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Mr. Sebastian Schäfer - On Preparing for Negotiations & Negotiation Competitions

Mr. Sebastian Schäfer is a graduate from IÉSEG School of management at Paris. Coming from an engineering background, he followed his passion for complex negotiation processes and studied International Business Negotiation in Paris. He was a member of the team that won the Warsaw Negotiation Round, 2018. This interview was conducted soon after his win.

Hi Sebastian, hope you are doing well in Paris. Congratulations on your victory at the Warsaw Negotiation Round, 2018. Your experience could definitely help our readers understand the nuances of a negotiation competitions. We would like to start by asking you about your first encounter with negotiation? Tell us something about your first negotiation round.

If we talk about negotiation in a professional business framework, I had my first encounter with this topic a few years ago during an internship in a large engineering company in Bangkok, Thailand. As a passive observer, the intercultural complexity and the importance of smooth personal interactions in the deal making processes raised my attention for the field of negotiation and laid the foundation for my fascination and passion for that topic.

My first negotiation competition was the WNR 2018 our team participated in this year. I was not sure what to expect from the event, but it turned out to be one of the most valuable learning experiences and definitely the most inspiring event of the year.

How was your experience at Warsaw Negotiation Round (WNR), 2018? What did you like the most?

For me personally there are two things that made the WNR 2018 a unique and impactful competition. First, the high diversity of the competition’s participants created an intercultural negotiation experience that you can barely find in any other setting. It is my strong believe that especially in a more and more globalized world, an awareness of cultural differences is the key to success in many negotiations. The WNR was the perfect “sandbox” to discover strategies and create insights regarding cultural differences.

Second, the WNR provides a great forum for networking activities and a lively exchange about negotiation. The presence of more than 100 people who share the same passion was creating an incredible atmosphere that encourages young people to build a unique network consisting of fellow enthusiast from around the world. It is my strong believe that together we can raise more attention for negotiation as a research area and prove the valuable impact that strong negotiators can have for most businesses around the world.

Unlike, most of the participants in these competitions who are enrolled in law schools you come from a management background. Do you think that benefits you during your negotiations? If yes, how?

I think that the hard skills deriving from your profession or educational background are not necessarily determining your performance during a negotiation. It is important to know how to leverage your personal strengths and experiences through soft skills and negotiation tools.

Though, it is possible that a management background helps you to identify value adding solutions since creating value is a key element of commercial activities.

How do you prepare for a negotiation round? What according to you are the most important factors that must be taken into account while preparing for a negotiation?

Our team prepared for the competition by trying out different strategies in order to find the one which fits our team constellation and our individual skillsets best. Furthermore, we concentrated on team building measurements. I believe that trusting and knowing each other is of crucial importance when it comes to a team competition. You could compare it with a sport competition: Outstanding individual talents are useless without a strong team spirit.

For the negotiation rounds during the competition, we prepared by concentrating on defining our overarching goal for the negotiation. Thereby, the first negotiation already took place before we sat down at the table. We shared the believe, that if you carefully define what do you want to achieve in the upcoming negotiation all parts of the strategy will fall into place automatically. We got good feedback for the alignment of our team and I am confident that the time we spent talking about our overarching goals was wisely invested.

Opening statements are considered to be one of the most important parts of a negotiation. It can set the tone for the rest of the negotiation. What do you think are features of a good opening statement? Do you follow a particular structure?

I don’t think that there is a one-size-fits-all solution for an opening statement. To be effective, it has to be tailormade for the parties at the table. Anyway, the one thing that should be always communicated through an opening statement is a cooperative spirit. The negotiation should be seen as a joint effort to solve a shared problem. The parties at the table should feel like a team that tries to overcome conflicting interests to create mutually favorable outcome. Establishing an according spirit can be realized through sharing own underlying interests and signaling openness for creative solutions without appearing weak or naïve.

Structure of competitions like WNR allows for multi-partite negotiations. What are the challenges in such rounds and how do you overcome them?

The main challenge arising from a multi-party setting is the additional set of interests that every party adds to the table. It automatically leads to an exponential increase of complexity. The more parties taking place in a negotiation, the more important becomes the structure of the negotiation process. From my point of view, a promising strategy is to be the party that provides the negotiation process with the needed structure by becoming a facilitator.

Being the facilitator of a complex negotiation process is difficult and requires experience, courage and strong interpersonal skills. Nevertheless, it is a strong source of power since it helps the negotiator to get perceived as an ally and sometimes as an advisor by other parties. The presence of a facilitator can substantially change the dynamics of the entire negotiation and prevent excessive and chaotic discussions, coalition building and entrenchment.

Do you wish to peruse a career in negotiation?

It is my dream to create an impact using the skills I learned in my negotiation program and the insights I derived from experiences like the WNR. The specific framework of that endeavor is thereby not clear yet. It would be great to raise more attention to the importance of negotiation skills for a better togetherness in a world that becomes smaller every day.

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