“Mind Games: Effectively Managing Psychological Barriers to Agreement” @ ACR 2015

The following notes are what I used to prepare for the presentation, “Mind Games: Effectively Managing Psychological Barriers to Agreement.” The presentation was developed for the Association for Conflict Resolution’s 2015 Annual Conference in Reno, NV. Please feel free to use these notes for any purposes that furthers conflict resolution.

Barriers to Agreement


  • Negotiations, whether facilitated or direct, reach impasse when there is not a ZOPA or zone of potential agreement. This is an inevitable outcome in some negotiations. (Watkins, 2000)
  • In other negotiations, parties reach impasse when agreement was technically possible – when there was a ZOPA – but the negotiators met a barrier to agreement they could not overcome (Watkins, 2000)
  • Robert Mnookin and Lee Ross defined three types of barriers to agreement – strategic barriers, structural barriers, and psychological barriers. (Mnookin and Ross, 1995)
  • Michael Watkins in his article “Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement,” in the Harvard Business Review, outlines five barriers to agreement strategic, structural, psychological, institutional, and cultural. (Watkins, 2000)
  • Though, I like the explicit nature of Watkin’s categorization, I believe that both the institutional and cultural barriers fit under Mnookin and Ross’ structural category so I am going to discuss the more refined list. (Watkins, 2000)

Strategic Barriers

  • Strategic barriers according to Mnookin and Ross are “barriers which arise from the efforts of bargainers to maximize their short-term and/or long-term outcomes,” and are essentially barriers created by adopting a rationalist, self-interest driven approach to negotiation where the desire to maximize one’s own gains leads to the use of hardball tactics, game theory, and economic analysis as the underpinnings of bargaining strategy. (Mnookin and Ross, 1995)
  • For example, in 2014 the Boston Red Sox lost their star pitcher, Jon Lester, to the Chicago Cubs. The opening offer made by the team was low for a player of Lester’s status, and he was reportedly insulted by the figure they proposed, which ultimately led him to leave the team to the disappointment of many Red Sox fans (Shonk, 2014). In this case a negotiated agreement may have been possible, but the strategic, or perhaps un-strategic, offer created a barrier that eventually led to impasse.

Structural Barriers

  • Structural Barriers represent a broad category of barriers that are not related to calculations based on self-interest or the psychology of the individual bargainers (Mnookin and Ross, 1995). These barriers can be:
    • Obstacles created by the structure of the negotiation itself – the scope of participants, issues, and connections to other negotiations or agreements (Watkins, 2000)
    • Bureaucracy intended to –
      • prohibit or restrain the flow of communication or information needed to negotiate
      • discourage political risk taking
      • prioritize the short-term requirements over longer-term interests (Mnookin and Ross, 1995; Bland and Ross, 2008; Watkins, 2000)
    • Political constraints that are placed on negotiators by their constituency (Mnookin and Ross, 1995)
    • Cultural differences manifest in the way participants communicate, view the world, and behave (Watkins, 2000)
  • For Example, last year Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, had to eat his words, tweeting that he was “completely wrong,” after he remarked that women should wait for raises rather than negotiate directly for higher salaries. Though Nadella’s statement in and of itself did not create a barrier, it represented an organizational disposition that serves as a structural barrier

Psychological Barriers

  • Psychological barriers to agreement arise from cognitive and motivational biases related to how humans, “interpret information, evaluate risks, set priorities, and experience feelings of gain or loss.” (Mnookin and Ross, 1995)
  • The premise of the cognitive bias is based on idea that the human brain employs mental shortcuts to avoid overburdening the brain’s function of information processing. These shortcuts can be useful at times and at others lead to erroneous and unhelpful perceptions. (Heuer, 1999)
  • These biases are like optical illusions where “the error remains compelling even when one is fully aware of its nature. Awareness of the bias, by itself, does not produce a more accurate perception.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • In the context of negotiation, psychological barriers can arise in the evaluation of both the substantive and relational aspects of the negotiation. In other words, both what is proposed and who is proposing it are subject to the cognitive biases that create psychological barriers to agreement. (Mnookin and Ross, 1995)
  • The psychological tendency to evaluate and infer the intentions of the other side’s actions often stems from the other side’s use of hardball tactics. (Mnookin and Ross, 1995) In this way, strategic barriers can lead to psychological barriers. (Watkins, 2000)
  • The consequence of psychological barriers is that negotiators are likely to reject proposals that meet their own self-interest because they were subject to unconscious psychological processes that painted the proposal unattractive. (Mnookin and Ross, 1995)
  • A great example of a psychological barrier resulting from a cognitive bias is Reactive Devaluation, which “involves the tendency to devalue compromises and concessions when they are actually ‘put on the table’ – especially if they have been put on the table by an adversary.” (Bland and Ross, 2008)

The Anchoring Bias


  • Anchoring is the tendency of individuals to rely on the first piece of information they receive about a subject when making decisions related to that subject (“Anchoring”)
  • This first piece of information becomes the basis for individual’s subsequent thoughts and judgments about the subject at hand (“Anchoring”)
  • Anchoring serves as a heuristic, or mental shortcut, for analysis (“Anchoring”)
  • It works like this – first, individuals start with an initial, implicit reference point or anchor, and then they adjust their assessment of the problem away from that reference point with additional information and/or analysis until they reach their conclusion (“Anchoring;” Heuer, 1999)
  • The anchor, as the name suggests, tends to hold conclusions closer to the initial reference point than if the judgment had not been “anchored.” Put simply, the conclusions humans tend to draw are close to the anchors we are working from (“Anchoring;” Heuer, 1999)
  • It is also important to note that different anchors will produce different outcomes. The value of the initial reference point sways the values of the conclusion drawn. (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974)
  • Interestingly, the anchoring bias has persisted in studies even when the studies’ subjects were informed of the bias and encouraged to avoid it, so being aware of this bias is not the anecdote for its effects. (Heuer, 1999)

