Friday, June 13, 2008

Roleplay? Me?

I was totally correct in my suspicions about the demographic of the "Business Negotiation" training class. There were a few admins, a couple of I.T. people, and a whole lot of executives who I will likely never see again.
We spent a good deal of time talking about "closing", which made me freak out about buying a house. We discussed body language, dominant seating positions and comfort zones.
I drew an adorable kitten on my notebook. She had striped fur and long whiskers and I titled my sketch "Princess Muffin".
I did perk up when we got to the "practical" part of the class, which involved splitting up into pairs and conducting an actual negotiation. We were all given colored index cards and a list of "wants" and "needs" we had which had some points of conflict. One person was given the role of "manager" and one was given the role of "employee".
The index cards were used to accelerate the process to meet the time frame of the class, I think, since they were to be played to simulate outside influences.
Our green card was to be labeled "Peace", our yellow card "Arm", and our pink card "Nuke". Everyone dutifully scribbled this into place, assisted by a PowerPoint slide projected on the wall as a visual instruction manual.
I love games with rules. I especially love familiar-seeming games with rules like these.
The "Arm" card is played one round prior to "Nuke" and signifies a break-down in communication. "Nuke" is last resort and the one round delay translates in most cases to mutually assured destruction. "Peace" is played to resume talks in case both parties move to "Arm" but hesitate.
I wonder how these training exercises were done before the nuclear age? Was it "Veiled Hostility", "Influenza Blankets" and "Poisoned Wells"?
Anyway, since everyone needs a laugh at the geek's expense, I was given the role of "Manager" and partnered with some slightly older executive-type gentleman. His demands for "larger cubicles", "casual jeans Fridays" and "discounted meals in the cafeteria for people working through lunch" were clearly stated, as well as his desire for more money per hour and, if possible, better parking.
I listened patiently, my own list of demands ("fewer requests for comp time", a "shortened help desk queue", and "more restricted access to internet resources for employees without a clear business need") battling with my want list of employees in ties and fewer wasted hours in (ironically) training. I kept them all to myself, though, both needs and wants, and waited for his list to be completely expressed.
I would not call his opening statement "impassioned", but his arguments were well-formed, in my opinion. Someone reads Business Week, probably the print version.
Anyway, the silliness of the exercise got to me, so before I spoke a word I held up my pink card and tore it in half in front of everyone.
"Let's take the pink card off the table to start with. Having a looming threat does nothing to foster good will. We should negotiate without that burden weighing us down."
The "employee" executive guy agreed immediately and tore up his "Nuke" card.
We were both commended by the instructor, who advised us that we had chosen the proper course, though negotiation would need to be more plainly stated and open and honest to compensate for the lack of urgency.
Then I placed my sundered pink card on the desk in front of me, the pieces clearly labeled "Pe" and "ace".
Then I played the "Arm" card and listed my demands and want list, in full. I also placed my green "Nuke" card, face up, on the desk. I tapped it twice, as though I were in a comic book store facing off against some arrogant twelve-year-old in a Magic: The Gathering tournament.
Negotiations complete, I took my seat back with the class.
There was some heated debate among the other attendees about whether using an alternate color scheme for the cards was "cheating" or, as I call it, "a creative use of existing game mechanics". Is it wrong to be deceptive in this situation or is it wrong to assume one's opponent is not? Compromise is not winning.
My final argument was that it is the assumed goal of anyone in any negotiation to ensure that their opponent holds as few cards as possible. Fact.
Roleplaying as a training exercise?
To some of us, roleplaying is serious business.

1 comment:

jane said...

I would like to see a picture of Princess Muffin, or a reasonable facsimilie thereof.