Putting it to the test: Judging a Chinese student negotiation competition

Over the weekend, conference participants had the opportunity to serve as judges in the 3rd Annual China University English Language Negotiation Competition.

Teams of students from eight universities squared off against each other in four rounds of negotiation, using simulations spanning a wide spectrum of topics. Judges observed the negotiations and scored parties on process issues and outcome.

As a judge, I was surprised and impressed. Surprised, at the fact that if not for the distinctly Chinese venue (the competition was held in an exotic Chinese courtyard complex), the competition was virtually indistinguishable from any other competition I’ve seen in other places around the world. The students’ command of the process and their approach to the situations was identical to students in other locales, from Omaha to Istanbul. Impressed, as the students had only about an hour to read their 4-5 page role description and prepare for a negotiation, given that the roles were written in English, and the negotiations were held in this language as well.

I had the pleasure of judging the first day of the competition (the second day, as other conference participants switched into the judging role, I negotiated the 70 degree inclines of the Great Wall, but that’s another story). Judges from amongst the conference participants were paired with judges from other countries, including judges from universities across China. This made the judging itself a lesson in cross-cultural negotiation regarding what counts as negotiation excellence. Again – what stood out here is that there were rarely (if ever!) any significant divergence of opinions between the two professors judging each negotiation. Food for thought regarding the broad common base negotiation teachers share regarding what constitutes ‘the basics’. My own conversations with my co-judges, Zhou Xiaohong from Jilin University in China and Eric Blanchot of Universite Paris, were fascinating (and tended to spill over the time allotted for deliberation. Now I understand why courts have crowded dockets!)

The experience was, on the whole, a powerful trigger for considering the cultural implications of our work. These students had studied and practiced an obviously American negotiating style, with adaptations to local cultural and norms. Seeing this mix play out was fascinating, but even a layman in Chinese culture could notice the tensions between these two elements. These tensions  might be easily glossed over in role play, but are sure to have repercussions in real life situations. On the whole, however, it looks as if that this group of bright young students are certainly qualified to take on the role of being cultural mediators between Chinese realities and Western negotiation.

First place in the competition went to Zhu Yi and Zhang Yu, of Peking University. The first prize winners will each receive enrollment in the upcoming Hamline Certificate in International Business Negotiation program, including tuition, books, campus housing and funding for travel.


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