National Student Negotiation Competition Case Study

For over ten years, CEDR has been sponsoring and organising the annual National Student Negotiation Competition, in collaboration with the University of Law.

The competition pits pairs of law students from across universities in England, Scotland and Wales against each other to negotiate a series of challenging fictional scenarios.

Frank Eijkman, CEDR Foundation Co-Ordinator spoke to two finalists Ann Thankachan and Leonard Epidi from Nottingham Trent University, coached by Joy Davies, about their experience of reaching the final of the 2022 competition and the negotiation training they received from CEDR.

Q1: Why did you Enter the Competition?

Ann: For me personally I did a bit of negotiation in the past but on a much smaller level, in groups. I definitely felt that one of the skills that I could improve on was negotiation. I think in practice, particularly in the legal sector, but even in any other profession that you go into it’s a key skill to have.

I felt that taking part in the competition would help me gain or improve a lot of my negotiation-based skills.

Leonard: I’ve observed that litigation is not the best method of solving disputes. Disputes are only around more in today’s day and age. So, I’ve been considering other resolution mechanisms. When I heard about the Negotiation Competition. I thought of it as a way for me to further up-skill myself in negotiation and a better way of resolving disputes.

I decided to give it a go.

Q2: Can you tell us what it was like to take part in the CEDR Negotiation Competition?

Ann: It was intense. I’m not going to lie. Particularly when we got to the finals had the three-way negotiation and that was particularly quite intense.

But I would definitely say it was very enjoyable as well. Learning so many great dispute resolution skills and actually meeting a lot of colleagues from a lot of different places around the country. I’m quite glad I did it actually.

Leonard: I felt that it was a learning experience most importantly, and it was also an eye-opener into some very good techniques for dispute resolution. And we got to meet cool people!

Frank: Yeah, I can imagine that it can be quite daunting and intense, especially in the three-way when you have two other parties that you’re trying to balance at the same time.

Q3: What did you both do to Prepare for the Competition?

Leonard: I think the best thing everyone did for the competition basically was they read the case facts, read the case facts, and read the case facts! I liked the fact that the competition wasn’t so heavy on the legal aspect. So that means that we could think as broadly as possible and try to mesh different solutions together.

We were mostly thinking from a solution-based approach. We also had a tutor who assisted us.

Ann: Just to add, what Leonard and I particularly did is we decided to do a walk-through scenario of the three-way negotiation in particular. So, I’d stand over there and I’d pretend to be one party and Leonard would stand on the opposite end, pretending to be the other party, and the empty chair would be us. We would walk through the entire scenario. We found that quite helpful because it allowed us to kind of look into the common objectives and other things.

Also, our coach was so helpful. She really taught us a lot of little things that you can pick up when doing dispute resolution. Just in terms of, you know, eye contact and a lot of other small but really significant skills.

Frank: Fantastic. I think it’s quite interesting that you did the three-way with you two, but playing the different people. Did that allow you to realise any new perspectives or certain arguments that you hadn’t considered which the other side might use during the negotiation?

Ann: Definitely. We really did find that kind of being in the shoes of the other parties, it really helped us to think about their underlying aims and their underlying needs as well.

I remember when we did the CEDR Negotiation training and we learned about ‘the iceberg’, where the interests lie underneath the surface. So actually, being in that position really just helped us to consider, oh why is it that they’re actually acting like this?

I think in the three-way, Leonard I don’t know if you remember, but we were actually able to employ that with one of the parties where we did feel like some of their interests weren’t being met. We were able to ask them what is it that you want from us?

I definitely think doing a little walkthrough of the scenario and trying to be the other party was quite helpful for us.

Frank: What a pro tip!

Q4: Did you have a Strategy Coming into the Competition?

Leonard: I think our personalities allow us to be easily adaptable to situations. Our strategy was to go for it, try to get as much for our client while trying to be as calm as possible and adapt as the case may be.