Anchoring Bias Studies: Gandhi

  • My favorite anchoring study poses an absurd problem to participants – a set of questions that had imbedded anchors that were obviously wrong. (“Anchoring”)
  • The study posed one of two questions to participants:
    • Did Mahatma Gandhi die before age of 9? Then what age? (“Anchoring”)
    • Or, did Mahatma Gandhi die after the age of 140? Then what age? (“Anchoring”)
  • The group asked if he died before the age of 9 guessed on average that he died at 50 (“Anchoring”)
  • The group asked if he died after the age of 140 guessed on average that he died at 67 (“Anchoring”)
  • Gandhi actually died at age 78

Fundamental Attribution Error


  • “Explaining the behavior of others is one of the most critical and demanding cognitive tasks people face in everyday social life. The fundamental attribution error (FAE), or correspondence bias, refers to a pervasive tendency by people to underestimate the impact of situational forces and overestimate the role of dispositional factors when making such judgments.” (Forgas, 1998)
  • “The fundamental attribution error…is the tendency for people to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics (personality) to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation rather than considering the situation’s external factors.” (“Fundamental attribution error”)
  • Early theorists of attribution theory “dealt with two closely related tasks confronting the social observer.” (Ross and Anderson, 1982)
    • “The first task is that of causal judgment: The observer seeks to identify the cause, or set of causes, to which some particular effect (i.e., some action or outcome) may most reasonably be attributed.” (Ross and Anderson, 1982)
    • “The second task is that of social inference: The observer of an episode forms inferences about the attributes or dispositions of the relevant actors and about the attributes or properties of the situations to which they have responded.” (Ross and Anderson, 1982)
  • “Why does the FAE occur? In addition to the historical and cultural emphasis on the causal power of individuals, cognitive processing strategies seem to play a major role.” (Forgas, 1998)
  • “There has been a strong philosophical inclination in liberal Western cultures, at least since the Enlightenment, to emphasize the causal role of independent, self-reliant individuals in shaping events.” (Forgas, 1998)
  • “One psychological reflection of this individualistic cultural orientation has been the tendency for people to underestimate the impact of situational factors and overestimate the role of dispositional factors in controlling behavior; a bias sometimes labeled the ‘fundamental attribution error’ or the ‘correspondence bias’.” (Forgas, 1998)
  • “All things being equal, observers tend to pay selective attention to the most conspicuous, accessible, and easily processed information in the focus of their attention-the actor and often fail to adequately process less salient, yet critically important situational information.” (Forgas, 1998)
  • “Conversely, from the other perspective, this error is known as the actor–observer bias, in which people tend to overemphasize the role of a situation in their behaviors and underemphasize the role of their own personalities.” (“Fundamental attribution error”)

Fundamental Attribution Error Studies: Castro

  • “The seminal Jones and Harris (1967) study [focuses] on the attribution of attitudes.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “In the key condition of this study, the experimenters asked the participants to read an essay which was pro-Castro but which was supposedly written by a student who had been told to write a pro-Castro essay by his or her political science instructor.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “The participants were asked to guess the writer’s true attitude toward Castro.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “The participants inferred that the pro-Castro essay writer’s true attitude toward Castro was more positive than they would have inferred it to be had they not seen the essay and known only that the writer was a typical fellow student.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “In inferring a somewhat positive attitude, the participants are often said to have underestimated the degree to which the writer’s behavior was externally (or situationally) caused—by the instruction from their teacher—and to have overestimated the degree to which it was internally (or dispositionally) caused—by the writer’s true beliefs.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “The straightforward interpretation of the results is that participants overestimated the influence of a particular internal cause (the writer’s beliefs about Castro) compared to the influence of another, external cause (the instructor’s guidelines).” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)

Fundamental Attribution Error Studies: Quizmaster

  • “The Quizmaster Study…by Ross, Amabile, and Steinmetz (1977) is also taken to be evidence for the FAE.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “In the first experiment of this study, Stanford undergraduates were asked to be either a ‘questioner’ or a ‘contestant.’ They drew lots to decide which they would be; assignment was therefore known to the participants to be random.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “The questioners were to compose challenging but not impossible questions to ask the contestants.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “The contestants were to answer the questions. The questioners did a good job of making up difficult questions; the contestants got a mean of only 4 out of 10 questions right.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “The participants were then asked to judge their own and their partners’ general knowledge relative to the average Stanford student’s on a 100-point scale.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “In the second experiment, there were also participants who merely observed the contest, each observing one questioner-contestant pair.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “The prominent result was that the contestants rated themselves significantly lower on the 100-point general knowledge scale than they rated their partners (41.3 vs. 66.8, p < .001).” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “The questioners, however, did not rate themselves significantly higher; they rated themselves 53.5 and their partners 50.6 (p > .05).” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “The observers rated the questioners as much more knowledgeable than the average Stanford student (82.1), and they rated the contestants as about as knowledgeable as the average Stanford student (48.9).” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)
  • “This result is often said to show that participants overestimated the importance of an internal cause (general knowledge) of what they observed and underestimated the importance of an external cause (the nature of the tasks), once again displaying the FAE.” (Sabini, Siepmann and Stein, 2001)

