Traditional Concessions

Traditional Concessions with Optimization – Boss vs. Staff

Simulation Summary

This document illustrates the Smartsettle Online Dispute Resolution System for a very simple application to employee-employer dispute resolution. The simulated case is a simple two-party fictitious dispute between an employee named Lori Staff and her supervisor, Dann Boss. The fact pattern was adapted from information provided to Smartsettle by another organization familiar with these types of cases.

This simulation starts the day after Staff went to the BJC EEO Office to initiate EEO counseling. Staff had told the counselor that she believes the following:

  • Boss is discriminating against her because of her race (white), age (55), and disability (depression/stress).
  • Boss is trying to force her out.
  • Ryan is sexually harassing her and that Boss is turning a blind eye to it.

Staff and Boss agreed to a request from the counselor to try to resolve this dispute using Smartsettle. The new Smartsettle website provides orientation with a tour and explanation of a six phase process. The case simulated here is relatively simple and straightforward. In more complex cases, the various Smartsettle phases can be expected to overlap and be entered numerous times in an iterative process. A simple form to start the case is also available on the website. The Smartsettle client software setup is available on CD or by download from the website. In this case, the two disputant role players downloaded and installed the software at their own private workstations.

In the simulation, the two negotiators, Staff and Boss, used various tools to help them define their issues (email, telephone, instant messaging, and electronic brainstorming interface). This process led them to define seven issues. To promote flexibility and initial momentum, the facilitator encouraged parties to begin with optimistic proposals. After several concessions were exchanged, parties came to agreement with traditional concessions while making use of Smartsettle’s advanced preference analysis and optimization.

Case Background

Lori Staff works for the BJC agency in Trenton, NJ for the Audit Division. Dann Boss supervises four auditors in Division A, including Staff:

Lori Staff — a white 55-year-old female GS-14 who has been with BJC for 15 years.

Shelley — a white 38-year-old female GS-9 who has been with BJC for 20 years.

Schultz — a white 65-year-old GS-13 who has been with BJC for over 30 years.

Ryan — a 52-year-old white GS-14 superstar auditor who came to BJC 6 months ago from Boss‘s old firm in NYC.

Party Profiles

The following party profiles contain qualitative confidential information of each party. All of this information was distributed to both role players at the beginning of the simulation. In a real case, of course, parties would not know the confidential information of the other party.

Dann Boss

Boss is a 32-year-old black man from NYC who came to BJC last year from the private sector. He is a high achiever that BJC recruited from a private NYC company that BJC does business with. Although the move to Trenton, NJ and the transition to the government has been challenging (Trenton is less “hip” and the government much slower paced and less exciting) Boss is happy because he just married Lydia, a starving artist, and they are expecting their first baby in seven months. Boss is looking forward to building a life in Trenton working for BJC. As the family’s main breadwinner, he likes the benefits and stability the government offers. Boss is outgoing and dynamic. He is also very hard working, but he does not expect anything from his staff that he would not do himself.

BJC recruited Boss because Audit Division A was in a sorry state. It was always behind in its work and the team goals and the work was of mediocre quality – at best. Robert Loss, the prior supervisor, retired after realizing he was headed for a performance action. For six months, Boss tried to inspire the team and improve their performance – but with little effect. Knowing new blood was needed to get results, Boss persuaded BJC to hire Ryan, his former employee from the NYC private sector firm. Since Ryan came on board, Division A’s work has turned around. Ryan is responsible for most of that and has had a positive effect on all the other team members except Staff. Shelley and Shultz have improved their performance and willingly take Ryan’s lead. Staff does not.

Boss knows he has to deal with Staff‘s performance, but he hasn’t yet. It only came up in a very recent meeting with Staff when she came to talk to Boss about Ryan and the “problems” Staff is having with Ryan. Boss thinks Staff‘s alleged problems, especially those with Ryan, are all a smoke screen to cover up Staff‘s performance issues. Boss just wants to do his work, and have everyone else just do his or her own work, and not get bogged down with conflict. As a new supervisor at BJC, he wants to make a good impression on his new employer.

