Yashasvi Raj is a 3rd year law student and convenor of the ADR Society at NALSAR University. He is only in his third year and has an impressive track record in the ADR circuit. He was a part of the teams that won the prestigious NLIU – INADR and NUJS Mediation competitions. He has also performed well in several other reputed competitions such as ICC Australia, SIMI and NLS NMC. Apart from law school, he is also a student athlete and is passionate about sports and swims and plays basketball competitively. We got in touch with Yashaswi to find out what motivates him and dig into the method behind his process.
You have done quite well in various mediation competitions. What motivated you to get into these competitions?
Thank you for the kind words. Initially, I was a textbook “enthu-cutlet” first semester student who wanted to try my hand at everything. ADR presented itself as a co-curricular opportunity. I enjoyed my first practice mediation and the learning process that followed. The possibility for additional learning and problem solving on a fact situation attracted me. It allowed me to dive-deep beyond what is taught in law school classes. Of course, competitions brought with them the opportunity of representing NALSAR and the (pre-COVID) thrill and exposure of travel.
You are only in your third year, and you have achieved immense experience in these competitions. Is there any mentoring that helped you?
Yes, mentoring has definitely helped me. It started off with experienced seniors doing demo rounds in front of us to acquaint us with the activity. Once I was familiar with the process, I realized as a beginner, many propositions required commercial awareness, which was new to me. Industry professionals and seniors guided me on that. My mentors have helped incredibly in analyzing problems, brainstorming, and preparing me for varied situations, which has been key in competitions. I’ve had the privilege of meeting judges and peers at other colleges who have become great friends and mentors.
How much does body language matter in a mediation, both from a mediator and negotiator’s perspective?
I think it is extremely important in both circumstances. Body language is the first impression judges and participants register as soon as the session starts. Even when competing in virtual rounds, judges have observed body language, to note that leaning in to the camera rather than sitting back showed attentiveness, a desire to listen and actively engage with the parties.
As a mediator, how do you deal with difficult parties?
In a joint session, it helps to remind such parties that mediation has the unique ability to communicate directly in the presence of a facilitator, which is generally missing in dispute resolution. So, to generate maximum value from the session and head towards the common goal of resolution, it is best if everyone kept an open mind and gave adequate opportunity to everyone to express themselves and convey their response.
In case things get aggressive or the ground rules are repeatedly broken, I call for a caucus to understand the reason for aggressiveness, to rationalize the emotion. Sometimes, asking parties to pause for a moment has diffused tension, which the mediator can use to take better control of the session.
Often, certain parties tend to go on long monologues while speaking about a particular issue. What would you say is an acceptable way to interrupt such parties?
Mediation and negotiation being party-driven processes, it is important to allow parties to freely express themselves. There are, of course, no set rules of when to interrupt and when to let parties continue, it is all context specific. Depending upon the duration of the session, I generally refrain from asking parties to conclude their statements unless absolutely necessary. An acceptable way could be to ask the party to excuse the interruption, summarize the point they’re making, and request them to confirm if the understanding is accurate.
You have taken part in both domestic and international competitions. Does the training vary between both?
Not exactly. Each competition, whether domestic or international, has been a unique experience which has helped me perform better in subsequent competitions. I have learnt to be as prepared as one can be, whatever the level of the competition. Also, the ADR circuit in India has some amazing students who have performed incredibly well at the international stage. Through the constant international exposure Indian students have gotten over the years, I think the training required for domestic and international competitions does not vary much.
There are multiple organizations nowadays that engage in negotiation/mediation training. How useful do you think they are? Can a person do well in competitions without enrolling in such courses?
These training sessions have utility to the extent that there is always the possibility to learn something new. Some courses are limited to training for competitions, others extend to theoretical and real-life conflict resolution. I am fascinated by the latter and they have certainly helped me. That being said, there is no doubt that one can perform well in competitions without undergoing formal training programs. While courses give a better understanding of the process, through witnessing as many rounds as possible, participating in practice sessions, and constantly seeking feedback, one can learn through experience. Personally, I have had the privilege of attending classes by one of Asia’s leading mediators. These classes went the root of conflict resolution, and have helped me develop perspective on how to approach tough situations in everyday life.
How much time do you generally set aside for training for a competition?
Depends on the difficulty level of the propositions. For some competitions, we’ve prepared for over two months, while for others, we’ve been allotted the competition at short notice.
How do you manage to balance preparing for these competitions along with your regular academic life at NALSAR?
Preparing for competitions has been an enjoyable process, and gives a good break from the rigmarole of law school. The NALSAR academic policy encourages participation in competitions which does not come at the cost of academics. Being on a residential campus helps, practice rounds have sometimes gone on till 2-3 am.
(Secret: the real answer is: friends who share notes, caffeine, and sleep deprivation – all worth it).
Are there any books you would recommend that a prospective competition trainee read?
Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury has been the go-to recommendation as a starting point for most people. Apart from that, I believe there are a lot of research papers out there on the psychology of the negotiation process, conflict resolution, the theory behind the alternative processes, which provide interesting insights and realization on how practical aspects function.
What are your future goals in terms of competitions?
Although I’ve yet to learn a lot myself, I’ve started coaching teams for competitions. I learnt most of ADR from the guidance and coaching of seniors and industry professionals. Now I look to pass on that knowledge to my peers and juniors.
What are you plans after law school?
I’m figuring out my plans after law school. Presently, I’m doing internships to evaluate where my interests lie. ADR has inculcated in me a solution-orientated approach. I’m looking to fit that in an intellectually challenging profession which is exhilarating enough to make me want to go to work every day.
(We at Mapping ADR would like to thank Yashasvi for the elaborate answers to our questions and we wish him the best of luck in the future.)