A Tale of Two Cities – Wien & Paris

The swimming pool had prepared me for the ocean….  

To know where you stand, you need to compete with the best among your peers; it doesn’t matter if you are a first-timer or it’s the world stage. If CDRC Vienna in July 2015 was an eye-opener for many of us, ‘Mediation Novices’; the ICC Paris in February 2016 was a confirmation of the vast and diverse communities warming up to Mediation as the conflict management tool of the future. This is a comparison of the contrasting and common experiences in Europe.

The two competitions – a debutant and a leader for over a decade – had varied structures, modules and backgrounds. CDRC tested negotiators and mediators, while ICC stressed on mediation advocacy, thus evaluating only negotiators. The former selected 16 International teams competing, while the latter chose a total of 66 colleges from across the globe. CDRC let the participants take center stage and guide the process, while ICC pushed for professionals to facilitate the mediation session, thus demanding the experts to double up as assessors and mediators. There is more to dissect and distinguish, but an important element that both events consciously executed well was creating a suitable environment – free, yet responsible; casual, yet smart; friendly, yet competitive – for amateurs and professionals to experience mediation simulations.

First Impressions…

Set in the backdrop of the dusky European summer, when the sun refused to set before the 11th hour on the longest day of the year, Vienna provided for the perfect orientation environment for the freshers. The pressure of being the first team from Goa to represent India in CDRC’s inaugural edition had stolen the overwhelming feeling of leaving our homeland for our first foreign trip. This all changed in Vienna.

We Can Work It Out
Dialogue got easier between the Germans and the Brits after we had finished singing a Beatles song during the Quarter-finals @CDRC Vienna 2015. (Pic credit: CDRC Vienna)

The fear and anxiety evaporated in the embracing warmth of the afternoon sun. CDRC made you feel that every participant was granted equally exclusive space and attention at the event venue. There was plenty of time to talk, walk and even escape for an evening drink or a midnight snack. A stranger turned into a friend, then there were mutual friends who made it a clique and soon the entire group knew each other’s names and faces.

Paris was cold. It’s not the weather alone, but the recent security tensions that have made people cautious and suspicious. Though the chilly wintery wind blew strongly across the land, Paris dazzled in its beauty under a starry, sometimes overcast February sky. The city was in a state of conflict and it didn’t try to hide that. In fact, it demanded a conscious initiative from its inhabitants and visitors to be sensitive and collaborative in bridging the many culture divides. The ICC headquarters resembled a buzzing bee hive, with professionals and peers from all over the world entering and exiting the building. There was no pampering, no time for small talk and ice-breaking. You introduced yourself, collected your kit and got on with the task. If you recognized a friend in the crowd, you tried to dive into some nostalgic moments before someone else stole him or her away. It took skill to make an acquaintance, thus giving value to the newly-forged friendships.

Prep, Problems & ‘Partaay’! 

Learning is an essential part of these events and mostly takes place during training and feedback. CDRC dedicated an entire day to workshops for participants and coaches. ICC probably thought it wasn’t necessary as they attracted the best in the business, but as participants we missed out an opportunity to pick up some tricks and styles from the rich pool of experts. The engaging sessions at Vienna, conducted by CEDR, provided the perfect confidence boost and facilitated synergy among participants. We accepted that besides winning and losing, we had so much to learn from each other – a pointer ICC could consider as it grows and evolves.

Feedback time was my best part of the competitions. This potentially dreadful time was well managed by the experts at CDRC and ICC through well-structured and constructive evaluation. The experts always had a gentle tone and a warm smile, which made them feel more like mentors than assessors. Some looked at this time to read between the lines of what the experts said, weigh the compliments and criticisms, and measure their chances of winning the round. For me, it was a class in mediation. These feedback slots taught us techniques, styles, ethics, tricks, reading and respecting body language, being cautious with accents and gestures. On a competition perspective, we understood that we had to be sensitive to backgrounds of the opponents, the mediator and the assessors.

Problems are meant to be solved, but those drafting them face an equally challenging task to keep them balanced. ICC’s gesture to acknowledge the best author among its problem drafting committee must be appreciated. Different problems for different sessions at the ICC brought in freshness and flexibility in the negotiators’ limitations and creative scope. It allowed participants to start afresh and move on from a bad session. On the other hand, CDRC pursues the same problem till the end, which tends to get monotonous and tiring. On the flip side, this is how it is in real life situations, where one session may not resolve a conflict. Parties and counsels need to break and shift gears over a few sessions, with new twists and turns in their interests, until they lay it all out on the table and reach a consensus.

The scores are now being tabulated. And what do you after an emotionally tiring day of negotiations? Yes…Partaay! Socials play a huge role in networking, besides soothing heartbreaks. CDRC inaugural dinner was perfectly organized in the campus pub, against the setting sun. All grown up, holding a dazzling glass of champagne, we discussed mediation… Kidding! Conversation revolved around each other’s cultures, festivals, weather patterns, sports, political patterns. Language and religious borders were trespassed even at the ICC socials, but in simple words – ‘It was too cramped’. More open space and a proactive effort to engage the multitudes of communities represented at the event would do everyone a lot of good.

In the end, all that matters is Mediation triumphed at Vienna and Paris. We made friends, burnt out fingers and learnt a lesson or two, rubbed shoulders with the pros and pledged to be ambassadors of mediation in our own little ways.

 If I didn’t learn well at Vienna, I would have drowned in Paris. If I didn’t dive into the ocean, I wouldn’t be able to test how well I had learnt in the pool.

 

 

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