Optimistic Overconfidence


  • “Someone who cannot sing at all but who believes she has a great voice and decides to try out for American Idol. When she submits her audition tape, she could end up being laughed at or ridiculed for her terrible voice because of her overconfidence.” (“Examples of Overconfidence,” 2015)
  • “Litigants deciding whether to go to trial, political leaders deciding whether to undertake a military adventure, and labor negotiators deciding whether to risk a strike may all be led to decide affirmatively rather than reach negotiated settlements because of a phenomenon that Kahneman and Tversky term ‘optimistic overconfidence.’” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “Such overconfidence (which is but one aspect of the more general and much documented tendency for people to place unwarranted confidence in their predictions about future events) would be reflected in the tendency for the disputants to overestimate the likelihood and probable extent of their success in achieving their objectives.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “The primary source of this overestimation is an obvious asymmetry in the availability of information.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “That is, each side tends to have greater access to the factors that strengthen its position or would promote its success than to the factors that would weaken its position or promote its adversary’s success.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “In particular, disputants know their own goals, assumptions, and plans better than they know their adversary’s, and…essentially, they adopt an ‘insider’s’ rather than an ‘outsider’s’ perspective, one that focuses too much on what they know or assume about the particular case at hand, and too little on the type of base-rate information or historical precedent that ought to alert them to the possibility of miscalculation and protracted, costly struggle.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “One might imagine that the decision makers would be protected from the consequences of their overconfidence by the opportunity to compare their own assessments with those of peers and advisers. But a number of organizational or institutional factors limit the value of such consultation.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “Indeed, even in the absence of shared norms and conformity pressures, group deliberation may generally serve to heighten rather than temper judgmental overconfidence.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “Recent research…suggests…even the simple exchange of predictions and numerical confidence assessments in the absence of real discussion-increases judgmental overconfidence.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “In other words, exposure to the views of one’s peers seems to increase subjective certainty more than it increases objective accuracy.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “Optimistic overconfidence can also be expected to occur where the outcomes in question involve predictions about judgments of others.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “In particular, disputants are apt to overestimate the degree to which their assessments will be shared by peers.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “The unwarranted assumption made is that other individuals-at least if they are objective and fair-minded-will come to one’s own views, once they are exposed to the ‘truth.’” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “This assumption is apt to prove particularly costly in litigation contexts, where attorneys and their clients must decide whether to reach negotiated settlements or risk the inevitable costs and uncertainties of trial before judge or jury.” (Mnookin and Lee Ross, 1995)
  • “Negotiators often are overconfident that future uncertainties will be resolved in their favor.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement,” 2000)
  • “Overconfidence is a manifestation of a deeper desire on the part of negotiators to make themselves feel competent and secure.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement,” 2000)
  • “Bazerman and Neale (1992) characterized this tendency as ‘need-based illusions’ or ‘self-serving biases’ than can contribute to irrational behavior.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement,” 2000)

Overconfidence Related to Volume of Information

  • “Once an [individual] has the minimum information necessary to make an informed judgment, obtaining additional information generally does not improve the accuracy of his or her estimates.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “Additional information does, however, lead the [individual] to become more confident in the judgment, to the point of overconfidence.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “Experienced [individual] have an imperfect understanding of what information they actually use in making judgments.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “They are unaware of the extent to which their judgments are determined by a few dominant factors, rather than by the systematic integration of all available information.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “[Individual] actually use much less of the available information than they think they do.” (Heuer, 1999)

Examples of Optimistic Overconfidence

  • “The overconfidence effect does not stop at economics: In surveys, 84 percent of Frenchmen estimate that they are above-average lovers (Taleb). Without the overconfidence effect, that figure should be exactly 50 percent—after all, the statistical ‘median’ means 50 percent should rank higher and 50 percent should rank lower.” (Dobelli, 2013)
  • “In another survey, 93 percent of the U.S. students estimated to be ‘above average’ drivers…Entrepreneurs and those wishing to marry also deem themselves to be different: They believe they can beat the odds. In fact, entrepreneurial activity would be a lot lower if the overconfidence effect did not exist.” (Dobelli, 2013)

Overconfidence Related to Volume of Information Studies: Clinical Psychologists

  • “In one experiment with clinical psychologists, a psychological case file was divided into four sections representing successive chronological periods in the life of a relatively normal individual.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “Thirty two psychologists with varying levels of experience were asked to make judgments on the basis of this information.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “After reading each section of the case file, the psychologists answered 25 questions (for which there were known answers) about the personality of the subject of the file.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “As in other experiments, increasing information resulted in a strong rise in confidence but a negligible increase in accuracy.” (Heuer, 1999)

Overconfidence Related to Volume of Information Studies: Medical Doctors

  • “A series of experiments to examine the mental processes of medical doctors diagnosing illness found little relationship between thoroughness of data collection and accuracy of diagnosis.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “Medical students whose self-described research strategy stressed thorough collection of information (as opposed to formation and testing of hypotheses) were significantly below average in the accuracy of their diagnoses.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “It seems that the explicit formulation of hypotheses directs a more efficient and effective search for information.” (Heuer, 1999)

