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'Life is one big negotiation, after all': How I got my job as a world-class mediator

John Sturrock reckons his teenage job as a barman set him on the right path.

Image: John Sturrock

AS THE CEO of UK-based company Core Solutions, John Sturrock QC is tasked with mediating in a massive variety of situations and disputes across the globe, from commercial contracts to Olympic sports.

John believes that negotiation skills are the lifeblood of good communication and effective relationships.

Although he is a Queen’s Counsel, or senior barrister, by profession, he has spent the past 17 years using his negotiation skills in a very different way.

So, how did Sturrock become an internationally recognised mediator? Well, it only took three law degrees…

What’s your education background?

My three law degrees are at undergraduate, postgraduate Masters levels and honorary doctorate levels.

I practiced law in Scotland for several years, before becoming involved in advocacy and court room skills training. That got me interested in working with professional people in a training capacity and in finding better ways to resolve problems.

I studied negotiation briefly at Harvard, then trained as a mediator and decided to leave law behind and set up my own business. The rest, as they say, is history.


What was your first ‘proper’ job after you finished school?

I worked as a barman in a local hotel; one of the most important life experiences I have ever had.

I learned to get on with all sorts of people, regardless of who they were or where they came from. After university, I undertook my legal apprenticeship in a law firm. I think that satisfied me that working in an office 9 to 5 was not for me!

Did you have a part-time or summer job as a teenager?

I delivered newspapers (and cigarettes!) to a local hospital, early in the morning before school. Being rather sheltered up until then, I was shocked by what I saw in some of the wards. When I look back, it was another life-transforming experience.

Did it influence what you do today?

I think both the bar job and the hospital role gave me a sense of empathy, which is such an essential part of what I do now as a mediator and coach. A deep sense of compassion towards one’s fellow human beings is something we all probably need to find.

shutterstock_619738748 Source: Shutterstock/illustrissima

What transferable life skills has your current job taught you?

Listening, listening and listening some more. That pause before speaking or acting is essential in engaging the more thoughtful, rational part of the brain, rather than the merely reactive, fight-or-flight part.

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Also, I know how to ask really focused, open questions to get under the surface, and to persevere with questions even if it seems awkward.

I’m also well aware of the importance of preparing ahead. The process is often more important than the outcome.

What advice would you have for anyone interested in pursuing a career like yours?

Get experience of as many life situations as you can. Never assume, and approach everything with humility. Keep asking questions of yourself and others.

Get properly trained by people who know what they are doing. Be clear about your vision and learn from others with differing styles and approaches. Also, this career matures, so don’t approach it in a hurry.

Why are negotiation skills important for career progression?

They’re the lifeblood of good communication and effective relationships. You won’t get on in your career if you don’t have good relationships with others – and if you can’t communicate really well when things are tough.

All of life is one big negotiation after all. We all need to learn to do it well.

Core Solutions will welcome one of the world’s leading mediators, William Ury, author of Getting to Yes, for a one-day masterclass in Edinburgh on Monday May 14. Find out more here.

More: How to manage a difficult boss – and still get your work done

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