Author: Thomas Valenti

Tom Valenti is an attorney, arbitrator, mediator, trainer and conflict resolution practitioner based in Chicago, IL, but offering services globally.

Guest Post from Janene Tuniz: In Mediation Competitions: To Compete as a Mediator, Don’t Compete

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Competing as a mediator in a moot competition is a conundrum. What’s unique about selecting this particular puzzle is that you never meet your fellow competitors. You enter each session with fresh faces to your left and right and a row of important people in front of you, ready to judge your performance. Instead, unlike when you enter as a negotiator, it’s just you. There is no way to gauge how you are doing in comparison to the other mediators in the rooms next door and there is no way to know for sure if you are acting in the right way or saying the right things. You also only have some pieces of the picture, making it difficult to really know what’s going on from the onset. You may be tempted to speak loudly or ensure that your presence is felt but I assure you, that’s not the way.

Although I have never been in a real commercial mediation, I imagine there are ways in which a competition and real life are fundamentally different. For instance, in real life there is real money, real problems and ordinarily a real urgency to reach a settlement. In such instances people don’t necessarily behave in the way that we would like or need them to in order to find a party-driven solution. They may use positional bargaining or withhold information and they may not be sincerely seeking to re-establish trust and open communication. In the CDRC Mediation and Negotiation Competition it’s totally different. There may be some semblance of mistrust but since competitors are judged on their trust building and communication skills they are prepped to use information strategically and with all their might, share and identify real interests.

 

There are, however, many ways in which a competition and real life are exactly the same. At CDRC this year I learnt that it is in these areas the role of the mediator is paramount. To put it simply, like in real life, participants of a mediation competition are nervous and unsure. After training for months, it all culminates in that moment, face to face with the other party, ready to negotiate. The tension in the room before the timer starts is palpable and as a mediator, that’s your moment. What’s perplexing about that moment, however, is the fact that while you are in it, you are not competing.

 

I know it sounds contradictory to enter a competition to be an anti-competitive at the pinnacle moment, but since there are no other “opponents” in the room you are not contending against anyone else. Your job in that moment is not to outshine the negotiators by saying the most impressive things or flamboyantly flaunting the rules and regulations, check-listing through caucus guidelines or confidentiality requirements. It’s important to cover these things, of course, but as the mediator you need to do it in such a way that you address the tension in the room. You alleviate worries and make sure that those who are in direct competition, trust the process and trust you. The moment you open your mouth to speak, you need to settle nerves and establish certainty.

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Trusting the mediation process is something that happens automatically in a competition but getting parties to trust you is something different. Sitting at the head of the table it’s a challenge to take a step back and guide the process instead of leading it, but it is the best way to create an environment of trust. I found the training sessions prior to the competition to be incredibly useful in highlighting this fact. I remember writing down that I should listen for (and respond to) emotions in Tom Valenti’s session entitled “Mediator Tools and Behaviors.” Being able to gauge what people in the room are feeling and validating those feelings is a fundamental step towards developing that trust. I’m not saying that every emotion should be brought under the spot light and observed by everyone at the table, but as the mediator it is imperative that you are able to note changes in body language or tone and react appropriately.

 

It’s impossible to note how people are feeling without being present. Active listening and sincere, honest feedback are imperative in this regard. Summarizing and telling the facts back to the parties in a neutral way is also a great way to show progress and create consensus but proceed with caution – it’s also risky business. Personally, I’m guilty of putting a positive spin on just about everything anyone at the mediation table says. While reframing is a good tool, using it too frequently can quickly backfire if it’s the wrong moment or if the parties are angry and frustrated.

 

Competing as a mediator is riddle worth riddling. It involves a multitude of different skill sets and an ability to know when you are needed and when you are not. It’s also something that to a large extent is based on self-confidence. I learnt so much at the CDRC competition but the message that resonated most was the importance of being true to yourself. There are so many styles and ways of mediating that it’s easy to fit a mould but once you do, it’s difficult to have the flexibility and reactiveness that’s required of you when mediating. Make a concerted effort to be the best version of yourself when you are sitting in the mediator’s seat. If you don’t feel like the best version of you that day, there are a range of things you can do to get to that point – you can give Sabine Walsh and Aled Davies a call for power stance tips and loud clapping tactics.

 

One thing I can say for sure, or rather, one piece of advice I could give to future competitors in the mediator category is that you shouldn’t compete. Obviously don’t treat the mediation like a ping pong match, acting only as an observer (remember to listen for and respond to emotions) but don’t treat it like a competition and don’t treat the people in the room as your competitors. How do you do that in practice? It’s puzzling, I know.

 

*Janene Tuniz is an LL.M Sustainable Development candidate and mediator in the making. She won first prize in Mediation at the CDRC Mediation and Negotiation Competition in 2019 and is the Co-founder and Communications Director of Diciassette which is part of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. She is also the Content Manager and Executive Editor for online publication, The Sustainable Development Watch and is currently completing an internship at the United Nations in Nairobi.

Guest Post : 7th NLIU INADR International Law School Mediation Tournament 2018 – A competition full of learning, many trophies to encourage better performance, and for us, a memory and victory to cherish forever!

