International Relations Negotiation Role-Play:

Oil Pricing ExerciseBalancing long-term trust and short-term gain

Roger Fisher
Two-team, scoreable, multiple round, "prisoner's dilemma"-style negotiation between representatives of two countries over the monthly price for barrels of oil.

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Free review copies of non-English Teacher’s Packages will be emailed upon request. Please contact tnrc@law.harvard.edu  or telephone 800-258-4406 (within the U.S.) or 781-966-2751 (outside the U.S.)

SCENARIO:

Alba and Batia are two unfriendly oil producing nations that sell a significant amount of their production to nearby Capita. Anti-dumping agreements and Capita’s alternate supply options limit Alba and Batia to prices per barrel of $10, $20, and $30. Each country’s monthly profit can vary from $2 to $18 million per month, depending on the two country’s relative prices and consequent Pricing Board of Alba or Batia. They are instructed that maximizing their own country’s profits is their sole objective.

 

MECHANICS:

This is a group exercise, with several people on each country’s Oil Pricing Board. It is possible to have as few as three or as many as ten members of each Board. The exercise is run in 8 or more rounds, corresponding to months, and takes 2 1/4 to 3 1/2 hours to run and review.

 

TEACHING MATERIALS:

For all parties:

  • General Instructions and Score Sheets
  • Monthly Price Report Message Forms

 

Teacher’s Package

  • All of the above
  • Teaching Note (English version only; non-English versions do not include teaching note)

 

PROCESS THEMES:

Assumptions; Commitment; Communication; Competition v. Cooperation; Compliance; Constituents; Credibility; Decision analysis; Education, as a means; Ethics; Game theory; Group process; Group-think; Joint gains; Managing uncertainty; Meaning of “success”; Message analysis; Misrepresentation; Recurring negotiations; Risk aversion; Risk perception; Trust

 

MAJOR LESSONS:

This is a so-called “social trap” exercise, in which long-term maximization requires unenforced mutual trust where significant short-term gains are possible by breaking that trust. In most rounds, communication must be implicit, and is hence highly ambiguous and subject to misinterpretation, usually by the projection of negative and adversarial intentions that don’t actually exist. At certain points, the parties are given the opportunity to communicate explicitly, and may choose to reach pricing agreements or not (and subsequently, to honor those agreements or not).

The exercise highlights the frequency with which we make imprecise and inadequately supported assumptions, suggesting the importance of making and keeping assumptions explicit and testing them periodically.

The danger of self-fulfilling assumptions is also illustrated. Parties can turn cautious competitors into the cutthroat adversaries they fear by proceeding with pre-emptive ruthlessness.

The difference between reacting to the other side’s moves (or one’s perception of what those moves mean or will be), and acting purposefully to influence the other side to (re)act constructively, is easily illustrated by comparing the experience of different teams. The monetary variation tends to be dramatic between cooperative and competitive games, and analysis usually suggests that to establish the former, some teams have to take a risk. Players face the tension between seeking high short-term gains and low short-term risk inherent in a competitive strategy, and lower but more stable long-term gains inherent in a cooperative strategy.

The exercise presents rich opportunities to observe, analyze, and critique intra-group dynamics and decision making.

Negotiation Pedagogy Video Series, Part III
This unscripted video, available separately, shows PON faculty member Sheila Heen running and debriefing the “Oil Pricing” exercise, interspersed with excerpts from a post-workshop interview with the instructor.
Order the video here.

 

Oil Pricing Exercise Attributes

Time required:
2-3 hours
Number of participants:
6
Teams involved:
Yes
Agent present:
None
Neutral third party present:
None
Scoreable:
Yes
Teaching notes available:
Yes
Author:
Roger Fisher
Non-English version available:
French, Croatian, Hebrew, Korean, Portuguese, Turkish, Chinese, German, Japanese, Polish, Arabic, Spanish, Swedish
PON Teaching Negotiation Resource Center

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Soft copy vs. hard copy

You may order this role simulation in either soft copy (electronic) or hard copy (paper) format. If you select the soft copy option, you will receive an e-mail with a URL (website address) from which you may download an electronic file in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. You are then permitted to view the document on your computer and either print the number of copies you purchased, or forward the electronic file as many times as the number of copies you purchased. You will only receive a link to one electronic file per document. So, if you order 25 soft copies, you may either forward copies of the link to 25 people via e-mail, or print (and/or photocopy) 25 hard copies of the document.

If you select the hard copy option, you will receive paper copies of this role simulation via the shipping method you select.

The purchase price and handling fee are the same for both soft and hard copies. Soft copies do not entail a shipping fee.

For additional information about the soft copy option, please visit our FAQ section, or contact the PON Teaching Negotiation Resource Center at tnrc@law.harvard.edu or 800-258-4406 (within the U.S.) or 781-966-2751 (outside the U.S.).

Please note: At the present time, Teaching Negotiation Resource Center soft copies are compatible with the following versions of the Adobe Acrobat Reader: English, German, French, Spanish, Swedish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Korean. If you have a different version of the Acrobat Reader, you may wish to download one of these at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html, or contact the PON Teaching Negotiation Resource Center at tnrc@law.harvard.edu, 800-258-4406 (within the U.S.), or 781-966-2751 (outside the U.S.) for further assistance. This restriction does not apply to the freely available Teacher’s Package Review Copies.

Ordering a single copy for review

If you wish to review the materials for a particular role simulation to decide whether you’d like to use it, then you should order a single Teacher’s Package for that role simulation. A PDF, or soft copy, version of the Teacher’s Package is also available as a free download from the description page of most role simulations and case studies. There is no need to order participant materials as well as a Teacher’s Package, as all Teacher’s Packages include copies of all participant materials. In addition, some Teacher’s Packages (but not all) include additional teaching materials such as teaching notes or overhead masters. Please note that the materials in Teacher’s Packages are for the instructor’s review and reference only, and may not be duplicated for use with participants.

Ordering copies for multiple participants

If you wish to order multiple copies of a role simulation for use in a course or workshop, simply enter the total number of participants in the box next to “Participant Copies.” There is no need to calculate how many of each role is required; the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center will calculate the appropriate numbers of each role to provide, based on the total number of participants. For example, if you wish to order a 2-party role simulation for use with a class of 30 students, you would enter “30” in the box next to “Participant Copies.” You then would receive 15 copies of one role and 15 copies of the other role, for use with your 30 participants. As another example, if you ordered 30 participant copies of a 6-party role simulation, you would receive 5 copies of each role.

In the event that the number of participant copies you order is not evenly divisible by the number of roles in the simulation, you will receive extra copies of one or more roles. Participants receiving the extra roles may partner with other participants playing the same role, thus negotiating as a team. So, for instance, if you ordered 31 copies of a 2-party role simulation, you would receive 15 copies of the first role and 16 copies of the second role. One of the participants playing the second role would partner with another participant playing that same role, and the two would negotiate as a team.