Negotiation as a Game

Negotiation is a fascinating yet difficult subject.  First negotiation probably took place in the Ice Age between cavemen, but the art of negotiation hasn't advanced much since then.

While there are countless papers on negotiation theories, strategies, tactics, psychology, and even philosophy, negotiation still comes down to people talking face to face, just like the cavemen.

Ross Mayfield's Negotiation and Social Software post got me thinking about web-based negotation tools.  Ross writes:

Social software can support negotiation, at the least, by revealing what kind of argument is in play. […] There are three kinds of arguments: Fact, Value or Policy. You can argue over what is, what should be or how it should be. […] Social software can support negotiation, at the least, by revealing what kind of argument is in play.

Unless I am mistaken, Ross wants to use tools to identify and classify arguments.  Assuming Ross is thinking about using Wiki, I am not sure how effective this approach is using purely textual solutions like Wiki.  I am of the opinion that more visual approach is necessary.

Ross also touches on an important point:

Tools that allow mediators the flexibility to structure dialogue while deemphasizing personalities can accelerate constructive conversation.

Personalities and emotions are difficult to isolate and deemphasize in negotiations.  Even act of doing so can backfire.  I think a game-like interface might encourage negotiators to detach themselves emotionally from the arguments similar to the way chips in casinos detach gamblers from monetary value.

People often see negotiation as a game of sort.  Unlike games like Chess and Go, negotiation has no game board nor game pieces, just an optional table to rest hands on and mouths to create or move pieces in your opponent's head.

What would negotiation look like as a game?

Here is my Swiss Cheese answer.

Game area looks like a Crap table, a flat surface divided into two major areas: Common Areas and Player Areas.  Two-party negotiation would have one Common Area and two Player Areas.  Each area is divided into subareas representing player-specified categories.  Some area-specific effects would be interesting.

A mediator is a player with some special privileages such as ability to view hidden pieces.  More than one mediator can participate in a game.

Game pieces look like a stack of chips and can be created by any players.  When a player creates a piece, matching piece appears in each Player Area.  Height of a piece is determined by its value which is assigned by the player who owns it.  Hidden pieces are visible to all but it's content is opaque to all except the piece creator and mediators.

A Deal is a Wheel-like balance in the Common Area.  Players contribute pieces to the Deal using the pieces' value as weights.  If a Deal is balanced, it lights up in green color.


p dir=”ltr”>Like Swiss Cheese, it has a lot of holes yet to be filled, but I like the way the issues are visualized and players become detached.  Call it work in progress. <g>