Sally Soprano: Role-Play Simulation

Claim your free copy from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

One of the most powerful ways to learn is to actually experience a role.

Sally Soprano is a distinguished soprano who is now somewhat past her prime. She has not had a lead role in two years but would like to revive her career. The Lyric Opera has a production scheduled to open in three weeks, but its lead soprano has become unavailable. Lyric’s representative has requested a meeting with Sally’s agent to discuss the possibility of hiring Sally for the production. Neither knows much about the other’s interests or alternatives. There is a wide-range of possible outcomes.

What should Sally’s agent do? How can he negotiate the best terms for Sally? What should Lyric’s representative do? How can she negotiate the best terms for the opera?

One of the most powerful ways to learn is to actually experience a role. The Sally Soprano role-play simulation has been used to teach thousands of students and executives how to become better negotiators.

An enormously effective teaching tool, role-play simulations:

  • Put participants in hypothetical situations and challenge them to deliberate and make decisions in new and different ways.
  • Foster individual and collective learning that can be transferred to real-world situations.
  • Are usually followed by debriefings in which participants, with the help of an instructor, reflect on how the exercise progressed, what they learned, and how these lessons related to or diverge from their real-world situations.

The materials in the teaching guide include:

  • How to organize the classroom for the simulation
  • Suggestions for discussion around strategies for agreement
  • Criteria and standards for evaluating the proposed agreement form.
  • An exploration of the different interests represented and discussion of the creative options available.

Sally Soprano is one of the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center’s most popular role-play simulations because it is an excellent vehicle for comparing principled negotiation and positional bargaining.  Sally Soprano also explores the concept of BATNA, one of the guiding principles of a successful negotiation.

In negotiation theory, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement or BATNA is the course of action that will be taken by a party if the current negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached.

Sally Soprano affords a good opportunity to point out that any such analyses should be based on a consideration of the parties relative BATNAs.

The negotiation in Sally Soprano focuses on what a “fair” salary would be.  This case provides:

  • Practice in developing and using objective criteria.
  • The challenge of finding an objective bias with which to judge the applicability of alternative objective criteria.
  • How to understand the creative options that “expand the pie.”
  • Opportunities to explore techniques to directly or indirectly extract information from the other side.
  • Techniques to prevent oneself from “giving up.”

More than 200 role-play simulations in several different languages are available through the Program on Negotiation Teaching Negotiation Resource Center, including Sally Soprano, one of the most popular role-plays in the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center.

Educators, business executives, human resource professionals and government officials have all found the role-plays available at the Program on Negotiation Teaching Negotiation Resource Center provide an excellent way to provide students with basic negotiation strategies and tactics.

Bruce Patton, one of the founders of the Harvard Negotiation Project and one of the authors of Sally Soprano states,

“The exercise challenges students to figure out what they can do when their BATNA is weak. It also teaches students to think about the errors people might make in setting their aspirations lower than they need to. Finally, and most important, it helps students in less than an hour explore the essential differences between principled negotiation and positional bargaining.”

Robert Bordone, Director of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program, pointed out a pedagogical advantage to an exercise like Sally Soprano:

“Since most people don’t know anything about opera, they will not be able to fight about content. Instead they’ll talk more about behaviors and moves, and not the details of what is right.”

Hugely popular, role-play simulations are hypothetical situations that mimic real-world negotiation scenarios.  Challenging and interactive, role-play simulations allow participants to  step into the action by assuming key roles.  By assessing the specific circumstances and deliberating with other players, each participant learns to make decisions and solve problems with other players.

Discover how to improve your students’ negotiation skills by downloading the Teaching Guide for Sally Soprano.

Simply click the button below.  We will send you a download link to your copy of the Teaching Guide and notify you by email when we post new teaching materials.


7 Responses to “Sally Soprano: Role-Play Simulation”

  • Linda L.


    I teach negotiation techniques to city workers and am always trying to improve the course.

    My dream is to take part in a summer course at your school. Do you offer something like that?

    Linda Langeheine

  • Hello Linda! You may be interested in our Harvard Negotiation Institute courses held during the summer term. Please forward any questions about HNI to

  • Jennie V.

    HI. Where can I find the materials: Confidential Instructions for Sally’s Agent & Confidential Instructions for Lyric Opera’s Business Manager?

    • Gail O.

      You can go to our site and click on the Teaching Materials and Publications, then go to training and teaching materials and Sally soprano should be there.

  • Pon R.

    Could you please post the link to purchasing Sally Soprano materials? Thank you.


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