An Interview with Wharton Management Professor Maurice Schweitzer

We asked Wharton’s Maurice Schweitzer, creator of the OPEQ and Hearts simulations and co-author of Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both about his simulations and his approach to teaching negotiation.

Negotiation classes often use exercises for teaching. What makes simulations different from paper exercises?

Simulations create a far more immersive experience than paper exercises. In a simulation, students can get immediate feedback from multiple sources, such as peers and the architect of the simulation, and they can get this feedback in different ways, such as through graphs. Simulations also enable new twists and novel ways to communicate. In addition, simulations enable instructors to capture both the process and outcomes so that the debrief can really tell the story of how specific behaviors lead to specific outcomes. We can capture their communication and their decisions over time, and when we debrief students, we can walk them through the dynamics and gain insight into what they were thinking and how their actions impacted their counterparts.

“Simulations are the future of learning. We don’t need a face-to-face environment to run a simulation. They allow us to teach remotely, can scale, and they are a great way to engage people who aren’t in front of you.”

The Hearts simulation, for instance, can accommodate hundreds of players, who answer questions through the game before playing and I can instantly link those answers to their results and show players those graphs. I simply cannot do that with paper exercises.

How do you use simulations in your class?

I use Hearts as an introductory exercise in my class. Hearts introduces students to concepts like the bargaining zone, opening offers, the negotiation dance, and how sharing information connects to offers and outcomes. It is a rich context to unpack some of the fundamental questions about negotiation. In Hearts, I can capture student beliefs through the game before it starts and correlate those beliefs with the messages students send during the game and the outcomes that they get. I can look at how their beliefs are more or less accurate, how they may have been deceived or misled or learned key information that ultimately guided their behavior and outcomes. And I can do it instantly and unpack the process and the outcomes.

I use OPEQ in my classes here at Wharton where I can harness the space that we have, like group study rooms. But I have also run OPEQ remotely, either entirely remotely or in a hybrid way, with some groups working remotely and some groups working face-to-face. Both of the simulations are very robust and will work no matter where people are located, as long as they have an internet connection and a screen. Players can engage with the exercise and with each other, I can monitor what is happening, and when I debrief, I have access to everybody’s communication and can engage participants in a lively discussion of what happened in the simulation and how individual and team actions impacted cooperation, competition, and trust.

What are your simulations aiming to teach and what is the difference in teaching approaches between the two simulations?

My fundamental goal in teaching negotiation is to explicate how the negotiation process influences outcomes. Through these exercises, we can begin to answer key questions, such as: What initial moves should we make in a negotiation? What offers should we make? What questions should we ask? What answers should we give? How should we conduct ourselves in a negotiation to create the kinds of relational and economic outcomes that want? In Hearts, I have complete access to the process and the outcomes and I can draw the line for students.

The OPEQ simulation is similar. I have access to the process, and outcomes and I can see how the group dynamics unfold. The focus of OPEQ is cooperation and trust. I want students to understand how the shadow of the past or their initial move can influence outcomes. Students may start the game cooperatively or competitively; they may start with a lie or tell the truth and the question is, how does that initial move set the tone for the entire course of the negotiation? I also want them to understand how the efforts that they make to rebuild trust — honesty, penance, incurring a cost, demonstrating concern — may to some extent, repair the relationship.

OPEQ is dynamic, and we can manipulate how accountable people are, and the transparency with which people are acting. Some teams have a rough start but get to a cooperative point. Our ability to manipulate how accountable people are, and the transparency with which people are acting can roil cooperation and help us understand how fragile cooperative behavior is. Cooperation may look stable from a distance, but when players hold a grudge for past behavior or think they can hide behind an opaque feedback system, such as a new producer, or believe the game may end soon, they may take advantage of a cooperative counterpart. For this exercise, I can identify the moment where things went off the rails, or things moved to a super cooperative point. Through a debrief, we can focus on that moment in time and how individuals conceptualized the relationship, what they said, and what they did. Some teams may expect cooperative behavior after reaching an agreement, and view uncooperative behavior as intolerable and a violation of expectations. During the debrief, we talk about how expectations form and develop and how they reinforce and make trust more fragile.

How do team dynamics play out in OPEQ and how do you manage those dynamics?

There are two levels of team dynamics in the OPEQ simulation: within team and between team dynamics. OPEQ requires that a group of players work together. Every social group throughout history is characterized by hierarchy. Even in flat organizations or in organizations in which no one has a title, we all fall into a hierarchical group. That is, in any group a hierarchy always emerges. The team dynamic in OPEQ serves as one point of learning – it helps players understand and think about what happens in a team, how one person exerts more influence than another, how the person who controls the keyboard or guides the conversation exerts more control. We can also think about how existing relationships outside of the team can play an important role in forming coalitions.

Between team dynamics in OPEQ teach players many lessons. Players learn about the dynamics of attribution and the different perspectives people hold about the same behavior. Teams can sometimes develop a reputation or get ascribed a personality based on one team members’ behavior and for some players, a handshake or verbal agreement is very meaningful while for others a handshake or agreement is far less meaningful. Students learn that others may view a shared experience very differently than they do. Similarly, some people view the exercise as a game, while others view it as an extension of their social relationships. For example, if a peer misleads you in the game, you can either view it as just part of a game or as part of a broader relationship. Players realize that while they may view business experiences and negotiations one way or have a mental model of what is happening, others may have a very different perspective.

What do you think students take away from your simulations?

“OPEQ teaches students about a key managerial challenge: how to get others to share your mental model, or how to communicate a strategy so that others understand, share, and execute on that strategy.”

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With Hearts there are a few things that really stick with people: they learn the value of asking questions, the value of information in guiding negotiation behavior, they certainly remember if they were deceived or misled, they remember what a bargaining zone is and where it comes from, and they remember the importance of idiosyncratic valuations to negotiations.

In OPEQ students learn fundamental lessons about credibility, trust, the shadow of the past, and the idea of a shared mental model. A key managerial challenge is to get group members to collaborate and work together, even when their individual interests are not the same as the group’s interests. The simulation teaches key insights about this fundamental problem.

“Simulations promote durable learning and they provide a broad shared experience through which to talk about negotiation. Students can learn key lessons in simulations in a low-stakes way and are then able to apply those lessons during the course and later on, outside of the classroom.”

What does an instructor get out of the experience of teaching with simulations?

The instructor gets an engaged student who is immersed in the exercise. Our ability to deliver immediate feedback and capture process and outcome data means that the speed and amount of data allows for a really rich debrief. As an instructor, you teach fundamental lessons to students who have been engaged in a process that really connects them to the ideas you are trying to convey. I have run into students at alumni events, and I can attest that my students remember this experience and the lessons that they learned through it for decades.