Cognitive bias is defined as “a systemic error in thinking that impacts one’s choices and judgments”. We are all shaped by our experiences good and bad. We learn from these experiences. However, we can also reinforce, learn from others, and teach ourselves things that are not true. When that happens, our thinking is impaired. This article focuses on how cognitive bias negatively impacts serious negotiations and conflict resolution. The article also offers what we can do about it.
In many instances cognitive biases can be and they are very helpful. For example, when we have to make a quick decision without really thinking about it, this saves us valuable time. If we did not have these biases, we could be paralyzed with our decision making. For example, after waking up you have your typical morning routine. This is very helpful to help you start off your day right.
However, it is also possible that our cognitive biases distort our thinking.
This can lead to poor decision making. Often when we think of decisions as simply yes or no, right or wrong, I know what’s best and you don’t. If everyone would just listen to me, we would all be better off. Right? We don’t know what we don’t know. Our minds respond without us even realizing it.
Here is an example
For example, if upper middle-class white female saw three white teenagers coming down the street having fun with one another in the evening, that person might think that’s nice. However, if the teenagers were black, the thought may unconsciously turn to apprehension or fear. The antenna of the white person may be up. The person might be thinking potential danger. Why? We are conditioned based on social media, movies, TV shows, the news, what we have experienced and we have reinforced in our minds. Much of what we are exposed to teaches white Americans to be concerned. Cynthia Vinney, PhD and research fellow writes that stereotyping, personal motivations, social influences, our emotions, and individual differences on how we process information all impact our cognitive biases.
Research has found cognitive bias in judges based on who appointed the judge and their political affiliation.
Likely your cognitive bias reaffirmed this last statement as we will see below.
We think of ourselves as rational human beings, and in general we are not conscious of how we automatically respond. This takes place outside of our conscious control. We think we are rationale, logical human beings in a negotiation, but we are often wrong.
System 1 and System 2 thought
In this article from the Harvard Program on Negotiation, Max Bazerman states’
“To explain why individuals don’t always think rationally or logically, Keith Stanovich of the University of Toronto and Richard F. West of James Madison University have distinguished between what they call System 1 and System 2 thought.
System 1 thought describes our intuition: quick, automatic, effortless, and influenced by emotion.
By comparison, System 2 thought is slower, more conscious, effortful and logical.
When you are carefully considering options, you are using System 2 thinking.
When you are simply acting on intuition, you are using System 1 thinking.
We can all think of instances in which we acted rashly, relying on System 1 thoughts and emotions, as well as times when we carefully evaluated a situation using System 2 logic.”
Managers need to make many decisions throughout the day. They rely on System 1 thinking a lot. This is a potential area of concern in a complex stressful situation when System 2 thinking is needed. The manager may tend to fall back to System 1 thinking in the negotiation. When involved in an important negotiation, it is necessary to focus on System 2 thinking.
In the article by Dr. Cynthia Vinney she describes three types of cognitive bias. Knowing what they are is important to be able to address them.
Types of errors with cognitive bias
three types of error associated with cognitive bias. These are fundamental attribution, hindsight bias, and confirmation bias.
This is a bias given our own personalities and internal traits rather than from environmental causes. In her article she presents
a good example of the audience identifying with the personality of the actor performing rather than differentiating that the actor is simply portraying a script.
This is indicative of assuming the behavior exhibited by another person even when we logically know better. Think of how this can enter into a negotiation or conflict based on perceptions of the personalities involved.
This is when we follow up with “I knew it all along”.
It is a bias we have even when we did not know it all along. We incorrectly state that we did. It is very confirming for us to do this. In this instance we focus on the outcome and not how we reached the outcome. Our process may very well have been compromised to lead to the outcome. Isn’t that what we do in sports when we want our team to win, they win and we say we knew we were going to win?
Dr. Vinney states so well
“Confirmation bias is a bias of belief in which people tend to seek out, interpret, and recall information in a way that confirms their preconceived notions and ideas.
In other words, people attempt to preserve their existing beliefs by paying attention to information that confirms those beliefs and discounting information that could challenge them. Confirmation bias can be seen in action in many facets of life, including what political policies one champions and whether one believes in a specific scientific explanation for phenomena like climate change or vaccines. Confirmation bias is one reason it’s so challenging to have a logical discussion about polarizing hot-button issues.”
Isn’t this so true? We might be overconfident, irrational to the commitment to have an agreement for an agreement’s sake, and become to focused on the fixed pie conclusion rather than to explore creative options. These are common examples of confirmation bias.
So, what do we do?
The first step is to know we have cognitive bias.
The next step is to explore our own biases and own tendencies.
When we are involved in a System 1 there is likely little harm. However, when we are involved with a System 2 negotiation or conflict, it is a very good idea to pause and reflect on all three errors. It is a good idea to ask ourselves some questions to address all three areas. For example:
How much have personalities entered into this decision making? Are we comfortable with the decision analytically and logically? Are there items we might be missing because of the acceptance of various personalities?
What other questions should we be asking now?
Don’t be overconfident that we knew the outcome. How much of this is due to our application of hindsight bias?
How can we tell? Go back and look over the process. Were there any elements overlooked or accepted because of our biases? Were we simply out to confirm the conclusion without exploring all of the logic of the decision making?
We tend to like to be around people who agree with us. It is so positive. We like our tribe for example politically.
In a negotiation a naysayer is needed too. What questions might that person ask before we stamp the negotiation closed?
We tend to remember what we want to remember to confirm our conclusion. Having someone take notes during the process can be very beneficial. That person can go over the notes and ask questions related to the process. This may uncover elements that were lost along the way that need to resurrected.
This article addresses how three errors associated with cognitive bias can impact a serious negotiation or conflict. Suggestions are made on how to identify and address each.
Hopefully, this article can help participants involved with a serious negotiation or conflict to resolve the situation more amicably by consider the questions offered.
Here is a link for scholarly articles on this topic.