Reflections from Vienna via Florence on IBA-VIAC CDRC Competition 2018: “The Value of Active Listening in the Heat of the Moment. (When bringing a “taser” to a mediation can be a good idea.)

“How can I interject this question without interrupting?”

“This answer doesn’t satisfy me. How can I ask again without stalling the conversation?”

“I need to discuss privately with my client, but it is not appropriate to stop this joint session now.”

“Perhaps I would need something to… tase my client, so that he could remember to consider my opinion as well!”

female taser

During mediation a lot of questions come to your mind, but it is usually not easy to get an answer quickly and keep track of the conversation. When you attend negotiation courses or you study the theory of mediation at home, it is fairly common to overlook the practical implications of such questions, but trust us, they are very relevant.

However, let’s start with some brief introductions first: we, the two writers of this hopefully interesting article, are Elisa Menichini and Emanuele De Napoli, two law students from the University of Florence, Italy. Together with two other students (Francesco Lichen Wang and Marzia Montinari), we were part of the only italian negotiator team at the 4th IBA-VIAC CDRC Mediation and Negotiation Competition in Vienna this July. We were coached by the experienced Professor Paola Lucarelli.
Florence Team
The CDRC Competition was a very formative experience, a melting pot of creative law students from all over the world ready to compete and learn under the guidance of legal experts and professionals willing to share their expertise and ideas. Mediation is a rather recent Dispute Resolution method in Italy (2010) and we, as future legal practitioners, felt that this competition was the right opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.

During the many rounds, carefully and masterfully directed by Claudia Winkler and the CDRC Staff, 33 teams of negotiators and mediators proved their skills in mock disputes based on the 2018 Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Problem.

There would be so much to describe and write about the competition itself, the wonderful staff and the friendships that were born this year in Vienna, but we will concentrate on a specific event that we truly believe captures one of the key aspects of mediation and conflict in general. Something that we all need to remember.

During one of the rounds we were facing the Istanbul ŞEHİR University, while the mediator was coming from Maharastra National Law University in Mumbay. The negotiation process was lively and dynamic since the beginning. Our team was divided as such: Elisa = Legal Counsel; Emanuele = Client. Bargaining techniques were followed by quick responses, numbers were soon flying across the table and the two opposing clients were dragged into the heat of the negotiation. The trusty legal counsel (Elisa) tried more than once to calm and reassure her competitive client (Emanuele), but he was too focused on his business goal to be “stopped” by his lawyer.

The agitated legal counsel even tried touching her client, but he would just uncounsciously move away. Even trying to hit his legs wouldn’t work, since he was conveniently keeping them under the other side of the table. The now fuming lawyer wrote down on her papers in capital letters “NO”, as a concise but effective way to express her disapproval of a certain proposal. Not even this last resort seemed to restabilish the connection between the two. The businessmen were at work and they didn’t want to be bothered!
Im-not-Listening
Eventually a break was called and we were able to breath, relax and get back into our two combative characters after having shared briefly our ideas and views. The rest of the session went smoothly.

Once the round was finished and the feedbacks by the expert assessors had already been given, we had the opportunity to receive further insights from the judges. When we told this “comic” situation to Thomas P. Valenti, one of the experts who offered us precious suggestions and tips, he recommended (as an obvious but very clever joke) an innovative technique to force active listening and to calm down for a while an overachieving client: using a taser. When caresses, stares and kicks in the legs fail, go harder and use a taser.

Even if it was only meant as a joke, it truly made us think of the value of mediation, active listening and teamwork. During this competition as well as during similar events that we took part in, we noticed how conflict can be like a tornado, drawing the parties into the fight and making them lose sight of their true interests, even if they’re well-prepared. The legal counsels might feel that they need to manage their clients and sometimes thwart their emotions. But the role of the legal expert is changing and a lawyer should be able to understand and compensate for his clients’s whim as well.

That’s exactly why you need mediation, why you need a third party that can redirect you to the right path. The legal counsel should be the “trusty companion” that can grant a proper reality check when necessary and the needed aid when in doubt.

In conclusion, mediation can be considered a “metaphorical taser”: a ground-breaking method among the dispute resolution procedures. It shakes the way we perceive conflict in nowaday society, it changes the rules. The CDRC Vienna Competition was the perfect context to see how effective mediation can be.

We, as young students and future professional, are active witnesses of an epochal change in the way people face conflict: an opportunity instead of a danger to be avoided at all costs.

And if sometimes we’ll need to be “tased” to achieve this results, so be it.

By Emanuele De Napoli and Elisa Menichini,
University of Florence (School of Law),
Italy.

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