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Our student team wins the 2011 International Negotiation Competition, and picks up the NUS Student Achievement Award to boot. Marcus Lim ’12 and André Tan ’12 give their account of their journey to victory. Additional reporting by Angela Teng 15.

In 2011, Marcus Lim ’12 and André Tan ’12 brought home the International Negotiation Competition (INC) trophy for the very first time. The duo, dubbed Team Fine Wine (Ed: which might better have been named Team Plenty of Beer – more about that later), beat 19 other teams from 17 different countries, including former champions from the USA, England/Wales, Australia, Ireland and Denmark.

Held from 27 June to 1 July, the 19th INC took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was hosted by the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Law. Singapore has taken part in the competition since 2002.

The scoring for this year’s competition was based on a points system. Participants were not just compared to the teams they faced but also with other teams in the same group.  The teams were then ranked after a total of three rounds, based on points accumulated.

In Round One, our team faced the Netherlands who adopted an aggressive strategy with the hope of rushing and pressurising their opponents to an agreement. Fortunately, Marcus and André remained cool and continued playing the part of interest-based, collaborative negotiators. As the boys firmly put it, “We were not about to allow anyone to lead us by the nose.” The team held their ground and obtained a favourable agreement for their client. The judges complimented their strategy of being “dangerously nice”; and noted that their opponents’ aggressive strategy had no effect on them - they just bounced back up after taking a hit.

The competition intensified in Round Two particularly because the fact pattern presented the team with a unique problem: their remuneration as negotiators was structured to be aligned with their client’s interests. This involved a potential conflict of interests because an agreement on any of the issues might bring them more fees, but may not be in the overall interest of their client.

The team decided to ignore the compensation structure and negotiate purely according to their client’s interests. As a result, the agreement reached did not carry with it as much points as compared to the other teams in the group and this caused them to slip in the rankings at the same time.

Life in the competition did not get any easier in the third and final round when the team went up against Ireland, the 2003 champions.

The Irish team, like the Dutch, adopted an aggressive approach; but Team Singapore held their ground (and nerves) and through a combination of preparation and persuasion, managed to drive a wedge between the two members of the Irish team. With that, they wrested control over the negotiation from them.

The team’s philosophy: “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. You can, however, make it thirsty enough to want to drink!” The thirsty Irish team eventually agreed to terms very favourable to Team Singapore’s client. This successful outcome helped the team leapfrog into first place, securing the trophy for them.

The team is grateful to the selection committee for taking a leap of faith and giving them the opportunity to work together and represent Singapore. They thank Law School for its support and encouragement, the INC alumni for sacrificing their precious evenings to train them, and coach Associate Professor Joel Lee for his friendship and devotion to their cause.

Apart from the joy of seeing their sheer hard work pay off, both Marcus and André also took home unforgettable memories.

According to Marcus, one of the key challenges that they faced was that it was (and we quote): “unnatural to be charming!” Being pitted against confident blue-eyed Irish boys certainly did not help either. However, the combination of anxiety and then adrenaline of performance steeled their resolve.

Marcus still doubts his ability to be charming, but concludes that he and André most definitely learned how to have a good time with new friends!

Likewise, André proposes that the secret to their success was the “male-bonding” time they spent strategising before and after each competition round … over rounds of a different kind: “pints of premium European beer in a sidewalk café along Strædet”.

André says this was their recipe for sucess: Joel armed the team with knowledge of negotiating tactics, the beer washed away the nerves, and the many breath-taking (quite literally as they often had to pause to stare) Danish damsels that passed them by provided the motivation to win!

This recipe may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it certainly gave Team Fine Wine an appetite for success. 


Why negotiate?

The legal landscape of common law jurisdictions is changing. To keep up with this shift in focus, first year students in the NUS Law programme now take a compulsory module that teaches the benefits and intricacies of Arbitration, Mediation and Negotiation, taught by none other than Associate Professor Joel Lee – Team Fine Wine’s coach.

As André puts it,

“Negotiation is certainly no longer confined to the boardroom but is now present in the courtroom as well. Hot on the heels of the Woolf Commission’s Report on the proposed changes to the UK Civil Procedure Rules there is a move away from [the adversarial approach] towards reconciliation."

"In Singapore, whilst changes to our procedure rules do not go as far as their UK counterparts, the preference of settlement via mediation and/or negotiation is still evident; for example, the new Criminal Case Management System (for criminal law), and compulsory referral to mediation in divorce disputes (for family law).”

In the same vein, Marcus believes that because negotiation skills are universally applicable and exceedingly practical, the art of negotiation will be one of the most useful things that he will take away from his University education.

Learning negotiation is challenging, but it also gives you much opportunity for self-reflection.

Two key tenets of negotiation are the ability to carry out active listening, and to identify the interests of other parties.

One is compelled to engage in deep reflection about how other people communicate; and one must also think about how to improve one’s own methods of communication. Says Marcus:

“Few things in life are as ‘sure-win’ as being a better communicator; and I dare say that learning negotiation skills has set me on that path.”





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