by Stephanie Billingham, Canada

Yesterday saw the end of Day Two of our three day simulation, and what a day it was. An investigation into the explosion at the Georgian/Abkhaz Power Plant revealed an Abkhaz diaspora as responsible; troops crossed the ceasefire into the demilitarized zone; soldiers were killed and civilians were injured; Russia threatened war; and the 2014 Olympics were nearly canceled. That was just Day  Two. Such were the crises with which we were faced, while simultaneously attempting to speak reasonably with one another about the contentious issues of a traumatic past, sovereignty, internally displaced persons, Russian military bases, and regional economic cooperation.

How, as a mediator or negotiator, do you respond to such crises? How much of your own interests are you willing to give up for the sake of peace? Would an agreement based on too much accommodation be sustainable? How do you protect the interests of your constituents, while also trying to understand and empathize with other parties? These are only a few of the dilemmas we faced while trying to navigate the unbelievably complex waters of international mediation and negotiation. It has been an educational experience of a singular kind, as we learned that the way in which we react, in real-time, to accusations of lying, grandstanding, and threats to leave the negotiation, do not always match the ways we expected we would react in such situations.

The work, as well as the constant self-discovery, was exhausting. The simulation, only two days in, has not only been an exercise in negotiating strategies, tactics and building consensus, but in growing self-awareness of our personal styles of negotiating. Do we lean more naturally to collaboration, accommodation or competition? In what situations are those attitudes useful, and when they are not how do we move into another manner or mindset to negotiate?

Despite all the learning yesterday, academic, personal and practical, we have so many more questions to ask. I have no doubt that as we conclude the simulation, we will come up with even more questions that will form the foundation for the next stage of education.