Role Plays and Emotions

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This template can be applied to different role plays. In essence, volunteers role play scenarios involving negotiating skills. Observers look at the interaction focusing on how emotions play in negotiation and how participants have addressed - or should address - the core concerns that stimulate emotions. Observers provide feedback, you boost discussion and help investigate the issues.


  • To understand how emotions play in negotiation;
  • To explore how negotiators can deal with emotions;
  • To explore how negotiators can address core concerns that stimulate emotions in negotiation.


It depends pretty much on the scenario and roles you assign to volunteers. Besides, the discussion based on observation (the VIII step of the process) can flow even for several hours. Using the short role sketches below provided in handout 1 you will need at least 45 minutes.


At least 2 role players and 1 observer, but it works better with a larger group.


  • Copies of the content handout, of handout 1 and handout 2 (see below);
  • Pencils for observers;
  • Flip chart papers;
  • Markers.


I) After having introduced participants to “how emotions play in negotiation and what can be done about it” (see this content handout), ask for a couple of volunteers to role-play a negotiation, anticipating that they will perform in front of an audience of observers.

II) Distribute copies of handout 1 to volunteer role players (see below) and ask them to read it and prepare to play their role.

III) Distribute copies of the content handout and copies of handout 2 (see below) to observers and assign their task:

To observe the role play, understand how emotions play in it and see what participants can do about it.

Handout 2 (see below) includes questions that will help observers to focus on the task and take note of their findings.

VI) Invite volunteers to position themselves at the center of or the room and ask observers to form a circle around the (a fish bowl).

VII) Let the play start.

VIII) After the play, investigate the observers’ findings and boost discussion.


During the VIII step of the process you can use insights from the content handout to help the discussion remain centered on emotions and concerns that generate them.

Instead of just a couple of volunteers for one play, you can ask for more volunteers and repeat the activity as many times as needed. You can decide to repeat it at different times during the workshop.

Handout 1: Sample Role-Play Scenarios

Below you can find very simple scenarios that involve some sort of negotiating skills. You can also refer to the activity Negotiation Role Play for a more detailed scenario. Alternatively you can refer to the activity Writing Short-Plays for creating crispy scenarios together with participants during the workshop. Choose and print only the scenario that you wish to use with your group.

Scenario 1 - Husband and Wife: Dinner Time!

Role 1, husband:

You are George, 37-year-old agricultural worker (adapt the names to suit the local context, let participants choose). It is 7.00 pm and you have just finished your shift at the farm where you work. It has been a hard day, the farm is harvesting and you and other workers are on a 10-hour-a-day shift since weeks.

You have just returned back home, to find that your wife hasn’t yet prepared dinner. She’s just back with your two kids - they too will have to eat. You are damn hungry and it seems like it will take a couple of hours before you will eat.

This seems to have become routine at your place, your wife doesn’t seem to understand that you need to eat at 7.00 pm.

Role 2, wife:

You are Selma, 34-year-old housewife with a husband and two kids. It is 7.00 pm, you have just rushed home with your two kids, the day has been hot and hard. Your day started at 6.00 am, when you woke up to prepare breakfast for all the family and prepare the kids to go to school. You woke them up, dress up, walked them to school. From there on, you have been running all day to provide the necessities for you family and house.

As usual, in the afternoon you walked the kids to visit their grandmother. She is old and sick, you prepared dinner for her and, on the way back home, you stopped for a while at the park, in order to let the kids meet their friends and play.

Now you rushed home, to find your husband nervous and quarrelling over you because it’s late and dinner is not ready. This seems to have become a routine, he just doesn’t seem to understand that you’ve run the whole day.

Scenario 2: Employer and employee: deadlines and holidays.

Role 1: Boss

You are Tom, 36-year-old, single. You are managing director of a communication and graphics firm. Your firm is composed of a small team of three creative thinkers and designers plus one administrative and one PR staff. You are working 12-hour-a-day in a row and are engaged 24-7. You do not have time for social life, let alone a relationship! Your firm is your life – and it’s a lot of fun!

