very humbling and an honour to be invited along again in this capacity to provide what I hope was helpful feedback to the students competing this year. And it's because of the enthusiasm of this group of students that I'm inspired to have a stab at writing this post, so let me try and set the scene by starting at the end...
Vienna - the city of dialogue
The awards and closing reception were hosted at the Rathaus, a magnificent Neo-Gothic structure that houses the office of the mayor of Vienna and the chambers of the city council. As you can imagine this was a very 'posh' affair so I had to dust off the old tuxedo and be on my best behaviour (never easy).
The event got underway with a thoughtful presentation from an Austrian dignitary, who reminded us all about the role Vienna has played in convening many historical peace talks from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to the Vienna Summit in 1961 that saw President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev sit around a table for the first time.
More recently Vienna hosted a gathering of 20 world powers and international organisations endeavouring to resolve the entrenched and tragic conflict in Syria.
Vienna is also home to the UN office for Outer Space Affairs, so maybe one day the city could host a round of inter-galactic peace talks should ad alien invasion threaten the planet!
For now however Vienna welcomed 33 international teams of students and 60 top mediation and negotiation professionals from around the world to negotiate, mediate and learn together.
Imagine a boxing ring with contestants poised in each corner waiting for the bell to commence the first round. Sat behind each contestant are the coaching teams who have spent weeks and months preparing them for this moment. Standing between each contestant is the referee; there to keep them safe from too much harm, clashing of heads and low blows.
Just kidding, the format is far more good-natured! Think University Challenge meets Ninja Warrior.
Students’ mental and physical stamina are put to the test and there are no prizes for second place, ok there are actually but all participants come with the aim of being the best.
Negotiation teams work incredibly hard to prepare for each round, studying the case, rehearsing opening statements, thinking through principled tactics and navigating the changing landscape as new confidential information emerges before each round.
The mediator on the other hand has stay present, sensitively guiding the conversation to a productive outcome, responding and reacting to new and complex agendas. Writing the agenda on flip charts and we all know how tough that can be when we don't bring our pens along!
And they have to do all of this under the forensic scrutiny of the expert judges who gaze studiously at the process as it unfolds then frantically scribble notes on pieces of paper that ultimately determine the fate of all.
I know it sounds a little dramatic but believe me, the panic, the nervous energy, the pressure of doing one's best in front of an audience of professionals is emormous. As for the students themselves, I can't begin to imagine how they must be feeling!!
Thankfully the organisers thought of absolutely everything, and to relieve the stresses and pressures of each day scheduled a buffet of social events to decompress and reflect on the day, meet new and interesting people and cultivate friendships and professional connections that will last long into the future.
This note wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the incredible efforts of the organising team who planned, with military precision, every small detail and created an environment that was warm and welcoming. CDRC Vienna Organising team, take a bow.
Seriously folks, the experience in Vienna as an expert will be memorable for all the right reasons. Go with a beginner's mind and you will be inspired to do the work knowing that the generations that follow will be well equipped sit around the table and talk about the things that matter most.
Would I go back?
We were all passengers on an emotional rollercoaster hoping to arrive unscathed at the end and when we did, desperate to buy the ticket and go again.
What do you think?