Prospect Theory


  • Research by Kahneman and Tversky (1979), “suggests that parties attach greater weight to prospective losses than prospective gains, especially when the former are certain and immediate, and the latter are uncertain and prospect more for the future than the present.” (Bland, Powell and Ross, 2012)
  • “This is because “human beings are more reluctant to lose what they already have than to gain something that they still do not have.” (Gayer, Landman, Halperin, and Bar-Tal, 2009)
  • “Psychological studies have found a negativity bias showing that negative events and information tend to be more closely attended and better remembered than positive ones and that they have a stronger influence on evaluation, judgment, and action tendencies.” (Gayer, Landman, Halperin, and Bar-Tal, 2009)
  • “One important consequence is that parties will take unwise risks to avoid certain and immediate losses.” (Bland, Powell and Ross, 2012)
  • “At the same time, the parties will prove unwilling to take risks-even risks with better prospects in terms of probable outcomes-in order to pursue gains.” (Bland, Powell and Ross, 2012)
  • “Another is that parties in negotiation will unwisely turn down proposed changes of concession that offer a mix of gains and losses, even when the former promise to be objectively greater than the latter.” (Bland, Powell and Ross, 2012)
  • “Prospect theory also points toward a further complication for conflict resolution. Parties quickly assimilate gains as an entitlement but are slow to reconcile with losses.” (Bland, Powell and Ross, 2012)
  • “Thus, a concession received is likely to be viewed as an entitlement, while a concession granted is likely to remain an irritant. This asymmetry of assessment makes it likely that the parties will disagree about the worth of a concession in the negotiation process, and this disagreement fosters mistrust and suspicion.” (Bland, Powell and Ross, 2012)
  • “An obvious implication of prospect theory for practitioners involves the importance of ‘framing’ potential risks and gains. In particular, it is important that parties recognize that maintenance of the status quo is itself a choice that entails potential losses and risks. The risks and losses of a particular course of action may seem more attractive, or at least be considered more rationally, when the risk and losses of doing nothing or forcefully preventing changes are also factored into the equation.” (Bland, Powell and Ross, 2012)
  • “The key assumption is that ‘instigating beliefs’ about losses stemming from the continuation of the conflict may unfreeze the rigid and change the nonconciliatory positions.” (Gayer, Landman, Halperin, and Bar-Tal, 2009)
  • “Although the contents of these beliefs may be of different kinds, we suggest that contents about losses entailed in continuing the conflict may be especially effective.” (Gayer, Landman, Halperin, and Bar-Tal, 2009)

Examples of Prospect Theory

  • “Kahneman and Tversky started their research investigating apparent anomalies and contradictions in human behavior.” (Watkins, 2015)
  • “Subjects when offered a choice formulated in one way might display risk aversion but when offered essentially the same choice formulated in a different way might display risk seeking behavior.” (Watkins, 2015)
  • “For example, as Kahneman says, people may drive across town to save $5 on a $15 calculator but not drive across town to save $5 on a $125 coat.” (Watkins, 2015)
  • “One very important result of Kahneman and Tversky work is demonstrating that people’s attitudes toward risks concerning gains may be quite different from their attitudes toward risks concerning losses.” (Watkins, 2015)
  • “For example, when given a choice between getting $1000 with certainty or having a 50% chance of getting $2500 they may well choose the certain $1000 in preference to the uncertain chance of getting $2500 even though the mathematical expectation of the uncertain option is $1250.” (Watkins, 2015)
  • “This is a perfectly reasonable attitude that is described as risk aversion. But Kahneman and Tversky found that the same people when confronted with a certain loss of $1000 versus a 50% chance of no loss or a $2500 loss do often choose the risky alternative.” (Watkins, 2015)
  • “This is called risk seeking behavior. This is not necessarily irrational but it is important for analysts to recognize the asymmetry of human choices.” (Watkins, 2015)

Hot Hand Fallacy


  • The Hot Hand Fallacy is the “belief that the performance of a player during a particular period is significantly better than expected on the basis of the player’s overall record.” (Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky, 1985)
  • “Consider a professional basketball player who makes 50% of his shots. This player will occasionally hit four or more shots in a row.” (Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky, 1985)
  • ”Such runs can be properly called streak shooting, however, only if their length or frequency exceeds what is expected on the basis of chance alone. The player’s performance, then, can be compared to a sequence of hits and misses generated by tossing a coin.” (Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky, 1985)
  • “A player who produces longer sequences of hits than those produced by tossing a coin can be said to have a ‘hot hand’.” (Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky, 1985)
  • Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky argued “that the common use of these notions-however vague or complex-implies that players’ performance records should differ from sequences of heads and tails produced by coin tossing in two essential respects.” (Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky, 1985)
    • “First, these terms imply that the probability of a hit should be greater following a hit than following a miss (i.e., positive association).” (Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky, 1985)
    • “Second, they imply that the number of streaks of successive hits or misses should exceed the number produced by a chance process with a constant hit rate (i.e., nonstationarity).” (Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky, 1985)
  • “Individuals who believe in the hot hand believe not that a particular outcome is hot (e.g. that the roulette wheel that has come up red in the past is likely to come up red again), but that a particular person is hot.” (Croson and Sundali, 2005)
  • “The hot hand is thought to be caused by the illusion of control. Individuals believe that they (or others) exert control over events that are in fact randomly determined.” (Croson and Sundali, 2005)
  • “The hot-hand fallacy occurs when gamblers think that a winning streak is more likely to continue. This belief is based on the idea that having already won a number of bets improves the probability that they will win the next bet or the next number of bets.” (Kiersz, 2014)
  • “This independent nature of gambling games means that streaks have no particular meaning. Winning bets five times in a row has no effect on what happens on the sixth bet.” (Kiersz, 2014)

Hot Hand Fallacy Studies: 76ers

  • “In 1985 Thomas Gilovich, Robert Vallone, and Amos Tversky published an analysis of the Philadelphia 76ers’ 1980-1981 season to determine whether the hot hand was a real thing. At that time, the 76ers were the only team that kept the kind of shot-by-shot data that would make this analysis possible.” (Vyse, 2014)
  • “Gilovich, Vallone, and Tversky concluded that the hot hand was an illusion. None of the players on the 76ers produced streaks of baskets that were substantially different from a random sequence. The belief in the hot hand was simply a misunderstanding of random processes.” (Vyse, 2014)
  • “I remember seeing interviews with players who took pleasure in denouncing the study with references to ‘crazy psychologists.’” (Vyse, 2014)
  • “Nonetheless, the hot hand fallacy soon became lore in the scientific community, and the Gilovich, Vallone, and Tversky paper became a seminal publication, subsequently followed by many others.” (Vyse, 2014)