Lori Staff

Staff is a 55-year-old Trenton local who has worked for BJC for 15 years. She has lived in Trenton all of her life. She is a single, quiet, polite, church-going woman who is not friendly or social. She has never been a star performer, but because Robert Loss, her former supervisor, didn’t expect much, her performance appraisals were good. Her performance has suffered recently though, because of the stress and depression she has experienced since Boss and Ryan came on board. Staff hates the open space work area Boss set up when she came to BJC, because Staff can hear everything that is going on – especially Ryan, whom she thinks is a loud mouthed, sexist show-off who comes on to her. Boss says the new office space will help them work better as a team – but the only thing it has done, from Staff‘s perspective, is make her life miserable. Staff has experienced bouts of depression over the years, but she’s gotten by – especially with Robert, her previous supervisor. To exacerbate things, Ryan is causing her stress because he is sexually harassing her by coming on to her. He always comes into her workspace to talk to her under the guise of work – but she knows better. Ryan is trying to get her to go out with him. Staff knows there aren’t many single women her age as attractive as she is and Ryan is just trying to wear her down so she’ll go out with him. Truthfully, all Staff wants is to be left alone. Everything was fine before Boss came. Staff tried to talk about Ryan with Boss, but Boss did not take her seriously. Boss told her that Ryan was just being friendly and that Staff was misreading Ryan. Boss told Staff that she needs to be more of a team player and work with Ryan. He also informed Staff that she needs to improve her performance. He suggested that Staff work with Ryan as a mentor. Boss said, incidentally, that if Staff‘s work didn’t improve, he would have to give her an unsatisfactory performance rating. After the meeting, Staff became even more depressed and stressed out. Staff can’t deal with Ryan or any of this. Staff really needs this job and doesn’t know what to do. The job market in Trenton is tight. Also, there are no lateral positions available in Audit Division B. And, even if there were, Staff doesn’t want to work there because Division B auditors travel so much and that would interfere with Staff‘s church activities.

Interests of Parties

The facilitator encouraged parties to carefully explore interests early in the negotiation process. Each party summarized their interests privately for the facilitator as follows:

Dann Boss’ Interests

  • Increase Staff’s performance
  • Get Staff to accept and participate in Ryan’s approach to performance
  • Decrease office conflict
  • Open lines of communication with Staff
  • Increase Staff’s respect for my authority
  • Make Staff more of a “team player”

Lori Staff’s Interests

    • Work in Trenton, NJ
    • Keep job in Audit Division A
    • End harassment by Boss concerning performance rating
    • End sexual harassment by Ryan (and Boss’ support of Ryan’s behavior)
    • Have a quieter work space
    • Receive reasonable accommodation for depression/stress

Parties were encouraged to also communicate with each other any information that they felt would be useful.

List of Issues

After identifying interests, Smartsettle negotiators are encouraged to collaborate in the creation of a Single Negotiating Framework (SNF). The SNF can be thought of as a very early draft of the final agreement, except with blanks for unresolved issues. The SNF’s purpose is to briefly document the understanding that parties have about the issues that they are negotiating. In more complex cases, this document may evolve during the course of negotiations. In practice, draft forms may be exchanged several times before parties agree on a version to start with.

There are various options available for creation of an SNF (Smartsettle Joint Session, word processor, telephone, instant messaging, email, video conferencing, electronic brainstorming, etc.). The Facilitator will help parties choose whatever is most appropriate depending on access to tools and the complexity of their case. Both parties and the facilitator worked on a document that was simultaneously available to each of them to edit until a Single Negotiating Framework was created that everyone agreed to. Parties also met by telephone conference to discuss the progress of the Single Negotiating Framework.

A summarized list from the Single Negotiating Framework with seven unresolved issues appears below. This list did not change further during the course of this simulation, however, in real cases, it may well evolve during the course of the negotiation.

  1. 1. Staff’s work environment will be:
  • moved to Division B
  • open work space as is
  • open work space in a quiet corner
  • in a quiet, private office
  • at home except when required to work with colleagues
  1. 2. Ryan will be moved to Division B. (Yes/No)
  2. 3. Staff will use Ryan’s approach. (Yes/No)
  3. 4. One-on-one personal contact between Ryan and Staff. (Yes/No)
  4. 5. Boss and Staff will work together to create performance improvement plan. (Yes/No)
  5. 6. Ryan will take the following training:
  • harassment
  • harassment and management training
  • management training
  • none
  1. 6. Staff receives compensation for stress and depression: $___________

Entry of Shared Information

Having summarized the issues, information for each issue was entered into the Smartsettle interface by the Facilitator. After the Facilitator had set up the case for the two parties and seven issues, it was ready to be accessed by each party. The following figure shows how the Shared Information window appeared to each party when first accessed on the Smartsettle server.

Staff’s Confidential Preferences

In the remainder of this document, for the sake of brevity, we will view the negotiation almost entirely from Staff’s point of view. Staff’s confidential preferences are documented in qualitative form in the Party Profiles section at the beginning of this document. This section adds quantitative details (Boss‘s preferences and other additional details from his point of view are appended at the end of this document).

In order for Smartsettle to help parties come to the best solution possible, negotiators need to teach Smartsettle about their preferences. Approximations are adequate at the beginning of the process to get the process moving. Preferences usually evolve during the course of negotiations so it is best to leave detailed analysis until later.

