Learning the art of negotiation – 2016 Crisis Simulation

“In these negotiations we are not a helpless object, although great world powers are involved. We play an active role and try to influence our destiny; we have our own trump cards and we use them.” – Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnian politician, activist, lawyer, author and philosopher

By Dana Lea

Students of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, joined by students of the School of Journalism, participated in their spring crisis simulation on February 26-27. The topic this year: the European Union’s migrant crisis and the division of Belgium. This was the 11th crisis simulation for Patterson and fit well with the turn of events unfolding in the fall within the EU.

Students were divided into five teams representing the U.S., France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany; and leaders for each team were strategically picked by the Simulation Control (or ‘Sim Control’). Additionally, the school brought in Dr. Nick Clark of Susquehanna University to act as European Commissioner and to give background on EU history to the participants.

Sim Control – The Brain of the Game


A group of three students, all of whom are former ExPatt Board members and Patterson alumni, planned this year’s crisis simulation as part of an independent study for Dr. Farley. Leslie Stubbs, Travis Cady, and David Jankowski are these three masterminds. Planning for the simulation began last spring and the group settled on issues within the EU (including both separatism and the waves of migrants and refugees). Of course, keeping in this topic, the three had to adapt to unfolding events, such as the security situation of the Paris terrorist attacks, outrage over EU migrant quota plans, and closure of borders.

During the simulation, Sim Control was the go-between for all nations. Each team had a scheduler who was responsible for communicating with Sim Control to set up meetings with other teams, to request home country intel, and to approve resolutions. Sim Control is the ultimate omnipotent god of the crisis simulation and can decide to throw curveballs at the teams (i.e. when they decided Belgium would split into Flanders and Wallonia). In reaction to the evolving crisis, the team leader of France observed, “the unpredictable and changing circumstances were challenging. It was great to see our team problem solve, adapt, and work well together to overcome the challenges the crisis simulation presented.”

Of course, the goal of Sim Control is neither to torture team delegates nor to educate on European politics. Rather the goal is to push students to learn the skills necessary for negotiations in their future careers. David Jankowski remarks, “the biggest thing is for people to take something out of it, not to learn about Europe or a country’s position on refugees. But to learn how to act when pushed against a wall, frustrated, or tired. To learn what you are good at and what you need to work on.”



The Patterson School is a group of strong personalities and leaders. It is therefore interesting to see how personalities unfold within teams and within bilateral and multilateral negotiations. The leader of each team must ultimately manage the strengths and weaknesses of many delegates, while individual delegates come to learn what does and doesn’t work at the negotiating table. Jocelyn Bell, team leader for Belgium (and later Flanders) stated the importance of being able to “read individuals not only in other teams but within one’s own team as well.”

According to Mariel Arata, team member and scheduler for the Netherlands, the experience allowed for various people to assume leadership responsibilities and to learn something about themselves: “I enjoyed watching my peers take leadership roles, especially those who don’t normally assume those roles. I personally feel like I gained experience in time management and organization from participating as my team’s meeting scheduler. The fast-paced environment was stressful, but it was fun coordinating with Sim Control and my peers on other teams.”


I was blown away by my fellow students and delegates’ ability to jump into character and break personal friendships and ties. It was obvious in team and leadership selection that the Sim Control sought to push us out of our comfort zones. This also makes it even more difficult to keep personal feelings out of negotiations. It is even harder to stay in a character and within the red lines of a nation you may not particularly agree with. And when red lines are broken, you must go with the unpredictability of the game’s unfolding circumstances. This is reflected in a statement by the German team leader, Lee Clark: “in the end, it was realistic. Nations can act impulsively. They do act irrationally and without fully considering consequences. They do behave paternalistically.”


What did you gain from the crisis simulation?

To best describe the experience and benefits of participating in the crisis simulation, I asked various delegates and alumni mentors for their reflections:

“I thought the Patterson Crisis Sim was an excellent opportunity to work with classmates outside of the normal classroom environment. We had the opportunity to learn from Patterson alumni from the two previous graduating classes, as well as the journalism school. Anytime you have the opportunity to take a class or interact with members from another school within the university it is a rewarding experience.” – Hunter Stephan, The Netherlands team leader

“Even as alumna of the Patterson School, the crisis simulation showed me both how much I have grown as an international affairs professional since my own sim experience and how much I have left to learn. It was a pleasure to be able to actively encourage that same type of growth in the current Patterson class and to maintain ties to the Patterson community.” – Kathryn Wallace, mentor for team USA

“The simulation pushed our intellectual boundaries/stamina by teaching us how to coordinate and work with each other over an extensive amount of time to reach an agreement. This time also gave us an opportunity to grow personally by highlighting not only where we excel but also where we need to improve.” – Molly Johnson, USA team leader

“Working as a mentor for the crisis sim was an interesting experience – it was really rewarding to see our team come together to tackle the issues at hand, while it was difficult to guide first year students when I had only been through one crisis simulation myself.” – Paxton Roberts, mentor for team France


Crisis Simulation 2017

Many Patterson first years are already excited to coordinate and plan next year’s crisis simulation. The 2016 Sim Control explained the weeks of planning, collaboration, and research that went into its formation; however, they reiterated the amusement and practical knowledge gained from the whirlwind experience. As David Jankowski adds, “it forces you to be more flexible and think on your toes.” Any technical and communication issues of the crisis will continue to be worked out and perfected by future generations of Sim Control. I look forward to seeing what 2017’s Sim Control will throw at the next generation of Patterson students.

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Dana Lea is a Master’s candidate at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. Her academic and research interest are human rights and migration, with a particular focus on Sub Saharan Africa. She currently works for the Kentucky Refugee Ministries as the Community Engagement Coordinator.



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