Hot Hand Fallacy Studies: Gambling

  • “In more compelling evidence from the field, Clotfelter and Cook (1989) note the tendency of gamblers to redeem winning lottery tickets for more tickets rather than for cash.” (Croson and Sundali, 2005)
  • “This behavior is also consistent with hot hand beliefs; since the individual has won previously they are more likely to win again.” (Croson and Sundali, 2005)

Hot Hand Fallacy Studies: Basketball (Challenge to Fallacy)

  • “Along come Andrew Bocskocsky, John Ezekowitz, and Carolyn Stein, all 2013 economics graduates from Harvard University, with a serious challenge to the hot hand fallacy.” (Vyse, 2014)
  • “The Harvard group reasoned that, if a hot hand effect actually existed, the player who is feeling hot might attempt more difficult shots. If so, a true hot hand effect would be masked by the lower probability shots chosen. So they attempted to take all of this into account in a new study.” (Vyse, 2014)
  • “Using an NBA dataset of over 83,000 shots that included optical measurements of the number and location of defenders, as well as game factors, such as the amount of time left on the clock, the Harvard group created a regression model that suggests that there is indeed a small but statistically significant hot hand effect.” (Vyse, 2014)
  • “Player’s who experience the hot hand are 1.2 to 2.4 percent more likely to hit a shot than those not experiencing a streak.” (Vyse, 2014)

Hot Hand Fallacy Studies: Gambling (Challenge to Fallacy)

  • “So, it’s somewhat surprising that Xu and Harvey actually found evidence that the hot-hand effect really does happen.” (Kiersz, 2014)
  • “They analyzed the records of an online sports betting website, containing hundreds of thousands of bets on horse races, soccer games, and dog races. Amazingly, they saw that, the longer a streak went on, the more likely the gambler would win their next bet.” (Kiersz, 2014)
  • “The longer the winning streak, the more likely the next bet is also a win.” (Kiersz, 2014)
  • “Initially, looking at all the bets overall, 48% were winners. If you win your first bet, you have a slightly improved 49% chance of winning your second bet as well, higher than the 47% chance of winning if you lost your first bet.” (Kiersz, 2014)
  • “After that, the hot-hand effect takes off. People who won two bets in a row had a 57% chance of winning their third bet — far higher than the 45% chance of winning for people who didn’t have a winning streak of two in a row.” (Kiersz, 2014)
  • “As the chart shows, the longer the streak went on, the more the odds of winning the next bet improved.”
  • “By the time you won six bets in a row, you had a 76% chance — better than 3 in 4 — to win your seventh bet.” (Kiersz, 2014)

Divergent Construal of Self


  • “Differences in the perception of events between North American and East Asian cultures, when applied in social contexts, suggest that people in different cultures may hold divergent construals of the self, of others, and their interdependence.” (Tsang)
  • “Individuals in Western cultures are more likely to hold an independent construal of the self, whereas those in non-Western cultures are exemplified by an interdependent self-view.” (Tsang)
  • The working assumption is that on average more individuals in Western cultures will hold an independent view while more individuals in non-Western cultures will hold an interdependent view.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “Within a given culture, however, individuals will vary in the extent to which they are good cultural representatives and construe the self in the mandated way.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “The explanations for these cultural differences have focused on collectivism versus individualism in,” non-Western versus Western cultures. (Jacobsona, et al., 2012)
  • “More specifically, Eastern cultures tend to be collectivist in orientation, where the common good and group harmony are focal concerns, and the self is conceived of as connected with, rather than distinct from, others.” (Jacobsona, et al., 2012)
  • “Attending to ways one is failing to attain the shared ideals of the group are encouraged and rewarded because such actions indicate one is engaged in the group and working toward its goals.” (Jacobsona, et al., 2012)
  • “Western culture, on the other hand, tends to be relatively individualist in orientation, with a focus on the self as independent and distinct from others.” (Jacobsona, et al., 2012)
  • “Behaviours and beliefs that emphasise the individual, especially the individual’s superiority over others, are conducive to this goal and are encouraged and rewarded.” (Jacobsona, et al., 2012)
  • “Despite the growing body of psychological and anthropological evidence that people hold divergent views about the self, most of what psychologists currently know about human nature is based on one particular view-the so-called Western view of the individual as an independent, self-contained, autonomous entity.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “Anthropologists and psychologists assume that such construals can influence, and in many cases determine, the very nature of individual experience.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)

The Independent Self Construal

  • “In many Western cultures, there is a faith in the inherent separateness of distinct persons.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “The normative imperative of this culture is to become independent from others and to discover and express one’s unique attributes.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “Achieving the cultural goal of independence requires construing oneself as an individual whose behavior is organized and made meaningful primarily by reference to one’s own internal repertoire of thoughts, feelings, and action, rather than by reference to the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)

