In my seminars and speeches, I sometimes use audience participation to drive home a point or to interrupt the "I've heard it all before" mind-set. It is important to put what follows in the context of problem-solving or conflict resolution. An example would be with a contentious team or when discussing the issue of Band-Aiding a problem or fixing it right the first time. You have my blessing to use this exercise if you promise not to let the cat out of the bag if you are ever in my audience or class.
Begin by saying, "I am going to auction off a dollar bill. Here it is: a real greenback. There is a slight catch; the second highest bidder also has to pay me. Does everyone understand the rules? Who will start with a nickel?"
(If someone starts with a dollar, explain that some folks would like to make some money, and you would like an opening bid of a nickel or a dime.)
Once you have your nickel bid, you can proceed with: "Great, you have a bargain. Is there anyone who can bid a dime?"
At this point, I'll usually get a dime, and someone else will chip in with a quarter. If not, get into the audience and encourage people to bid higher. The more bidders, the merrier, although my experience is that it quickly becomes two bidders.
I now go back to the dime person and say, "You are now out a dime. Be the higher bidder and you are ahead." Or, I will say, "Are all of you going to let this guy have 75 cents when you could get into the process?" Someone will enter the fray. You have to keep going to the lower bidder to goad them into bidding higher. Use words like pride, loser, power, winner, make easy money, etc.
When two people are over 50 cents each, someone will make the astute observation that you are now ahead and making money. Ignore it. Keep after the bidders by asking the lower bidder, "Are you going to let the other bidder get away with you holding the bag?"
At some point, each will realize what they are doing. Most times, the bids will go over a dollar if you work them. When one finally quits, it is lesson time. (Do not collect, but give the dollar to the highest bidder.) Ask them and the audience to explain what was going on.
They are trying to reduce their losses by raising the ante, which is getting more costly for both at the same time. Is pride an element? Was your constant harassment a factor? Is winning at any cost a mind-set?
Can you relate this experience to real life? We see it every day — from not being upfront with other people and telling half-truths to making assumptions, getting our backs up against the wall, winning at any cost, not disclosing information, distrusting, looking good at someone else's expense, compromising and so on.
Seek out examples in the workplace.
To close, tell them, "Sometimes Joe will lean over to Helen and say, 'You bid a nickel, I'll bid a quarter and we'll stop bidding.'" This is a win-win situation and leads you to discussing another lesson. What the two bidders have done this time is demonstrate that it is possible to buy a dollar for less than a dollar, and all the emotional and personal baggage can be eliminated if there is direct communication between the parties with a desire to get it behind them and move on.
In most cases of conflict, it is important to revisit the facts and causes without the blame finger to gain understanding before deciding to expend ever more energy and resources trying to resolve a problem that is getting ever larger. This is why there are mediators, arbitrators, psychologists and effective leaders. Otherwise, damage control overcomes moving ahead and may be the demise of a person's career or even the existence of a corporation. An opening bid of $1 would replicate one of two parties possibly realizing they are the problem and deciding to seek a correct solution from the outset.
I have sold the dollar for as much as $3.50. The professor who introduced this to me used a $10 bill in a bar and quickly left after earning $15. Good luck. Remember, people should realize this is more than a game and should be able to see themselves and their organization in the example.