Ann: Yeah, definitely. I think we were trying to be as adaptive as possible.

Obviously throughout the competition, there’ll be times when the other parties would just push through something at you. So, it was also just being ready for something like that.

Q5: What was the First Regional Round of the Competition like?

Leonard: The elements of being watched and being judged by judges in the background had a small intensity to it. Then I think, the team we met was quite a similar team to us. I think that this eased the pressure from us and allowed us to focus on our teamwork and our various what if’s and possible scenarios.

Ann: Yeah, definitely. Just to add to that this was the first negotiation that we did and so we didn’t have the skills that we did in the finals of the competition. We were kind of going into that well prepared but not really knowing much concrete negotiation skills. Often some of the things we did were hit or miss. However, I think that’s okay as long as you remember the core objectives and the core agenda you have for your client.

Q6: How did you Find the Online Aspect of the Competition?

Ann: Hahaha well, I don’t know if you remember Frank but for the first time that we actually did it, I think both of us had our mic on we ran into a lot of technical difficulties. So, we had to turn the, mic and use one laptop. I think that it was quite a funny moment. It basically taught me just in general, like in the long run, don’t make those kinds of mistakes.

Generally, I think doing it online there is kind of a slight safety blanket where your emotions are less visible. So, when the other party says something that you might not be prepared for or you might not agree with, you can kind of control your emotions a bit more. Whereas when you’re doing it face to face, it’s a lot easier for the other parties to read you.

I noticed this in the final of the competition. I could tell when the other parties didn’t agree with something that we proposed because they’d be looking at each other. Whereas online it’s a lot easier to hide that.

Frank: Interesting. So, it brings a layer of safety?

Ann: Yeah, definitely. It’s like a little safety blanket that you get over yourself.

Leonard: I see it as a two-edged sword because it’s a safety blanket for you. However, in the inverse, it makes it harder to read to the person on the other side.

I think online negotiation also gives you some space to collect your thoughts. Because in in-person negotiations you have all eyes on you- literally. It’s a little tenser but when negotiating online you are just staring into your computer and it’s a bit more relaxed.

Q7: How did you Find Negotiating as a Pair?

Ann: I really liked working as a pair. Obviously, because Leonard was such a great person! Also, I think Leonard and I have very different strengths and weaknesses. Leonard, is quite mathematically savvy, whereas I’m really not.

So, when it came to the numbers and the figures in all of our settlements, he dealt with a lot of them. I dealt more with like the underlying agenda and the interests. I think doing that is really helpful because quite often the other party could fire at you something which you might not be comfortable with answering or you don’t want to answer wrong and so your partner can answer that or the other way round.

Leonard: I like the fact that it lets you appreciate your partner’s point of view as well.

There’s a saying that stuck with me for years now. That is “a man’s point of view is his point of blindness.”  I really liked negotiating alongside Ann because it made me see things from her point of view, seeing some things that I didn’t consider and could have slipped past.

Sometimes when I was about to make a mistake or if I did make a mistake, she was there to guide me. It’s really nice having someone have your back and knowing that you’re going into this together. You are not alone basically.

Ann: I’m just going to add to Leonard’s point as well, because you’re in such a high-pressure situation having another person there with you is quite comforting.

Q8: On Completion of the First Round did you Change your Strategy?

Ann: I think we did find one thing and that was we did feel that we needed to communicate a little bit better.

So ahead of the competition final. We did a lot of practice on communication. Because I think one of the feedback points we got from the regional was that we could communicate with each other a little better.

Leonard: Increasing teamwork, making sure that we were both in the dance together and we were giving equal amounts of output. Also, in the transitions from one person to another.

Q9: What did you Learn Taking Part in the Competition?

Leonard: I think ‘the iceberg’ [Negotiation Theory] tops any list. It emphasised the need to go underneath the skin of the other side to figure out why they have such a position and what their interests are.

