Successful Negotiation in Model UN - WiseMee

Successful Negotiation in Model UN

Model UN resolutions don’t pass simply by getting them approved as drafts. That is just the beginning of the process. If you have a majority and a good idea, the resolution will be analyzed clause by clause by every delegation in the committee. Amendments will be offered and your most important clauses will be thoroughly debated. For your resolution to pass, you often need a number of the delegates to have already committed their vote to your draft and that is accomplished by strategic negotiation.

Negotiations will take place in many different forms and in many different places during the Model UN conference. This diplomatic game will not always be played inside of formal committee sessions. To gain and maintain allies requires you to lean negotiating skills before you attend the conference. The following guide will explain how to maximize negotiation in Model UN both on and off the floor.




Negotiation is a discussion between two or more parties, aimed at reaching an agreement with a beneficial outcomes for all parties, or at least for your side. It is the method through which Model UN delegates settle their differences and reach compromises to write a coherent draft resolution or get a majority of delegations to vote for you.

Negotiations in Model United nations can happen anytime, anywhere. It can happen verbally during an unmoderated caucus. It can happen through notes being passed. It can happen in person or via proxy. It may happen over lunch or dinner, or after hours at the social or the accommodation in the form of Cocktail Diplomacy.

What is Cocktail Diplomacy?

Cocktail diplomacy can be defined as any attempt to discuss foreign policy in a more social setting, sometimes involving drinking alcohol, in hopes of making progress in relations.

Clearly, drinking alcohol in not inherently part of the process, especially for high school students, but you get the idea from the definition. The idea is that this type of diplomacy will take place outside of a formal committee session or during an unmoderated caucus. After the chair opens the first session, every minute of every hour should be seen as potential negotiation time. Do not consider any time inherently not open to negotiation. Even if you choose to define such time as free of the session other delegates might not.

More often than not, negotiation time is where the bulk of the work takes place. You will find that your fellow delegates will tend to be more relaxed and able to speak more freely and to the point. This is a place we can learn about our fellow delegations, or develop relationships based on the observations we had during the session. When negotiating, we need to cater to the personalities of our allies and opponents, their likes, and dislikes. Awareness of the people and the setting is something you can use to your advantage.

When Does Negotiation Start?

Early in the conference, and especially before the opening statements during the committee, you will not be able to properly negotiate. While some delegates may try to start alliances before the first session, most delegates will want to wait and see the entire field before making any form of commitment. In the beginning, everyone is still in “game” mode. They are going to be read pre-scripted speeches and putting on a display of their strengths for the entire room to see. At this point nobody really knows one another and nobody wants appear weak at this point in the process.

Negotiation starting in earnest during the first unmoderated caucus. it is there you will begin to develop personal relationships with the other delegates. If unsure of how this dynamic works from the outside, read our article How to Chair an Unmoderated Caucus to gain a better understanding of what happens in these sessions. Delegates will be free to move around and work with allies. They will also be able to discover, and try to overcome, any opposition to their positions, whether from within their own blocks or outside their usual allies. A good delegate will make notes of what the main issues are and who is voicing concerns about them. This will come in handy later when in an informal setting. Even a long unmoderated caucus with multiple extensions has time limits and delegates are there are usually more eyeballs and less time than needed to  to completely relax. for this reason is it good to get the discussions started to set up the eventual negotiations.

Steps to Successful Negotiation

Identify a good opportunity

Be aware of when other delegations need something. Do they have an amendment they want to pass but are short on numbers? If the amendment won’t hurt your country, consider supporting it so you can gain their support for your ideas. Yes, it is tit-for-tat, but that is how negotiation works. Do they have an idea that is similar to yours, but neither of you have the numbers to get a resolution or amendment drafted? Maybe a merger should be considered. These are both good opportunities for discussion during breaks. Keep notes to yourself of how the session progresses and of the needs of other delegates and blocks. Do they align with your country’s needs, or at least don’t contradict? If so, can you lend support without losing your credibility? If the answer to both is yes you have a ripe platform to negotiate.


