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.
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.
For all parties:
- General Instructions and Score Sheets
- Monthly Price Report Message Forms
- All of the above
- Teaching Note (English version only; non-English versions do not include teaching note)
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
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.