It is important that we don’t use the word arm wrestling when we do this exercise.
Players are paired up and they are shown the position each should take, precisely like in the picture. Each player is told that he or she will win a point each time that the back of their partner’s hand touches the table. Each player is instructed to get as many personal points as possible within ten seconds, with no regard for their partner’s points. Teams that do best are those that immediately recognize the benefit of flopping their hands rapidly back and forth. Teams that do the least well are those that actually engage in a competitive attempt at arm wrestling. The debriefing afterward is illuminating, showing the power of setting expectations aside.
This activity breaks the myth where normally people:
- Assume a zero-sum world
- Approach negotiations as adversaries
- Restrict communication
- Limit negotiators’ ability to find an optimal solution
Setting Up The Game:
Explain, “This is a very easy exercise. There are two things you must know.
- You get a point if the back of your partner’s hand touches the table
- You want to get as many points for yourself as possible. You don’t care about anyone else.
Explain, “Each ‘point’ is worth Rs 10,000/-!! and they have only 10 seconds to draw as much money they want.
BEHAVIOR QUESTIONS: For a team that got a LOT of points, ask, “What did you do?” If everyone gets locked, ask “How did you lock? Why? Could you have done anything differently?” Offer to show how some teams generated many points: by either flip flopping their hands backward and forward or by repeatedly tapping one players hand on the table and agreeing to share the points.
REASONING QUESTIONS: For pairs, who got many points, ask how or why they did what they did, the reasoning. Did the person who came up with the idea offer tap the back of their partners hand on the table, rather than their own?
ASSUMPTIONS QUESTIONS: For teams that got very few points, try to tease out the assumptions they made that limited their success, such as:
- We’ve seen this game before
- We know how this game is played
- We assumed no communication
- We assumed we had to keep our hands together
- We didn’t trust each other
- We assumed the rules were set
At the end of the experience, discuss how difficult it is to dismantle assumptions and develop a collaborative approach when folks assume that more for one person means less for the other.