Before you engage in any discussions with another delegation, no matter how minor the discussion may be, you need to know who you are talking to.

  • What country do they represent?

  • Who are their natural allies?

  • What problems are they having as a country? As delegates?

  • What resolutions or amendments have they sponsored?

  • What do they want?

  • What can you offer?

If you have a decent grasp of these questions, you are ahead of the game. Keep all this in mind when talking to other delegates. Sometimes, they will know less than you and will be waiting for you to, indirectly, teach them their case.

There is power in information. Before any debate or negotiation situation, arm yourself with information on both sides of the discussion. It is best to specifically research the countries or blocks you want to engage. There is no better way to make your point clear than by knowing the weaknesses in theirs. We underlined want and offer in the above points. You need to know just how far you can go in a negotiation. That doesn’t mean you will go that far, but be sure you know when to stop. Never give more than you intended to unless absolutely necessary but it is best to know all the options.

Opening Gambit

Unless it’s during an unmod and you’re pressed for time, never begin any informal negotiation session with the matter at hand. After all, this is break time and you don’t want to seem that obvious. The less interested you seem in committee business at first, the better. Specifically for cocktail diplomacy, you have to seem interested in the other side as a person, not as delegates representing a country. You have to let them feel they are dealing with a friend. Here are some ideas to start with:

    • Find out where they are from.

    • Ask them about their interests.

    • Ask them about their favorite foods, books, movies, etc.

  • Ask them about previous Model UN experiences. (MUNers always bond over MUn stories)

The point of the opening is to ease in as a friendly face. Don’t rush any of this. When you think it is a good time to bring up a committee session issue, do so and ask for their opinion. The time for business discussion may not present itself in your first attempt at cocktail diplomacy. Use common sense as you guide forward.

Hear them out

Listen to what they have to say even if you completely disagree with their position. You will not get anywhere in a negotiation if you lose your temper or appear annoyed with them. Now is the time to seem as understanding of every position as possible. Smile and say “I understand that” as much as you have to.

Know Your Value

You need to know what you bring to the table. What can your country offer to the delegate you are speaking to. Even if you have less negotiating power than your opponent, that does not mean you can’t operate. If you have a block of allies behind your position, use that to your advantage. They may be the more powerful country, but numbers of delegates on your side count with negotiation. This article from Harvard Business Review gives some tips with how to negotiate with a more powerful opponent.

Also remember that you may be able to offer them something. If they need a vote for a resolution or amendment and it won’t hurt your delegation to do so, consider offering your support.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Always try to look at the situation from every other point of view. Are they even in a position where they can do what you want them to do? Would it be reasonable to ask them for their support or vote? also add the human factors, such as friendships between other delegates or rivalries between institutions. Not only do you have to be prepared with information on your position, you need to know theirs as well.

Listen and Ask Questions

When talking to anyone in a cocktail diplomacy situation, you have to listen carefully. Make eye contact with them so they know you are giving them your full attention. Nod your head when appropriate. However, to really show them you are paying attention, ask them for clarification questions about what they’ve said. Even if you know the answers and already understand the situation, show them your interest by asking them about it. People will take kindly to someone they know is truly listening to them.

When they explain their countries position, ask them how they feel about it personally. Sometimes you will get a surprising answer from them in which they differ from their block. If they trust you enough for this, you’ve built a relationship that you can work with throughout the conference.

Realpolitik Over Pseudo-Friendship

While some new Model UNers may feel that your interest in them is genuine, the majority know how the game works and realize that there is some underlying motive to your interest. Do not see them as people to be duped. Some of them might be reading this article as well.

When negotiating, it is best to treat the other delegate, or delegates, with respect. Look at your decision as Realpolitik; politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations rather than ideological, ethical or moral premises. As long as their country has a tangible gain of some kind, they will be open to negotiation with a friendly counterpart. A good mix of gain for the country and getting along as people will always go further than thinking when you think you pulled the wool over someone else. While you should not completely let your guard down, treat your negotiation partner with respect. That will get you the best results.