The Interdependent Self Construal

  • “In contrast [to the Western view], many non-Western cultures insist…on the fundamental connectedness of human beings to each other.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “A normative imperative of these cultures is to maintain this interdependence among individuals.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “Experiencing interdependence entails seeing oneself as part of an encompassing social relationship and recognizing that one’s behavior is determined, contingent on, and, to a large extent organized by what the actor perceives to be the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others in the relationship.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “This view of the self and the relationship between the self and others features the person not as separate from the social context but as more connected and less differentiated from others.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “People are motivated to find a way to fit in with relevant others, to fulfill and create obligation, and in general to become part of various interpersonal relationships. Unlike the independent self, the significant features of the self according to this construal are to be found in the interdependent and thus, in the more public components of the self.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “The notion of an interdependent self is linked with a monistic philosophical tradition in which the person is thought to be of the same substance as the rest of nature.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “As a consequence, the relationship between the self and other, or between subject and object, is assumed to be much closer [than in the West].” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “Such a holistic view is in opposition to the Cartesian, dualistic tradition that characterizes Western thinking and in which the self is separated from the object and from the natural world.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)

Example of Differing Self Construals

  • Well known anecdotes – formality, gender roles, and social hierarchy – are often cited suggesting that people in Japan and America have strikingly divergent construals of the self (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “American examples stress attending to the self, the appreciation of one’s difference from others, and the importance of asserting the self.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “Japanese examples emphasize attending to and fitting in with others and the importance of harmonious interdependence with them.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)

Studies of Interdependent Self Construal

  • “Studies of the mainland China…show that even among the most rapidly modernizing segments of the Chinese population, there is a tendency for people to act primarily in accordance with the anticipated expectations of others and social norms rather than with internal wishes or personal attributes.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “A premium is placed on emphasizing collective welfare and on showing a sympathetic concern for others.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)
  • “Throughout the studies of the Chinese peoplereported by Bond, one can see the clear imprint of the Confucian emphasis on interrelatedness and kindness.” (Markus and Kitayama, 1991)

Mirror Image Formation


  • “Bronfenbrenner (1961) and White (1965), social psychologists writing about US-Soviet relations, first noted the formation of mirror images as a characteristic of many conflict relationships.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “Both parties tend to develop parallel images of the self and the other, except with the values reversed.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “The core content of mirror images is captured by the good-bad dimension. Each side sees itself as virtuous and peaceful, arming only for defensive reasons and prepared to compromise. The enemy, in contrast, is seen as evil and hostile, arming for aggressive reasons and responsive only to the language of force.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “A typical corollary of the good-bad images in protracted conflicts is the view that the other party’s aggressiveness is inherent in its nature (e.g. ideology, religion, national character, political system), whereas any signs of aggressiveness on one’s own part are entirely reactive and defensive.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “In the language of attribution theory, the enemy’s aggression is explained in dispositional terms, whereas one’s own aggression is explained in situational terms.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “Another common corollary of the good-bad image, one that derives from the virtuous self-image, is the assumption on each side that the enemy knows very well that ‘we’ are not threatening them.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “Since its own basic decency and peacefulness, and the provocation to which it has been subjected, are so obvious to each side, it assumes that they must also be obvious to the other side.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “The mirror image concept implies that certain symmetries in the parties’ reactions arise from the very nature of conflict interaction and that they play an important role in escalating the conflict.”
  • “There is no assumption that all images of the self and the enemy are mirror images, that images on the two sides are equally inaccurate, or that there is empirical symmetry in the two sides’ historical experiences and current situation or moral equivalence in their positions.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “However, the dynamics of the conflict relationship produce a degree of parallelism in some of the images developed by both participants in that relationship, arising out of the motivational and cognitive contexts in which they operate.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “Mirror images produce a spiraling effect (exemplified by the classical pattern of an arms race) because each side interprets any hostile action by the other as an indication of aggressive intent against which it must defend itself, while its own reactions – whose defensive nature it assumes to be obvious to the enemy – are taken by the other as signs of aggressive intent.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “In addition to the escalatory effect of mirror images, they tend to make conflicts more intractable because the sharp contrast between the innocent self and the aggressive other makes it difficult to break out of a zero-sum conception of the conflict.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “Interaction guided by mirror images of a demonic enemy and a virtuous self creates self-fulfilling prophecies by inducing the parties to engage in the hostile actions they expect from one another.” (Kelman, 2008)
    • “A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true. Self-fulfilling prophecies arise when a party’s expectations about their adversary cause them to act in ways that actually provoke the adversary’s “expected” response. The adversary’s (provoked) response is then taken as confirmation of the party’s original expectation, and a vicious cycle ensues.” (Demirdöğen, 2011)
  • “An important feature of enemy (conflict) images is their high degree of resistance to contradictory information or change.” (Demirdöğen, 2011)
  • “One kind of assumption an analyst should always recognize and question is mirror-imaging—filling gaps in the analyst’s own knowledge by assuming that the other side is likely to act in a certain way because that is how the US would act under similar circumstances…what Adm. David Jeremiah, after reviewing the Intelligence Community failure to predict India’s nuclear weapons testing, termed the ‘everybody-thinks like-us-mind-set.’.” (Heuer, 1999)

Examples of Mirror Image Formation: Ethnic Conflict

  • “Apart from such generic features of mirror images, which arise from the dynamics of intergroup conflict across the board, mirror images in any given case may reflect the dynamics of the specific conflict.” (Kelman, 2008)
  • “Thus, ethnic conflicts may be characterized by mutual denial of the other side’s national identity accompanied by efforts to delegitimize the other’s national movement and claim to nationhood, by mutual fear of national and personal annihilation, by a mutual sense of victimization by the other side, and/or by a mutual view of the other side as a source of one’s own humiliation and vulnerability.” (Kelman, 2008)

