Find Mediators Near You:

How to Understand Bad Feedback at Competitions and How to Tell What’s Good

From The Negotiation Academy Blog.

Consensual dispute resolution (CDR) methods like mediation and negotiation are ever popular among students around the world. Hundreds of students compete in university internal selection rounds to represent their university in the numerous national and international competitions. The energy is unbelievable!

Unfortunately, this rising generation of CDR enthusiasts is often faced with a less than helpful environment and even, coming to these competitions, at times has to tolerate a roar of deconstructive, aggressive and often unknowledgeable feedback.

  • “This is not how we do it in arbitration” [to mediators, after a mediation round]
  • “If I was in your shoes, I would have squeezed the opponent until he had paid me the full amount” [to a counsel in a mediation]
  • “Why didn’t you provide the parties with the proper solution?!” [to mediator, who is supposed to NOT do that, but facilitate]
  • “Why did you disclose that you didn’t plan to go to war [well… because my confidential instructions said my country can absolutely not afford it and that’s how you use it in competitions- in private caucus with the mediators so they understand my interests better(of course!!)]..

… To just share a few sad examples of the surprising feedback I have heard being delivered. It breaks my heart to see how these so-called experts destroy students despite them doing the exact right thing!!

Dear students, if you come from a country with a nascent ADR system and therefore lack of expertise, you need to know a few things if you have ever experienced this or if you go for competitions in the future:

  1. You are a pioneer.
    You are the generation that often knows more about mediation and ADR than even some of the top people of the generation before you. Look up for their guidance, but carefully sort and filter who to trust by realizing their limitations when you see they are not familiar with the international best practices that you have learned. I have seen some students being acutely aware of this, and even effectively “mediating” the expert by replying to heavy (wrong) criticism with “Sir, we certainly understand where your concern comes from.” I was cracking up. Way to go! 
  2. Everybody is insecure.
    Let me repeat: EVERYBODY is insecure. Or let’s say at least 90% ;). Yes, even people who have reached the top and created a niche for themselves. In fact, I often feel that many people are so attached to these positions because the title is what defines them and fuels their self-esteem. Many people will look at your performances and feel “wow, I couldn’t have done this when I was that age”. Yes, you heard me right! Consciously or subconsciously, certain kind of people will feel threatened by your skills. This insecurity will make some of them even lash out on you, telling you how bad or unskilled you are. You all know the kind of people that put others down to feel great about themselves? Well, the legal profession is no exception.
  3. People try to keep you in their world.
    When I started studying law, my granddad, who comes from a very simple background, once told me “if you study, who will clean my shoes?” I love my granddad, and I understand this is him protecting his world. But it’s not my world. People will (if sometimes subconsciously) try to keep you in their world, so they can feel in control and comfortable around you. It doesn’t matter if this world is their highest level of education, their preference for “permanent” employment over your own career, their idea of how to resolve a dispute (litigation, what else?) or their predisposition for what is “right” for you depending on your gender or family tradition. But always remember, you have YOUR OWN WORLD to build!

This leaves us with the question now:

How do you tell good from bad feedback?

When you are young and learning, it is often hard to tell an expert from a pretense, and constructive criticism from self-righteous rambling.

Two things will help you:

First, build your own expertise. Don’t simply rely on what people are telling you but go to the right resources. E.g. if you have taken the Master Negotiator Course you will know better than most senior practitioners what an interest is and how to use it in a mediation, or how it’s not about “squeezing” but about building value. Experience does not equal expertise in this field, so get the expertise yourself and do not rely on what others portray as experience (because it’s valid for their world only).

And second, remember that a feedback from a real professional will always be constructive, calm, encouraging and especially pointing out the way you can improve and not the way you suck. Listen for those only, and waste no thought on the others! If you get feedback in an accusatory, loud, finger-pointing manner, “this is not how it’s done”, “this was the worst thing I’ve ever seen” -kind of tone, SAFELY IGNORE IT and definitely not let it get to you or stop you from what you do or cast any doubt on your skills or performance!

Rock on!


Claudia Winkler

Dr. Claudia Winkler, LL.M. (Harvard) is the owner of The Negotiation Academy. After her studies and work in the UK and the US, Claudia returned to Europe with the goal of making negotiation training a firm part of legal education and practice. An energetic and creative communicator she uses her… MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


Dissolution- Don’t let the Resolve Dissolve

From the True North Empire blog by Belinda JokinenI have another great example of how Mediation is the the best way to Move On in a conflict situation.  Disclaimer: I’m changing...

By Belinda Jokinen

Swiss Parliament Initiates Review Process of the Swiss Arbitration Law

Arbitration BlogOn 27 September 2012, the Swiss Parliament adopted a motion that had been introduced earlier this year tasking the Government to prepare a report on the Swiss Arbitration Law...

By Matthias Scherer

Mediating Divisive Topics

SYNOPSIS In recent years, the divisions in this country have become increasingly polarized. People’s opinions have become so extreme that we no longer tolerate different opinions or those who embrace...

By Felicia Staub