“The ability to negotiate well, to find ways to cooperate which recognise and promote the broad public interest, is essential to our future. We will not survive without being able to see beyond narrow and partisan positions. Our future depends on being competent negotiators. There is no more important set of skills to teach the next generation.”
These wise words from a shrewd observer of recent events resonated this week in Paris at the 14th annual commercial mediation competition for students from universities around the world, hosted by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). 66 teams took part from 37 countries, representing every continent and nearly all legal and social traditions. These young people frequently demonstrated negotiation skills and insights well beyond their years and, more importantly, well beyond what we see day today in much public and political life. They recognised that, in order to find solutions to difficult problems, they needed to transcend parochial and polarising positions. They did so with the help of 130 mediators, of which I was privileged to be one, who came from a similarly diverse community of experiences and backgrounds.
I had a mix of emotions. I felt anger about my own generation’s failure to exhibit these qualities in sufficient quantity and for having overseen a degradation of civility and loss of respect in recent years. And about the many examples of really poor negotiating skills which are bequeathing to the next generation a legacy of poor outcomes on major issues. I also felt hope for the future as I watched hundreds of young people mingle together and embrace each other, with so much more in common than ever separates them. We need to encourage this as much as we can, at home and further afield.
Suppose we decided that negotiation skills should indeed be a central part of what every young person should learn? What would a negotiation curriculum include? The ICC provides a set of principles to facilitate commercial negotiation, a modified version of which are of general application and which I reproduce here:
This is all good stuff, even obvious perhaps, for whenever we negotiate. For most of us, that will be every day. To test it out, I invite you, the reader, to take a current negotiation which you have or foresee having. Whether it be a property transaction, an employment problem, a difficult commercial dispute, a family bust-up, a business investment, or the future of your country, work your way through these principles as an exercise. What do you learn? What will you do differently as a result? Can you use them to make a difference? What outside help could you call upon? And how can you help the next generation to learn to use these principles well?
Originally published in The Scotsman on 18 February 2019.