Also, asking the right questions and digging deeper- the exploration stage. For me, it led me to be more open-minded to the fact that there could be various angles to the negotiation.

Ann: It does help you in the future with a lot of high-pressure situations.

For me personally, doing the competition itself helped me a lot with my job interviews. Because in the competition, you are speaking and thinking on the spot and you have to do that really quickly and effectively. The skills that you learn from that can be employed in your future profession. As, you know, for job interviews or any kind of meetings or any kind of other situations like that, you’ll have to think on the spot and speak on the spot.

I think that was really useful learning about the interest below the surface and digging deeper. When you go into any profession you do need to think about the underlying interest of your company or whatever organisation you are working for.

Leonard: Yeah. I think the training is really transferable and so CEDR has basically has equipped us with some ammunition.

Ann: Yeah, definitely. Some life skills.

Q10: How did you Both Find the Three-Way Negotiation?

 Ann: I think it was challenging but in the best way. It challenges you to take your initiative and think of things not just for another party but with two of the parties involved. It makes you think from a different perspective as well.

Leonard: I think one of the major highlights of the three-way for me was the fact that we were constantly walking a fine line between listening and speaking. Listening is a very essential part of negotiation as we have learnt from the training day but you can’t just let the other contestants speak. At some point you need to speak as well. You have to think what’s the least insulting way for me to come in now?

Q11: Looking back is there Anything you Would have done Differently?

Ann: Haha I would have practised my maths a bit more.

Leonard: I think one thing that was a funny incident in the competition.  In the second scenario of the finals, we mixed the scenarios up. So, for the second negotiation, we thought we were going into the third negotiation. So a key takeaway from that is ask for more guidance when you need it!

Ann: Yeah, make sure you have the correct scenario. It was very bad because I started off doing, the opening speech and I was like “we’re really sorry that, you know, your husband has passed away…” And everyone was like, I think we’re on the wrong scenario…

Frank: Haha plot twist!

Q12: Was there Anything that Surprised you in the Competition?

Ann: I think some of the alternative offers that were given by the other parties. We did prepare a bit for what kind of settlement options the other parties would give us but I think some things that were thrown at us that that completely took us by surprise. Or there where some options where we were like, wow, the audacity that you have to kind of give that offer.

Q13: What did you Enjoy most About the Competition?

Leonard: I enjoyed being in CEDR’s office.

Frank: I think they were described as ‘Instagrammable’ by one of the contestants.

Leonard: Haha I liked it! I loved the camaraderie that came from learning together and then going against each other. Then coming back together at the dinner, just basically having fun.

Ann: For me two main things. Firstly, the training that we received on the training day was really good. So many skills that I think you can employ later on down the line. Secondly, what Leonard said, networking with everyone and not just with our colleagues in the competition but the judges that came in later in the evening to the dinner as well.

Q14: Do you have any Top Tips for those Competing Next Year?

Ann: Make sure that you are prepared and make sure you know your scenario inside out.

Make sure that you have a clear agenda before you start the negotiation. You should make sure that you and the other party or other parties have an agenda. I’d make sure that throughout the negotiation that you stay on track of the agenda because sometimes you will stray away. Make sure that you are on top of that agenda. I think that’s really important.

Leonard: I think the first step when it comes to numbers or any particular facts and if you’re unsure off, you can just quickly politely ask to take a deep dive into it. I think it’s okay to confirm some facts.

Secondly, on the agenda have a flexible agenda. For the third tip, I think basically just be yourself and make your questions to the other side a bit more accommodating. Just basically be a nice person.

Ann: Use your own personal quirks and things to your strength because each individual has their own strengths so use those in the negotiation.

Q15: Finally, if you were to Sum up the CEDR Negotiation Competition in Three Words what would you choose?

Leonard: I think I would go for fast, options and questions.

Ann: I’d say definitely useful, friendly and stimulating.

Frank: Those are a good three words and I think that that’s a good place to end.

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