I would take moment of deep breathing before I begin with the story of our team just like we did before every round during the tournament. Before being titled the “Overall Winners” and “Best Mediator Team” (for those who need to know, the two main titles) of 7th NLIU INADR International Law School Mediation Tournament, we were just another law students curious enough to learn, more than win. Being first time participants in a competition (I had mooted before in Antitrust Law but Rohan and Sanjhi were participating in a competition for the first time), we expected to learn from other students senior in experience to us but the titles we won debunked our own wrong beliefs.team picture

Institute of Law, Nirma University Team: Twinkle Malukani (3rd year), Rohan Bangia (2nd year) and Sanjhi Agarwal (2nd year)

The journey began with giving intra-murals in Nirma University and secure a good rank to forming a team and believing each other, which very well laid our foundation for team work. We talked and met beyond professional reasons and bonded well which really made our relationship improve. Now this is exactly how Mediation and Negotiation works, securing relationship and Getting a Yes! Now that we started working together on the problem, we initially couldn’t figure out how to prepare. We read a book “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury and understood what exactly Negotiation and Mediation means, to be very correct “Principled Negotiation” both in practical day-to-day life and tournament understanding of course resembles it with some variations. Apart from reading the book, we watched many tutorial videos and mock sessions and videos of other competitions to understand better.

However, there is a reason why NLIU INADR is the best tournament in Asia and how it is different from other Negotiation-Mediation Tournament worldwide. It requires all 3 team members do all 3 roles of Client, Counsel (Negotiators) and Mediator in first three Preliminary Rounds. Now that is tricky but a lot of learning. We three made sure to make each other understand each role that we “thought” we were best at and it turned out that NLIU INADR taught us all three roles really well, especially because after very first preliminary round, there is scope for improvement because you listen to your own role’s feedback and then of others too in the room. Now it depends on how you internalize the feedback and suggestions of the judges after every round. The team, even if new to such competition, but internalizes the feedbacks better takes the title. During the tournament, the judges not only pointed out what we did incorrect but also mentioned what we should continue doing, those being our strengths (like Mr. Valenti, Mr. Rogula, Mr. Ellis and many other judges did). It is in best interest of participants to listen carefully and internalize the feedbacks, not only for this competition and other ADR competitions, but also when they actually go out as professional mediators and negotiate in daily life or for professionally cracking a deal.

This tournament taught us the right gesture and correct words in the right moment, to think twice before speaking, to speak only when necessary, to listen actively, be polite even when one wants to let off the steam, to do as negotiators what benefits you but doesn’t harm the other side, to be unbiased and so on. All this learning did not exclude the fun we all had dancing at the cultural night and interactions during training sessions and lunch breaks. NLIU INADR Tournament 2018 is what we will cherish to have been a part of and having performed great for which we extend our gratitude to amazing judges, NLIU tutorials, training sessions, Nirma University and mutually to each other, as a team! We will cherish not only the winning titles but the whole journey and 3 days of learning. Success is not a one-time thing, it is not a fluke. It is not just about the trophies, Learning and Improving and Growing as a person is a victory in itself.

-Twinkle Malukani, Rohan Bangia and Sanjhi Agarwal

Institute of Law, Nirma University Team: Twinkle Malukani (3rd year), Rohan Bangia (2nd year) and Sanjhi Agarwal (2nd year)

Guest Post: Open Letter to Hillary Clinton from Three Young Afghan Students – Sakina, Farangis, and Arezo

Valenti Law

Dear Mrs. Clinton,

We hope you would be healthy, this letter is written by three Afghan girls (Sakina, Farangis, and Arezo). You may wonder about receiving this letter from Afghan girls. You may be happy receiving it, you may not. You might have the time to read or you might not, but we suggest you to it read once. We thought a lot about to whom to write this letter, like: Mr. Donald. J. Trump; the last president of US, Mr. Obama; the ex-President of the US’s wife, Mrs. Michelle Obama; and you Mrs. Hillary Clinton. Finally, you were the one we chose to write this letter for. As a woman you can understand us girls better.

Arezo, Farangis, and Sakina

Mrs. Clinton,

We three have lots of dreams to be heard, we have a lot in our hearts about our futures and goals to be shared with someone —…

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Guest Post: Open Letter to Hillary Clinton from Three Young Afghan Students – Sakina, Farangis, and Arezo

Dear Mrs. Clinton,

We hope you would be healthy, this letter is written by three Afghan girls (Sakina, Farangis, and Arezo). You may wonder about receiving this letter from Afghan girls. You may be happy receiving it, you may not. You might have the time to read or you might not, but we suggest you to it read once. We thought a lot about to whom to write this letter, like: Mr. Donald. J. Trump; the last president of US, Mr. Obama; the ex-President of the US’s wife, Mrs. Michelle Obama; and you Mrs. Hillary Clinton. Finally, you were the one we chose to write this letter for. As a woman you can understand us girls better.