Examples of Mirror Image Formation: South Africa

  • “In 1977, for example, the Intelligence Community was faced with evidence of what appeared to be a South African nuclear weapons test site.” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “Many in the Intelligence Community, especially those least knowledgeable about South Africa, tended to dismiss this evidence on the grounds that ‘Pretoria would not want a nuclear weapon, because there is no enemy they could effectively use it on.’” (Heuer, 1999)
  • “The US perspective on what is in another country’s national interest is usually irrelevant in intelligence analysis. Judgment must be based on how the other country perceives its national interest.” (Heuer, 1999)

Confirmation Bias


  • “John Mackay wrote ‘When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts into their service’ in 1852, in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.” (Nickerson, 1998)
  • “Confirmation bias is perhaps the best known and most widely accepted notion of inferential error to come out of the literature on human reasoning.” (Nickerson, 1998)
  • “Confirmation bias, also called myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain” (“Confirmation bias”)
    • “attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence)” (“Confirmation bias”)
    • “belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false)” (“Confirmation bias”)
    • “the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series)” (“Confirmation bias”)
    • “illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “As the term is used in this article and, I believe, generally by psychologists, confirmation bias connotes a less explicit, less consciously one-sided case-building process.” (Nickerson, 1998)
  • “It refers usually to unwitting selectivity in the acquisition and use of evidence.” (Nickerson, 1998)
  • The line between deliberate selectivity in the use of evidence and unwitting molding of facts to fit hypotheses or beliefs is a difficult one to draw in practice, but the distinction is meaningful conceptually, and confirmation bias has more to do with the latter than with the former.” (Nickerson, 1998)
  • “The assumption that people can and do engage in case-building unwittingly, without intending to treat evidence in a biased way or even being aware of doing so, is fundamental to the concept.” (Nickerson, 1998)

Confirmation Bias Studies

  • “A team at Stanford University conducted an experiment involving participants who felt strongly about capital punishment, with half in favor and half against it.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “Each participant read descriptions of two studies: a comparison of U.S. states with and without the death penalty, and a comparison of murder rates in a state before and after the introduction of the death penalty.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “After reading a quick description of each study, the participants were asked whether their opinions had changed.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “Then, they read a more detailed account of each study’s procedure and had to rate whether the research was well conducted and convincing.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “In fact, the studies were fictional. Half the participants were told that one kind of study supported the deterrent effect and the other undermined it, while for other participants the conclusions were swapped.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “The participants, whether supporters or opponents, reported shifting their attitudes slightly in the direction of the first study they read.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “Once they read the more detailed descriptions of the two studies, they almost all returned to their original belief regardless of the evidence provided, pointing to details that supported their viewpoint and disregarding anything contrary.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “Participants described studies supporting their preexisting view as superior to those that contradicted it, in detailed and specific ways.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “Writing about a study that seemed to undermine the deterrence effect, a death penalty proponent wrote, ‘The research didn’t cover a long enough period of time’, while an opponent’s comment on the same study said, ‘No strong evidence to contradict the researchers has been presented’.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “The results illustrated that people set higher standards of evidence for hypotheses that go against their current expectations.” (“Confirmation bias”)
  • “This effect, known as ‘disconfirmation bias’, has been supported by other experiments.” (“Confirmation bias”)

Partisan Perceptions


  • There is a line in The Godfather Part III – “‘never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment’.” This the key take away of the partisan perceptions bias where “in situations of conflict, there is a tendency to demonize the other side or sides.” (Sebenius, 2002)
  • “The experience of conflict irreversibly alters disputants’ attitudes and perceptions in ways that can make conflict self-sustaining. The combatants accumulate psychological ‘residues’ — emotional associations and expectations that irreversibly alter their attitudes toward each other.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “Their perceptions of the situation and the actions of the other side are strongly shaped by their partisanship.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “While we systematically err in processing information critical to our own side, we are even worse at assessing the other side-especially in an adversarial situation.” (Sebenius, 2001)
  • “Extensive research has documented an unconscious mechanism that enhances one’s own side, ‘portraying it as more talented, honest, and morally upright,’ while simultaneously vilifying the opposition.” (Sebenius, 2001)
  • “This often leads to exaggerated perceptions of the other side’s position and overestimates of the actual substantive conflict.” (Sebenius, 2001)
  • To an outsider, those caught up in disintegrating partnerships or marriages often appear to hold exaggerated views of each other.” (Sebenius, 2001)
  • “Such partisan perceptions can become even more virulent among people on each side of divides, such as Israelis and Palestinians, Bosnian Muslims and the Serbs, or Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.” (Sebenius, 2001)
  • “Partisan perceptions can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies. Experiments testing the effects of teachers’ expectations of students, psychiatrists’ diagnoses of mental patients, and platoon leaders’ expectations of their trainees confirm the notion that partisan perceptions often shape behavior.” (Sebenius, 2001)
  • “At the negotiating table, clinging firmly to the idea that one’s counterpart is stubborn or extreme, for example, is likely to trigger just that behavior, sharply reducing the possibility of reaching a constructive agreement.” (Sebenius, 2001)

Examples of Partisan Perceptions

  • “Consider, for example, the situation faced by management and workers at the Hormel meatpacking company in the mid-1980’s.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “The company’s main plant was located in a small midwestern town in which it was the only major employer.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “The union and the company had a history of good labor relations and the company, which was a leader in its industry, had been quite generous with wages and bonuses in good times.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “But a new management team was under pressure from Wall Street to get better returns. Also non-union competition in meatpacking was beginning to put pressure on margins.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “Although the company was still quite profitable, management was seeking wage givebacks.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “In response, the union leadership hired a high profile outside organizer who attempted to organize a boycott of the company’s products. The organizer’s methods had worked elsewhere, but not here.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “Seeking to, in his words, ‘shake U.S. labor into a new vitality,’ the organizer continued to whip the workers up to confront the company long after it was obvious that management had the upper hand.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “The dispute became progressively more and more bitter as the strike dragged on, but the workers stuck together, continuing to believe that they would prevail.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “Eventually the company started hiring replacement workers. The strike collapsed, many workers lost their jobs and the remainder got far less than if they had accepted the company’s offer in the first place.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)
  • “In this case, the workers’ perceptions of the situation were dramatically distorted by the bitter partisanship of the dispute.” (“Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement”)

