What A Way To Meet
Type of Initiative: Conflict Simulation, Conflict Resolution
Source: Noam Ebner and Yael Efron, Tachlit Mediation Center, Jerusalem
Published in: Setting the Conflict Compass, by Michelle Cummings with Mike Anderson
Purpose: What a Way to Meet is designed for use in training aimed at skill-building in communication skills, conflict resolution, negotiation, or mediation. In no time at all, it plants participants solidly in the middle of a realistic and familiar interpersonal conflict setting, in which parties will either attempt to work together or risk the situation’s escalating into a free-for-all. The simulation/game is structured so as to weigh the probabilities towards escalation kicking in at one point or another, allowing exploration of the dynamics of this element of conflict.
One key feature of this simulation/game is its quick set-up time and the simplicity of getting participants involved. In four brief paragraphs, requiring 1–2 minutes of quick reading and reflection, participants are ready for action. In fact, you’ve spent more time reading this overview than they will need to prepare themselves.
Two drivers are headed home in heavy holiday traffic. One is a successful businessperson, driving a status symbol on wheels after the successful completion of an important deal; the other is considerably lower on the socioeconomic ladder and is driving an uninsured clunker. Due to a mistake, a misunderstanding, or a lack of attention by one or both of them (this is purposefully left unclear in the instructions), they crash, with both cars suffering damage. The meeting the simulation/game sets them up for is their initial interaction after the accident.
Suggested Running Time:
15–20 minutes for role-play, another 15–30 for debrief
- Participant Instruction Forms (provided on page ##)
- Debriefing Guide
Group Size: Minimum of 2 participants
- Divide participants into pairs.
- Hand out roles: One participant plays the role of the Civic driver, and the other the role of the Mercedes driver.
- Instruct participants to read the instructions, and imagine how they themselves would feel if this were a real-life situation. Many will be able to flash back to real-life situations they experienced.
- When participants are ready, you can instruct them to begin by having them walk towards each other. An extra little bit of reality can be injected by having them conduct the simulation standing up.
- Don’t hesitate to “cut” the scene in the middle, before the conflict is resolved, if you feel that learning objectives have been met. When focusing on conflict escalation, the difficulty participants will experience in breaking out of character when the conflict is at its peak can have a tremendous effect!
- Several groups can run simultaneously; try having pairs distance themselves one from another (so much as the training surroundings permit) because this simulation/game can get noisy.
- You might assign an extra participant to one of the “cars” as a friend. This will allow to see whether the 2-on-1 situation changed the dynamic, as well as the types of role these “extras” took on (advocating for their role-buddy, mediating, etc.)
- You can assign a third participant to each pair as an observer. Give observers instructions regarding what to be on the lookout for. Observers can debrief the pair afterwards and can assist you in the group debrief by describing situations and processes.
- You can alter the scenario to include a third role—a pedestrian passing by, or a driver who stopped to make sure everything is ok. Depending on training goals, this participant can be instructed to play different types of roles (mediator, provocateur, advocating for one party, etc.)
- You can have two participants play this out in a fishbowl in front of a class. Observers will not be able to control their urge to shout out escalatory advice, which often results in escalatory behavior.
- Instructions for the Civic driver
- Instructions for the Mercedes driver
What a Way to Meet
This simulation/game can be utilized for many learning objectives. Here are several of them, and some of the subjects you might wish to discuss with the participants, according to the goal of the exercise (training notes are italicized):
You might want to cut the simulation/game short at the tip of the conflict spiral in order to allow participants to appreciate its effects.
- Ask each party how they feel with the situation and with each other. Allow them to blow off steam, and then comment on the amount of steam they accumulated just by playing a conflict game.
- What made the conflict escalate? Ask participants to try and remember particular moments.
- How did participants react to each other’s escalatory moves?
- Did participants notice a particular “trigger”—something the other party did that made them see red?
- What might they have done to avoid these triggers?