 

Arezo, Farangis, and Sakina

 

Mrs. Clinton,

We three have lots of dreams to be heard, we have a lot in our hearts about our futures and goals to be shared with someone — someone who can understand us, get what we say and listen to our hearts talk. We need someone experienced, someone who has lived life longer than us, and knows how life is going on and why are humans living. We want to have someone who guides us and supports us in the path of having our dreams and reaching our goals. Here, in our country, it is too difficult to talk about our goals, and share them with others. Whenever we want to talk about our dreams, we get negative ideas. One says: ”your dreams will remain just dreams.” Another says: “your dreams are much bigger than what you are.” The next one says: “I do not think you are the one to achieve these goals.” The other person says: “the bomb explosions and suicide attacks will not give you the chance to have your dreams come true, you will probably die in suicide attacks somewhere on the street, in the educational societies, in the mosques or even at the schools like the youth who died.” The only positive thing that we hear is this,” you are still alive, this should be everything for you.”

The people around us have no hope for living a long time. When there is no hope in life, how can we talk about our dreams and future plans? We live in a country in which the people are killed in bomb explosions in every nook and cranny. This is life for us! Suicide attacks and burying the dead bodies of hundreds and hundreds of the people, and having the next hundreds injured, including men, women, the elders, the youth and the children. When we leave home for school in the morning, we are not sure of coming back safe. We are not safe even at the school where is the place of learning and getting knowledge. When we leave for anywhere until we are back at home, losing us in a bomb blast is the main and the biggest worry of our parent. They have the deep fear of losing us and not seeing us again. When our parents leave for somewhere, we are uneasy about a suicide attack happening somewhere in our country and losing our parents. Then it will be so hard living without a father and mother. When life is all worries about losing our beloveds, how can we think of our goals and planning to achieve them?

The harmful effects of bomb explosions and suicide attacks on the street, roads, or even in the classes at school and in the educational societies leave the students despondent the about the way life is going.  The recent bomb explosion has decreased the numbers of students entering education, most of them leave the school. The students are killed sitting on the school chairs with their pens in their hands and notebooks and books opened on their desks. The teachers are killed with the markers in their hands while solving the mathematical equations, explaining a biology lesson or chemical interactions. This is our life here. The insecurity and unsafety in our country have changed most family’s thoughts and decisions about sending their children to school for studying. The recent bomb explosions and suicide attacks have forced the families to prevent their children from going to school and taking classes in the educational centres.  They think it is best not to send their children school, otherwise, they will lose their children in suicide attacks. When families do not let their children to go to school because of the insecurity, the boys have no way, but to go to other countries, where they live many years of their life in refugee camps feeling lonely and insecure away from their families in very difficult situations of life.   And if they do not go to other countries, they have to work and save up for living.

Since the economy is weak in Afghanistan and the percentage of unemployment is high, they are forced to do illegal activities. The girls who are not let to go to school and study because of the bomb explosions and suicide attack, get married in a young age, even though they are not in their marrying ages. Then they stay uneducated the rest of their life.  After they get married, they start a common life with their husbands where they must obey their husbands. Most of the husbands here treat their wives like slaves.  The husband means to “to order” and the wife means “to obey.” If they are not obedient to their husbands, they are beaten to death by their husbands.  If the girls get married they will have to fight with marital problems then they can never go on with their studies, and cannot get a good education, because they will be mothers and they will be force to look after their children, and do the chores. We have friends who have gotten engaged in a very young ages and we see how life is hard for them and cruel to them. But we want to save our futures, we do not want to suffer the same fate.

 

Mrs. Clinton,

This is a dream for us to go to the US, and this is our goal to study college there. But when we talk about our dreams with others, they make fun of us ‘’you are girls and it’s not possible for you to go to other countries like the US. studying in a foreign country does not look good for girls  —  you might batter forget about studying in the US, if you girls go to the another country the people will talk behind you   —  you do not have the capacity to study there even — if you were boys there would be no problem studying in a foreign country, but you are girls and it is impossible for you.” Because we are girls, we cannot even think of studying in the US. We are girls that is why we are not capable of studying the college in one of the US universities, and we cannot dream what we desire from the deep of our hearts. Because we are girls, we even cannot have our own style and way of living. It’s impossible for us to live to our own style in our dream world even. As girls when we leave home for somewhere our families determine what time to come back but our brothers stay out for long times.

 

Mrs. Clinton,

We have had the dream of the studying in the Us, when we were young girls, and still we do dream from the bottom of our hearts. It has been one of our greatest and biggest dreams, and we are sure of having these dreams of our come true one day. But if you help us, it will come true sooner. If we study in the US, we can save our future, fates and live our dreams. You have never been us, and you have never lived the life’s we have. You have never been in a country like us. You have never been despised because of being a girl, you have never been made fun of while talking about your dreams, you have never seen and buried hundreds and hundreds of dead bodied together. That is why it may be a little hard to understand us. Despite of this, as a woman you can understand how another woman is feeling better than a man, that is why we chose you to write this letter for

We see our future in danger, we suffer from a great sense of insecurity. We do not want to die in a bomb explosion because we are too young to be killed. We have dreams, we love our selves. Please help us with our goals and dreams.

 

Sakina, Farangis, and Arezo

 

 

Sakina email: Sakinarezvani25@gmail.com

Arezo email: nazariarezo09@gmail.com