The power of diplomacy – In an earlier blogpost, I’ve talked in short about a certain lack of finesse in my previous professional environment. Tact that you’d readily learn and apply during a Model United Nations conference. In this post, I would like to build upon this, and tell you a bit more in detail why it struck me as odd that these skills were lacking.
One of my pet-peeves are meetings, or more to the point, the way they are run. Of course, I can only speak for those meetings where I was part off. First of all, contrary to popular opinion, I adore meetings. Not because they are a break from every day work, but it gives an overview off where a project stands, you hear about other people’s work and more than ever you feel part of a larger whole, before you return back to your part.
While thoughts and ideas ought to run free, and brainstorming should regularly be part of the any session, structure is vital. Just coming together, and talking about a project without any agenda, structure or points leads to chaos, anarchy and a very unproductive meeting. I had many of those with one exception: the meetings I had with my MUN team – students of all people. These people were so used to structured MUN debate that it felt natural to bring the same structure in their meetings. People talked when it was their turn, kept on the topic at hand, were precise and coherent in the points they made, kept it short (!) and understood the need to support whatever it is that was said. I remember a debate we had – I believe it was in Oxford – on freedom of religion (I was Saudi Arabia). It was the first day and one of the first moments there was unmoderated debate. Students came together and almost instinctively fell in their role of listening, point, counterpoint, listening, and so on so forth. There was almost no need for a moderator (though of course, there always is one – that is part of MUN, being assertive and charismatic)
Assertiveness is another aspect that MUN’s are famous for. I’m not sure if it is the type of people that MUN attracts or if MUN makes people assertive. I know for myself that it is the latter. If you do MUN well, you cannot say nothing, you need to interact. An example is when I was Pakistan during a MUN conference in London. Countries gets distributed with a certain amount of randomness, and during one such conference, Sudan had been assigned to a very shy and awkward looking student with a suit three sizes too large. He was Indian and his very (very) fast paced English made him hard to understand, making him even more visibly uncomfortable. The topic of the debate? The civil war of Sudan, so his country was the most sought after of the whole committee. He could not just sit down and keep his mouth shut, he had to speak. And what a transformation it was. After two days only, this guy who couldn’t make himself understood was then standing in front of the room speaking before 150 people about why he preferred a certain resolution, and we understood him. Granted, our excellent chair helped a lot. I know of people who lost their stutter, who dared now to speak, who dared to be. Perhaps it’s the unapologetic and unrestrained energy that is inherent of any MUN, or the fact that you represent a country and not yourself that allows people to open up. Fact is, you come out of an MUN a changed man: Assertive, Bold with a new-found Confidence.
And with that assertiveness comes charisma, empathy, diplomacy and a team orientated attitude. MUN is teamwork, there is no other way around it. It is impossible to create a final product without intensely working together with your colleagues. And every participant is aware of this. So, they use diplomacy to communicate a solution, empathy to understand why the other party has a problem with that solution, and finally you think together for a creative resolution that works for both parties. Then you do these 192 times for all countries of the United Nations. Add charisma to that mix, and you have the perfect colleague to organise a 40-year anniversary concert with. Once, during the Paris Peace talks during the Vietnam war, the North Vietnamese delegation did not agree with a resolution because the US delegation only earmarked repair costs for Southern Vietnam. I was a Soviet Diplomat at that time (and yes, the Soviets were historically not part of these negotiations), and immediately said that the Soviet Union would match each US dollar spend for repairs in South Vietnam for repairs Northern Vietnam. And that sealed a resolution that each party was happy with.
At which point, we arrive on the subject of quick thinking. Imagine you’re in a room, about 80 people or so are actively debating, ready to voice their country’s position. You represent ‘doctors without borders’ and you have two minutes (and not a second more, because believe me, they will use that gavel) to tell all these people which policies they ought to implement to battle Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. Each country will have 45 seconds to tell them why your policies are impossible, wrong, immoral, illegal, out of order and so on. In those seconds between the point that he or she makes and receiving the floor you have to come up with a coherent and structured answer brought in 30 seconds. That requires quick thinking, structure and calmness.
Now imagine your team trained in all these abilities? One weekend, to open up their world to a whole new palette of skills?
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