Allow participants to continue negotiating until they have reached agreement or have terminated talks.
- What made reaching agreement difficult?
- What was missing in the negotiation? What assistance might participants have needed?
- Would participants have felt comfortable having a third party help you out? In what manner?
- Participants who have not reached agreement: What will you do now? Does this alternative plan of action seem as attractive to you now as it did when you broke off the discussion with the other?
- Did participants feel the other was listening to them? How could they tell?
- Were you (turning to individual participants), in fact, listening to your opposite?
When the answers to the previous questions conflict, ask:
- What did you do to show the other party you were listening?
Stress: Active listening, reflecting, body languages
- Ask participants to try and recall whether they asked each other questions or just made statements. If questions were asked, of what sort were they?
Stress: the difference between open-ended and closed questions, their uses and effects.
- How might participants have reframed uncooperative statements their opposite made?
- What issues was each side interested in discussing? How could participants have attempted to jointly define the issues to be discussed?
- How would participants define their interests in this situation? How would they define the other party’s interests?
Compare the two—stressing the difference between one party’s interests and the other’s perception of them.
- Ask participants to try to recall whether any use was made of standards (objective criteria), such as the law, traffic laws, etc.? How did this affect the negotiations?
- What are each party’s alternatives? What can each participant do on their own, if agreement is not reached? How might this information affect the negotiations?
- What options did participants discuss while searching for a solution? What could have been done to promote their creative thinking? What could have been done to “expand the pie”?
What a Way to Meet!
Instructions for the Civic driver
You’re driving along in your 1993 Honda Civic. You saved up for a year to buy it, and it allows you to get around in your endless marathon of home, work, and school. It’s a holiday eve, and the road is crowded with people on their way home to family dinners; it seems like everybody has forgotten how to drive, and it takes all of your concentration just to avoid being hit.
You reach the intersection near your house. You’re sure you have the right of way and that other drivers have a stop sign, so you drive right into the intersection. Suddenly you hear screeching brakes and a blaring horn. You see a large car that, having entered the intersection from your right, tries to brake and turn to avoid you. You also steer to avoid, but it is too late. You feel a sharp crash, and the car comes to a sudden halt.
It takes you a minute to recuperate, and then you climb shakily out of your car. You appear to be unhurt, but your heart sinks when you see that the front right side and fender of your car are smashed in, and the engine hood is peeled back and crumpled. Strange noises are coming from the still-running engine, but you have no idea what damage may have been caused to it.
Your car isn’t insured, and you have no way to fund the repairs that seem necessary at first glance. Looking around in despair, you notice the other car is a fairly new Mercedes-Benz. The driver, who had walked around the car looking for damage, turns and walks your way.
What a Way to Meet!
Instructions for the Mercedes driver
You’re on your way home in your car, late for dinner with your family. You’ve just sealed a major deal today with a new client and are feeling very satisfied with yourself. “What a deal! What a year!,” you think to yourself, enjoying the drive despite the heavy holiday-eve traffic. You sure have earned this new Mercedes-Benz…
You adjust the volume on the stereo and turn the seat-heater up a bit as you approach the intersection at the bottom of the hill. You don’t see a stop sign, so you assume you have the right of way. You downshift and turn into the intersection.
Suddenly you catch a glimpse, in your side-view mirror, of a small white car flashing through the intersection. You honk your horn and jam down on the brakes, steering right to avoid being hit. You see the other car also steering to avoid and think you might just make it—but it’s too late. You feel a sharp crash on your left and the air-bag bursts open. You keep your cool and bring the car slowly to a halt. You climb shakily out of the car. You appear to be unhurt, but your heart sinks when you see that the left side of your car is badly scraped, the front grill is crooked, and the Mercedes-Benz emblem is lying on the ground.
The other car, an old clunker of uncertain make, seems to be damaged pretty badly also. You see the driver get out and look at the smashed white vehicle.
Walk over and deal with it!
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