Decision Errors: A Professional View and Personal Journey

January 24th, 2017 by Peninsula Mediation

Conflict resolution is my general field of study and work, and we cherish what decision science tells us about decision errors and how to avoid or remedy them. If I can help someone consider why, for instance, “being overly committed to an initial course of action even when it is no longer beneficial,” (DE #2) and make a more satisfying decision instead, I feel like I’ve really added value to a problem solving situation.

Decision errors are interesting to think about in objective terms, but spotting them in our own thinking and in real time rather than in hindsight is another matter entirely. I remember a time, for instance, when parties in a workplace mediation had reached tentative terms of agreement. And then the complainant lifted up a piece of paper and said, “But what do I do with this?” “This” was a long list of demands he had prepared prior to the mediation. You know that I didn’t want to ask him what he had on that list and scuttle all progress, but how could I help him think about “anchoring judgments upon irrelevant information such as an initial offer”? (DE #4) Eventually his union representative said, “Let it go!” Yes, there have been many times in the soundtrack of my mind that I hear Elsa singing “Let it go!” in the children’s movie “Frozen.”

Research on decision errors in negotiations and decision-making (Ariely, Kiser, Shapiro, Lewin, Demasio, Mnookin, Pinker and others) yields the following classics:

DE #1: Assuming that logic and reason are the most effective techniques for convincing almost anyone of anything.

DE #2: Irrationally escalating your commitment to an initial course of action, even when it is no longer the most beneficial choice.

DE #3: Assuming your gain must come at the expense of the other party, and thereby missing opportunities for tradeoffs that benefit both sides.

DE #4: Anchoring your judgments upon irrelevant information such as an initial offer.

DE #5: Being overly affected by the way information is presented to you.

DE #6: Relying too much on readily available information, while ignoring more relevant data.

DE #7: Failing to consider what you can learn by focusing on the other side’s perspective.

DE #8: Being overconfident about attaining outcomes that favor you.

This series will explore both professional and personal experiences I’ve had with decision errors in the hope of considering how we can all think and decide as effectively as possible.

(Look for upcoming posts on each of these decision errors)

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