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Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Activities

Conflict resolution is a hot topic, whether you teach negotiation, team-building, leadership, or communication skills. Here are a few activities that will help you quickly cut to the core and identify challenges and processes to manage difficult relationships.

Arm Wrestle

In this quick and easy activity, pairs are set up in what looks like an arm wrestle challenge. It’s up to each team of players whether they approach it as a “wrestle” or as an opportunity to create more value for both.  The debrief uncovers our tendency to make assumptions and approach negotiations as a win-lose game. More here…

Knot or No Knot

I use a problem solving initiative called “knot or no knot”. If facilitated correctly it’s a very powerful exercise. Out of sight of the group place a length of rope on the ground in a pile. My rope is about 20′ long. I use a two colored rope to make it a little more difficult. The object is for the group to decide whether, when the pull the ends of the rope will there be a knot or no knot. Before I allow them to closely examine the rope I ask them to come up with a consequence that the whole group must do if they guess wrong. Also the decision of the group must be unanimous. Then the fun begins. Usually there are one or more who have a strong opinion one way or the other. Those are the ones I focus on. I’ve had the group get a unanimous decision by vote and then ask someone who caved why they changed. If questioned I have actually had the entire group turn their decision around. I will also ask that person who went against their strong opinion what they would do if I made them leader of the group and their decision was the final one.

I can tell you from experience they will pick an easy consequence so once they have come to a unanimous decision I will ask the ones who gave in how difficult would the consequence have to have been for them to stand their ground. Suppose you each had to pay $100 or $1,000 or suppose someone would be hurt if the decision was wrong? There is a lot y ou can do with this but it’s a very telling exercise when it comes to conflict resolution. Posted online by Larry Riggs

The Orange Negotiation

In Roger Fisher’s book, Getting to Yes, The Orange Exercise was first described as a challenge for two kids fighting over a single orange, the only one left in the fruit bowl. In that scenario, the children learn that one needed the peel for baking and the other needed the juice to quench his thirst. On LinkedIN, Susan Meredith has shared another version of this scenario as a brief negotiation exercise. It goes like this:

The group is split into 2 teams, “A” & “B.” The facilitator plays the role of Mandez, the keeper of the only remaining Mandezine Orange (a very rare variety) and the one with whom the teams must negotiate. Each team receives a scenario explaing why they must buy this special fruit, are are told that they may only contact the grower one spokesperson at a time. On the private instructions, Group A learns that they need the rind of the orange to create a nuclear component that – make up some compelling, unexpected humanitarian reason. They appear to have unlimited resources, which occassionally makes them a bit careless or arrogant. Group B learns they need the pulp of the orange to create a serum to protect pregnant mothers from a deadly disease that is ravaging the area. Without it, all of the expectant mothers will become tragically ill and die.

Only once did the two teams bypass Mandez and negotiate directly with each other. Once they realized that they each needed different components of the orange they became collaborative and resolved the issue satisfactorily even going so far as to share the costs. They provided Mandez with a reasonable profit even though the demand had radically shifted.

Another version, called the Ugli Orange Exercise, which was developed by Search for Common Ground, is here.

Nine Dots Challenge

This is a quick “think outside the box” activity.  On a piece of paper, draw nine dots in a 3 x 3 grid. The challenge is to connect the nine dots with only 4 straight lines, without lifting the pencil from the paper. Following is a description of the solution . . . don’t read on until you’ve tried it!

Starting in any corner, draw a diagonal line to the opposite corner. Second, make a horizontal line from that dot to the dot at the other side of your square, but continue onward the length of a fourth invisible dot. Third, draw diagonally, through two middle dots, again continuing your line to the next imaginary dot. Finally, draw a vertical line through the two remaining dots.

Partisan Perceptions

I use a story from Steven R. Covey’s book 7 Habits of Most Efficient People, to show the people often come to a negotiation from very different mind-sets. Without seeing the world from their perspective, it can be difficult to come to agreement.

Covey tells of an experience on a subway ride:

Some kids are jumping around in the same car he is in. As they were really bothering him (he elaborates the scenario), he went over to the children’s father and asked if he could please control his boys. The father responded, saying was that he did not notice that his boys where bothering anyone. Steve thought this was very strange. The boys were clearly out of control. He asked the father could you possibly not have noticed? The father explained that he was extremely sorry he simply did not notice. He continued, explaining that he just left the hospital where he and his boys got word that their mother, his wife, died. The father said that none of them had any idea how to act in this situation.

At this (if told well enough), everyone in the room gets goose bumps. This new information suddenly makes everyone move from feeling alienated to the father to feeling strong sympathy towards him. Steve also changed his perception and became very sympathetic. He offered to help the family learn to deal with the situation (and he did).

Steve (and I explain) that this is called a paradigm shift. everything we think is always affected by the paradigm through which we are looking. Posted by Joshua Weiss

Old Lady / Young Lady and other Optical Illusions

I sometimes use a series of 6 optical illusion images (e.g. old woman/young woman) that when viewed from different angles, or by different people, look like something else. I put these on slides and ask participants to number a page 1-6. I explain that I will show them a series of images for 10 seconds each. They are to write down what they believe that they see. At the end of the slide show I have each person turn to someone else and compare lists as I comment that since everyone saw the same images, responses should be the same. Of course they usually are not.

This leads to dialogue about why not and how based on experience, education and other factors we often view things differently.   Posted by Bob Lucas, BS, MA, MA, CPLP

Rattling Assumptions – a Think-Outside-the-Box Exercise

This used to be a game we played at the dining room table when we had friends over. You ask people to look at the pattern the silverware (or pens) is making and attribute a number to it (1-5).  Demonstrate first, then create new patterns and ask them to tell you what the number is:

  • Lay out 1 item vertically and show one finger on the table or on your knee. Say it is a “1
  • Lay out 2 items vertically and show two fingers on the table or on your knee. Say it is a “2
  • Lay out 3 items vertically and show three fingers on the table or on your knee. Say it is a “3
  • Lay out 3 items horizontally and show four fingers on the table or on your knee. Say it is a “4
  • Lay out 5 items criss-crossed and show five fingers on the table or on your knee. Say it is a “5
  • Lay out 1 item horizontally and show one finger on the table or on your knee. Say it is a “1
  • You can make up as many patters as you like.  The correct number will always refer to the number of fingers you show, not on the pattern of the items.

Even if you say, “look outside the box,” participants are often stumped because they’re focusing on the pattern of the items, not on the fingers you’re showing.

As a debrief, discuss why it was difficult, how it felt when other could see the pattern and they couldn’t, etc.

Alliance Training Solutions provides faciltation instructions for a similar learning game using markers and they have a video so you can see it in action.

Pushy Pairs

In pairs, get each person to stand facing each other. They put their arms straight out in front of them to shoulder level and touch palms with the other person. They are going to push as hard as they can against each other so get them to stand in a way that is safe.

Once they have pushed and felt what it was like – keep them pushing and then tell them suddenly to stop pushing and feel how much of a relief it is.

This is what happens when we are in conflict with someone. each of us trying to ‘push’ their message home. It makes for great discussions and learnings.  Posted online by Gail Page


8 thoughts on “Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Activities”

  1. Thank you for publishing such lovely and brilliant activities ,

    I used the “Ugli Orange Activity ” for a session I conducted on “Confict Resolution ” and it was amazing how the team worked and enjoyed it , It was for a group of 14 members – with 5 to 9 yrs of work experience ,

    Greatly appreciate the effort taken by all of you who so willing share your knowledge.

    Cheers !

    Jyothi Thomas

  2. I teach life skills at a prison and these are some of the neatest ideas for teaching about win-win conflict resolution that I’ve ever come across. Thank you so much for sharing them!

  3. We will use a few of these ideas like the “Orange” for our group which will be a group of 15. We plan to use role play as well.

    Thanks you for the great ideas in helping us work through our work environment conflicts

  4. I am going to try a couple of these with a women’s group that I facilitate and with my child development staff, Easy and not a lot of materials required thanks!

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