Preference elicitation at the beginning of the process involved setting a relative importance for each of the issues and for each of the options on qualitative issues. As a reference, 100 arbitrary satisfaction units were assigned to the Compensation issue ranging from 0 to $10,000. Each of the other issues was assigned an importance relative to the importance of the Compensation issue. The following illustration of Staff’s Graphic View shows the importance of each issue appended to its description.

Optimistic Proposals from Staff’s Viewpoint

The Smartsettle process encourages parties to begin exchanging quantitative aspirations by making relative optimistic proposals. The above figure shows how Staff’s Graphic View appeared after each party created a private package named Optimistic and published that package as their initial Optimistic proposal. Each party’s optimistic proposal specifies a value for each of the seven issues. In this way, a bargaining range was created for each issue. Smartsettle orients the bargaining ranges for each party so that the most preferred outcome is on the right-hand side.

Smartsettle uses the relative importances assigned to the issues to create a relative rating for each package. In this case, Staff’s optimistic proposal is the same as her most preferred package with a rating of 750, equal to the sum of all the importance values assigned to each issue. The initial optimistic package proposed by Boss was named Dann Boss 1. This package has a rating of 0 on Staff’s scale.

When publishing Staff’s optimistic proposal, Smartsettle automatically named it Package 2 – Lori Staff. The blue dot beside this package is an acceptance marker. The absence of a blue dot beside the package proposed by Boss indicates that that package is not acceptable to Staff.

Staff’s Relative Issue Importances

An Issue Importance of 167 was assigned to the issue of Training for Ryan. This issue importance rating for Training for Ryan can also be seen when opening the Satisfaction Graph for this issue shown below.

The issue of Training for Ryan has four options and each of those options is represented by a bar in the Satisfaction Graph. Compared to no training at all, Staff felt that a course on Harassment Training would be twice as important as a course on Management Training. However, a combined course would be about four times as important as Harassment Training by itself. These relationships are represented simply by adjusting the height of each associated bar. From least preferred (lowest bar) to most preferred (highest bar) the options are None, Management (not labeled), Harassment, and Harassment & Management.

Preference Analysis

At this point parties were encouraged to do a preference analysis exercise with Even Swaps to fine tune their preferences. In the screenshot below you can see that as a result of the exercise Staff’s Importances have changed and become more accurate. Staff’s Work Environment is less important than Staff originally thought, while the Compensation issue is more important to her than originally thought.


After fine tuning preferences, Sessions continued with each party making traditional concessions. The following screen shot illustrates the second concession made by each party. You can see that the parties have agreed on two issues, though Smartsettle’s encourages parties to remain flexible on all issues until the end of the process. This holistic approach and flexibility enables Smartsettle to optimize agreements and ensure that no value is left on the table.

Either party can accept any of the other party’s proposals at any time. In this case, as you see below, Session Two ended with no agreement and parties continued with another concession in Session Three.

Baseline Agreement

During Session 3 Staff accepted Boss’s latest concession named Package 5 in the illustration below. After ending the Session, a green dot and the words Baseline Agreement (previously called Tentative) appeared beside that package, indicating that both parties had accepted it.


The reason that Smartsettle uses the term Baseline as a title for an outcome reached by the parties is that negotiating parties typically leave value on the table with their initial agreements. Smartsettle has the ability to represent party preferences in detail and use optimization to search for improvements that will maximize mutual benefits and distribute such remaining value to the negotiating parties. Below you can see that the value of the Improvement found by Smartsettle actually exceeds that of the third concession made by Staff. Staff accepts the Improvement and Package 7 becomes the new Baseline Agreement.

Boss’ Point of View

This section contains a brief synopsis from Boss’ point of view. Staff did not know confidential preferences quantified here. In Boss’ case, we decided to assign relative importances to the issues simply on the basis of a rank order of preference. Each ranking was multiplied by ten to allow more precision in the display of package ratings. This method turned out to be a reasonably good first approximation. The result, illustrated below, indicates that Ryan moved to Division B was most important and Training for Ryan was least important. Boss fine tuned his preferences using Even Swaps later in the negotiation but that is not shown here.

Boss’ Relative Issue Importances

Boss’ order of preference for the four options for the issue of Training for Ryan, as illustrated below, were a little different than those of Staff. Boss’ order, from least preferred to most preferred, was Harassment, Harassment & Management, None (not labeled), and Management.

Final Agreement – Boss’ View

In this simulation, parties were able to come to a solution very easily using Smartsettle in a very basic way. They were able to take advantage of Smartsettle’s preference analysis to ensure that no value was left on the table. Below you can see that the Improvement, Package 7, is worth more to Boss than his third concession which became the first Baseline Agreement.