Your firm deals with highly aggressive competitors and just being in the market is a daily fight. You ask your staff to be committed to their work, but do not require them to be in the office 8 to 5 as you know that creative staff need the right time and environment to generate ideas. But when it’s needed they shouldn’t watch the clock and be ready to work on weekends.

You are now having a conversation with Herb, your guy on “virtual reality”. He is managing a major project for an emerging light beverages company, big deal. You noticed he wasn’t much focused on his work in the last couple of weeks and had some delays too. You are keeping an eye on him as you cannot afford one of your staff being like that!

Interestingly, he is now asking for 10 days off, starting from the next week. He probably wants to go on holiday with his family. You do not know if to laugh or get real angry – this guy does not seem to understand that he has a deadline for the end of the month for his project.

It is time to straighten up this guy!

Role 2: Worker

You are Herb, 33-year-old, married with two kids. You work for a graphics and communication emerging firm, where you are in charge of “virtual reality” projects. Your boss, Tom, is very demanding with you and the rest of the staff. He is on his own, working 24-7 and seeming to pretend you do the same. To do it justice, you have learned a lot with him and you feel lucky that you can work in such a creative team as the one he has created. You are now managing a major project, with a deadline for the end of the month.

Your younger child has been sick for the last couple of weeks; she got a viral disease that doesn’t seem to get away. To complicate things, your older boy is having a hard time: you have just moved to a different neighborhood, he misses his old friends and he is having trouble in making new ones.

Your wife is working too, so you manage kids between the two of you, the nanny and the kindergarten. She has decided to take 10 days off starting from the next week – she thinks the kids need more of their parents’ care; she’s asked you to do the same.

You are now facing Tom, who doesn’t seem very friendly. You need to ask him ten days off from the next week. You are confident you can respect your project deadline for the end of the month.

Scenario 3: At the library

Role1: Lucas

You are Lucas, 25-year-old, with a degree in Philosophy. You have just started working at the local public library as part-time staff. You have always been a bright student, with a passion for understanding, hardly content with simple answers. At the University, you were into a multiplicity of cultural activities, ranging from reading groups to concerts, or meetings with authors. You love reading, learning and discussing with others. Your family has nurtured your hunger for learning. Due to your passionate approach, you have always had arguments with professors and peers.

Having spent a few weeks at the library now, you are concerned because few people seem to use the library – especially youth seem to desert it. You hardly believe it: all these books and almost nobody to read them! You think that something has to be done to get the library closer to the people outside. You are already brainstorming initiatives to do that. You are going to speak with the library director, Edgar, who has been on the job for over 20 years. You want to expose him to your ideas and persuade him to support them.

Role2: Edgar

You are Edgar, 56-year-old, Director at the public library where you have worked for 27 years. You are a reserved person with a sincere love for your work. You are disappointed as most of the young people seem not interested in reading; most of the youth never access the library. You have seen this phenomenon growing with time: “when I was young” you recall “young people read books and used to frequent the library, they were even making friends here!” You complain that new generations spend too much time watching television and do not seem interested in books. In the past years you have taken part to several initiatives to promote the public library and stimulate people to use it, especially the youth - with little results. A bit tired and disillusioned now, your stand is “the library is here, who’s interested can come, who’s not interested is better out”.

You are now facing Lucas. He has been recently hired and seems a brilliant young man. Though, he might be a little too optimistic as to people’s interest in using the library. You have seen him brooding for some time over the need to think up new initiatives for involving people more with the library.

Handout 2: Questions for Observers

The following questions will help you focus while observing role players.

  • What kind of emotions could you see coming out in this negotiation?
  • How have emotions influenced the process and outcome of the negotiation?
  • What have participants done about their (and the other's) emotions?
  • More specifically, how have the role players taken the initiative to address core concerns that stimulate emotions in negotiation?
  • In particular, how about appreciation? Affiliation? Autonomy? Status? Role?
  • What active listening skills were used? By whom?
  • What active listening skills were not used? How might they have been effective?
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