Responding to an Offer

If a situation arises where the person you are speaking to has agreed with you and is willing to offer you support or a vote, don’t jump at it too quickly. The first offer is often them giving the least they can give at this point. Unless it is the final unmod and you have 30 second before voting know that you can decide how to respond. Take a few to think about their offer. If the offer includes a swap in which your block must support something of theirs, this may need to be discussed with your block. If you lead your block you might not want to show that you are the leader so quickly. Rule of thumb is, unless time is the essence, don’t give an answer at that moment. This is especially important when juggling multiple offers at once and you’re in the stronger position.

If you are offered something that you need and you only have to give up support you were already prepared to give, you can still give a few minutes before agreeing. It does not hurt to play hard ball, even in a cocktail diplomacy situation. Also, do not be overconfident. You never want to make it seem like you have the whole session planned out in advance. Excess bravado and a lack of humility will give  away the element of trust and friendliness.

Don’t Close the Door

Even if the offer you receive is not what you wanted, or asks too much of you or your block in, you should never flatly refuse the offer. You may not be able to work with it at the moment, but it does represent a starting point you could return to in the future. You never know what may happen in a committee session to change the negotiation landscape. Politely let them know that what they want is not possible at the moment, but you aren’t ruling anything out. Remember that they can like you and respect you even if you will not work with that on this specific topic. To keep the energy positive, move the conversation away from business and back to light topics that you began with.

Keep Others on Your Radar

You should not only be open to new options but also have multiple negotiations going on at the same time. Never deal with only one other delegation. The more delegates you can facilitate trust with, the better off you will be throughout the conference. As stated above, personal relationships go a long way towards getting deals done.

In the real world of international relations, you’ve even seen US leaders shake hands with members of countries they certainly don’t deal with regularly. Being friendly can go a long way towards future negotiations, regardless of who you are dealing with.

Other Negotiation Tips

Location, Location, Location

If there is a delegate or block you want to speak to, think where they will be and place yourself there. This can be the same table during lunch or the same social if there are multiple options. This is not something that needs to be hidden from anyone. It is simply the logistics of time and place. You cannot negotiate with someone if you are not in the right place with the other person in front of you.

Be approachable

The first rule of being a good negotiator is the same first rule of being an excellent delegate. This means you need to be nice to be someone others would be interested in doing “business” with. As a negotiator, you need to be friendly and approachable. Nobody will want to spend down time with a delegate who is known to be aloof or obnoxious. Be nice, fun and engaging and other delegates will be happy to make a deal.

Remember Your Allies

Don’t ignore your strong allies. While the other side requires attention so do the delegates who gave you the clout to reach this point in the negotiations. Remember your strong allies and make sure to spend time with them in an informal setting as well. Do not take them for granted. Supporting your base will give you the platform to better negotiate with other countries.

To Sum Up

The diplomatic game never gets turned off. Not in the real world and not in Model UN. Some of the delegates won’t realize this, but now you know differently. Always be open to negotiate and use every situation to your advantage. Formal committee sessions and speeches are the official business. Unmoderated caucuses can accomplish work at a fast pace and after hours negotiation can be the place to broker the deals that can carry you to passing the final resolution . Whatever the stage, the outcome of positive negotiation will set the stage for success throughout the session.

Remember that negotiating is an ongoing process. It doesn’t stop when a committee session does. Take advantage of breaks, meals, and after-hours activities. Be friendly and establish a rapport with your fellow delegates. Do your research and know your needs and theirs. Know what their countries want and know how they work as people. Negotiation skills are also important in the life we live outside Model UN.  Mastering negotiation in Model UN, a competitive environment full of others who go through similar training and with similar goals, and you will be prepared for all similar situations in life.