Chopstick Negotiations

By Christine Cox | Fall 2015

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The signature assignment of Father Eric Zimmer’s EMBA Negotiations class is a trade up that perfectly illustrates the “bigger pie” theory.


Zimmer gives each student something inexpensive, such as a pencil or a pair of chopsticks. He instructs them to make five trades with people who are not in the class or close family and friends. The goal is to trade for items that are more valuable than the pencil or chopsticks, but to negotiate in a win-win manner.

Results are often spectacular. For instance, Maria Bailey’s classmates traded up for such items as:

• A riding lawn mower

• A suite at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

• A kayak

• A dirt bike

• A baseball autographed by Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

Beyond that, Bailey used the exercise to benefit the EMBA International Immersion experience, a weeklong course in which students apply their knowledge in a global setting. Teams are matched with companies or organizations with a social cause and begin working with them closely in the months before the trip.

EMBA Team 9 — Bailey and classmates Steve Carollo, Dustyn Arney, Ryan Cushing, Stephen Smith and Pat Meyer — headed to Uganda in June 2015. They were paired with Pulse, a company that manufactures The Village Ambulance, a lightweight medical trailer that can be pulled by bicycles, motorcycles or by hand to serve people in rural communities. Each trailer saves an average of two lives per week, and 50 percent of all patients are expectant mothers.

Using the handle 5TradesAway, Team 9 auctioned its final chopstick trades on Facebook to raise money for Pulse. The three-hour auction on May 5 raised $21,000, attracted 500 bidders generated seven million Twitter impressions and may have created a permanent
fundraising platform.

“The project just grew and grew,” Bailey says. “Other people wanted to try it for themselves. So we bought chopsticks and handed them out. In the end, 55 people traded chopsticks for items for our auction.”

The 56 auctioned items included a vacation rental in Martha’s Vineyard that brought in $3,500; a Louis
Vuitton purse that fetched $650; and tickets to Chicago Bears preseason football game that sold for $350.

In all, the auction raised $11,000 and an anonymous Notre Dame family matched $10,000. The event was so successful that nonprofit groups have written to Bailey about benefitting from future events, and she anticipates 5TradesAway continuing.

Father Zimmer sees the exercise as the embodiment of a successful negotiation. “When you hitch the exercise to a higher cause and communicate your intentions, then people want to negotiate,” he says. “They’re happier to give larger items and fully engage because they are contributing to the well-being of others. This is the bigger pie.”