Preparing for Negotiations in the Model UN Committee Room

It is as hard to master the arts of public speaking and debating, as it is to master the subtleties of negotiation. To the mere observer, a Model United Nations (MUN) delegate who excels at public speaking can steal the show, but both chairs and delegates know that it is negotiations where MUN’s most significant challenges lie.

In fact, during committee negotiations, even the most experienced MUNers will find it difficult to meet their country’s interests, precisely as planned. While the most successful among them may possess their own techniques to build support for these - wielding their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses when discussing with their fellow delegates - it is essential to bear in mind that no delegate is a natural-born negotiator. Instead, negotiation is an art that can, and should, be mastered through involvement in MUN, as it marks the difference between success and a series of unattained objectives, including in the real world.

In UN4MUN – the only MUN platform that accurately simulates the decision-making process of the United Nations (UN) – delegates speak formally in front of the whole committee only once, during General Debate. They spend over 60% of their time in the conference in informal-informal meetings, where negotiation is their most valuable tool to push forward their agendas. The intense focus UN4MUN attributes to this skill is because Member States are not required to comply with the UN’s resolutions. Therefore, the UN prefers consensus – the adoption of a resolution without a vote, as no Member State is against it – to ensure that its recommendations are implemented.

As a result, negotiations are meant to be intense.

But fear not, as this article will provide an insight into the lessons we teach at the United Ambassadors MUN Academy to master the art of negotiation.

Before we begin with our expert advice, however, we must explore the difference between two distinct forms of negotiation: competitive bargaining, and cooperative problem solving, the last of which constitutes the basis of UN4MUN negotiations.

On the one hand, competitive bargaining trivializes the art of negotiation. It involves delegates asking for more than they desire, expecting that they will receive less. Facing this reality, they employ a series of ‘tricks’ in an attempt to get their way. For instance, they utilize ‘negotiating coins’ - exchanging one favor for another, usually disregarding the value each party assigns it in an attempt to ‘balance’ the value of their ‘tradable goods.’ They also hide their ‘bottom line’ – maintaining their true intentions mysterious -, and take early and give late, aiming to master a term called ‘the concessions rate.’

On the other hand, cooperative problem solving has a more constructive approach to negotiation. For instance, it stipulates that delegates never request the impossible, alienate others, or test their limits. In contrast, cooperative problem solving builds a climate of honesty and maturity, where delegates declare their ‘bottom line’ since the start of negotiations, act in good faith, and establish rapport by giving more early on. Additionally, cooperative problem solving disregards the ‘concessions rate.’ It also recognizes that both parties to a negotiation do not assign equal values to ‘negotiating coins.’ Here is where the primary challenge comes in: being able to compromise while pushing for your country’s interests when drafting resolutions [add link to guide on drafting resolutions], and get every delegate in the committee room to be in favor of it.

While knowing the difference between competitive bargaining and cooperative problem solving will enable you to understand a critical aspect of diplomacy in UN4MUN, it will not suffice to master the art of negotiation. Therefore, read through following lessons we teach at the MUN Academy to accelerate your path to mastery:

1. Understand your nation’s agenda.

There is little point in mastering negotiation if you do not know what you are fighting for; thus, this merits being the most extended piece of advice. Each country in a MUN conference will possess a particular set of objectives with varying levels of importance. A number of these aims will be top priorities. These are the points that must, at any cost, be present in any final resolution to reach consensus. A resolution that excludes them will have to go through a vote. These will form your non-negotiable points.

By contrast, the majority of goals will be less critical and, thus, negotiable. These secondary objectives can be abandoned to build support for non-negotiables – they may serve as cannon fodder to achieve your country’s ultimate purpose.

Unfortunately, delegates abandon their country’s core beliefs too often – and too early - in an attempt to agree quickly and easily. Perhaps the representative of the United States will decide to convert to renewable energy sources fully and to sanction fossil-fuel users. In the blink of an eye, this delegate will have lost credibility.

How to avoid this? Know your nation’s agenda back to front. Bear in mind that the skill of negotiation is a tool vital to allowing Member States to put forward their agenda, not a goal itself. Lacking core knowledge of your country’s policy will further that goal from your grasp. For this purpose, immersing yourself in country policy research, and writing a comprehensive position paper in line with your policy is crucial to embodying the values of your nation. Next, once in the conference, announce your position clearly during General Debate. This will keep you from deviating from it.

2. Understand other nations’ agendas:

In negotiations, knowledge is power. Therefore, delegates should research not only the goals of their own country but also those of the key players of the issue. Why should you do this? Because understanding what your opponent will push for, what value they will assign to their priorities, and what concessions they would be willing to make will give you a head start. You will know when to push for your objectives, and when to hold back; when to declare success, when to accept defeat, and which of your counterparty’s primary points you would be supporting, in exchange for support of yours.

Unsurprisingly, delegates that follow this advice enjoy a significant boost in their confidence, and in their possibilities of attaining their goals.

3. Add your wishes to the draft resolution

As soon as you enter an informal meeting in a UN4MUN conference, you should join with your political group. These are Member States share similar views several issues of international concern, and thus work together at the UN when drafting resolutions.

At this stage, insert your proposals, in detail, into the draft – there will be less opportunity to do so as the conference progresses. You can add them alone and later merge with the members of your political group, or through others. Alternatively, you may decide to work with your political group since the start of the informal meeting or support others who share your country’s position.

However, you must not stop after having inserted your proposals into the draft resolution. Instead, attempt to play a critical role as a facilitator, a group leader, when merging recommendations both within and between political groups. If you would like to know how then read on: