Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Role Playing for Teaching Negotiation


Ulijn, Robertson and O’Duill (2009) present an argument for Role Playing as a tool to teach negotiation to engineering students.  This method is designed to closely enough resemble life situation such that students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to can gain experience with business negotiations. Engineering students typically do not focus on the business aspects of their careers. Role-playing offers a more effective method for teaching engineering students then the theory based, pen and paper strategies.


An obstacle often encountered in learning negotiations in the classroom is that negotiating is largely experiential; it is learned through doing. And life-like experiences can be difficult to create in a classroom setting. Role plays attempt to simulate real-world situations by creating a setting for students to interact within.  Ulijn set up a role playing scenario in order to allow the students to develop a sense of the skills they will need in negotiations. Furthermore, it allows them the chance to get a feel for what outside actors will look for in these negotiations.

The scenario is set up as follows.

  • Four students are chosen, each receives a specific role. Two students negotiate on behalf of the startup, and two represent venture capitalists.
    •  The goals of XM: to try and obtain a 51% share in BFC, at least for the first 5 years. XM also wants codetermination and management authority within the company and to guide the young entrepreneurs in developing more products. Their initial strategy was to be “tough,” as they felt the power in the negotiations lay with them.
    • The goals of BFC: to get the money necessary to start the company successfully and business contacts, confine the right of codetermination of XM to marketing decisions, and to keep the overall control of BFC. The adopted strategy to reach this goal is to keep as much management responsibility as possible in BFC, while XM accepts to pay the needed funds for the first year of operation. The maximum amount of shares XM could acquire in return should be 49%. And they agreed to stress to XM that investing in BFC is a golden opportunity, which should not be missed. (Additional information regarding individual goals is contained in Appendices in the document.)
  •  The role play includes timeouts where professionals can moderate and train the students, directing their attention to salient points.
  • After the negotiations, the observers (the rest of the class) are given a chance to make comments on the proceedings and the participants’ performances. 
         The structured process of the role play allows experts and observers to develop an idea of their own part in negotiations, and also the likely strengths and weaknesses of their opponent’s positions.


In this study, the implications of the role play were evaluated post hoc by Ulijn, rather than through discussion with the class.  The authors are unclear about the consequences of the role play, and their applications to business practice. The theoretical training this exercise provides is still unclear.


Ulijn, J. M., Robertson, S. A., & O'Duill, M. (2009). Teaching Business Plan Negotiation: How to Foster Entrepreneurship with Engineering Students. Business Communication Quarterly.


  1. We used role playing in my negotiation class, but as opposed to this study we followed up with discussion in class. I found the exercises to be very effective tools for learning how to negotiate with different types of people. However, we did not use the results as a predictive methodology in the class.

  2. I think the authors in the study were specifically worried about alternative methods for teaching practical skills. Especially in the area of negotiations, I think that role-playing is an exceptional fit for teaching the particular skills.