Join Lisa Gates for an in-depth discussion in this video Cognitive bias, part of Conflict Resolution Foundations (2012).
Let's focus on some of the universal thoughts that cloud our judgment and dominate the texture of our disagreements. These universal thoughts are called cognitive biases, and they operate below the surface of our awareness, and when we are in the middle of a conflict that's escalated into a full-blown dispute, biases and buried thought patterns often cause us to cling to our positions like barnacles. So let's uncover how these cognitive biases work in our everyday conversations.
Hindsight bias, this is also called the "I knew it all along" bias. It's the tendency to view past events as being predictable. In our example, when Heather accuses Jack of intentionally excluding her from an email chain, Jack might say, "I knew you'd have that reaction and wouldn't support me." Next is fundamental attribution error. This is the tendency for people to explain the behavior of others as personality defects while minimizing the role of situational influences.
Heather views Jack's failure to keep her in the loop as being political or underhanded, a personality defect, rather than a factor of busyness or forgetfulness, or as is often the case, another more buried reason, and we'll get to that. Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions. Heather's view that Jack is out for himself is confirmed yet again by his failure to loop her in.
Self-serving bias is the tendency to take more credit for successes than failures and to interpret events in a way that benefits our interests. This might play out like Jack talking about how his individual accomplishments made him a great fit for a new project, while minimizing the impact that work would have on his current responsibilities. And finally, belief bias. This is when we form an opinion about the logic of an idea or a proposal, not on its merits, but on the belief in the truth or falsity of the conclusion.
A workplace example might be if management is pushing production to produce more volume, believing more is better, then any proposal favoring quality over quantity will likely be rejected. These are only a few of the cognitive biases that operate in the conflict cycle. In truth, we have infinite implicit and explicit biases and beliefs about gender, race, nationality, and economic status, same for weight, appearance, how tall or short somebody is, you name it.
Even though we don't have enough information to know without a doubt why people do what they do or think what they think, our brains are wired to judge, to assess, to find meaning. In the absence of information, our brains are fast at work trying to put things in tiny little boxes that fit with our perceptions of reality. We've been doing this since we became two-leggeds, intent on surviving and making sense of a dangerous and confusing world. So it's somewhere between unlikely and impossible to eliminate cognitive bias in ourselves or others.
Later in the course, I'll be giving you a roadmap out of this communication mine field. In the meantime, I invite you to test your own biases by visiting Harvard University's Project Implicit. Take one or more of the Implicit Association test. You may be startled by what you discover about yourself. But here's the true value. If you can recognize your own biases, you can take a step back from them and allow room for your conflict partner's perspective. This awareness not only helps you defuse a conflict, they can help you avoid it altogether.
- Understanding how conflicts arise
- Navigating cognitive bias
- Exploring the principles of influence
- Building trust
- Reframing the argument
- Brainstorming solutions
- Working with difficult people