Partisan Perceptions Studies: Princeton/Dartmouth

  • “Evidence suggesting such polarization was provided long ago in a classic study by Hastorf and Cantril (1954) that presented Dartmouth and Princeton football fans with a film of a particularly hard-fought game between their teams.” (Ross and Ward, 1995)
  • “Despite the fact that they were being presented with the very same stimulus, the two sets of partisan viewers seemingly ‘saw’ two very different games.” (Ross and Ward, 1995)
  • “The Princeton fans saw a continuing saga of Dartmouth atrocities and occasional Princeton retaliations, whereas the Dartmouth fans saw a hard-hitting contest in which both sides contributed equally to the violence.” (Ross and Ward, 1995)
  • “Moreover, each side thought that the ‘truth’ (i.e., what they saw) ought to be apparent to any objective observers of the same events.” (Ross and Ward, 1995)

Partisan Perceptions Studies: English Literature – Traditionalists vs. Revisionists

  • “The underestimation of common ground in campus debates was been nicely demonstrated in a follow-up study by Robinson and Keltner (1994) that focused on instructors’ views about the proper balance of traditional and nontraditional materials in the basic English literature course.” (Ross and Ward, 1995)
  • “The main finding was that the suggested reading lists of self-labeled “traditionalists” and “revisionists” actually overlapped considerably-despite the traditionalists’ beliefs that there would be no overlap at all.” (Ross and Ward, 1995)

Partisan Perceptions Solution

  • “And having people on your side prepare the strongest possible case for the other side can serve as the basis for preparatory role-playing that can generate valuable insights.” (Sebenius, 2001)
  • “A few years ago, helping a client get ready for a tough deal, I suggested that the client create a detailed “brief’ for each side and have the team’s best people negotiate for the other side in a reverse roleplay. The brief for my client’s side was lengthy, eloquent, and persuasive. Tellingly, the brief describing the other side’s situation was only two pages long and consisted mainly of reasons for conceding quickly to my client’s superior arguments. Not only were my client’s executives fixated on their own problem (mistake 1), their perceptions of each side were also hopelessly biased (mistake 6).” (Sebenius, 2001)
  • “To prepare effectively, they needed to undertake significant competitive research and reality-test their views with uninvolved outsiders.” (Sebenius, 2001)



  • Barriers to Agreement
  • Anchoring Bias
    • “Anchoring,” Wikipedia.com, Last Accessed May 29, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchoring
    • Richards Heuer, The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999
    • Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, “Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases,” Science, Vol. 185, No 4157, September 27, 1974
    • David A. Schkade and Daniel Kahneman, “Does Living in California Make People Happy? A Focusing Illusion in Judgments of Life Satisfaction,” Psychological Science, Vol. 9, No. 5, 1998
    • Daniel Kahneman, Alan Krueger, David Schkade, Norbert Schwarz, and Arthur Stone, “Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion,” CEPS Working Paper No. 125, May 2006
  • Fundamental Attribution Error
    • Lee Ross and Craig Anderson, “9 – Shortcomings in the attribution process: On the origins and maintenance of erroneous social assessments,” in Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, Edited by Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky, Cambridge University Press, 1982
    • “Fundamental attribution error,” Wikipedia.com, June 18, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error
    • Joseph Forgas, “On being happy and mistaken: Mood effects on the fundamental attribution error,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 75, No.2, 1998
    • John Sabini, Michael Siepmann, and Julia Stein, “The Really Fundamental Attribution Error in Social Psychological Research,” Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2001
  • Optimistic Overconfidence Bias
    • “Examples of Overconfidence,” YourDictionary.com, Last Accessed June 15, 2015, http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-overconfidence.html
    • Robert Mnookin and Lee Ross, “Chapter One: Introduction,” In Barriers to Conflict Resolution, edited by Kenneth Arrow, Robert Mnookin, Lee Ross, Amos Tversky, and Robert Wilson, 2-24. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.
    • “Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement,” Harvard Business School, 9-800-333, May 8, 2000
    • Rolf Dobelli, “The Overconfidence Effect: Why you systematically overestimate your knowledge and abilities,” PsychologyToday.com June 11, 2013, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-art-thinking-clearly/201306/the-overconfidence-effect
    • Richards J. Heuer Jr. The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999
  • Prospect Theory
    • Byron Bland, Brenna Powell and Lee Ross, “Barriers to Dispute Resolution: Reflections on Peacemaking and Relationships between Adversaries,” in Understanding Social Action, Promoting Human Rights, edited by Ryan Goodman, Derek Jinks, and Andrew K. Woods, Oxford University Press, 2012
    • Corinna Carmen Gayer, Shiri Landman, Eran Halperin, and Daniel Bar-Tal, “Overcoming Psychological Barriers to Peaceful Conflict Resolution: The Role of Arguments about Losses,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Volume 53 Number 6, December 2009
    • Thayer Watkins, “Kahneman and Tversky’s Prospect Theory,” San Jose State University Economics Department, Last Accessed June 15, 2015, http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/prospect.htm
  • Hot Hand Fallacy
  • Divergent Construal of Self
    • Siny Tsang, “Does Self-Construal affect Emotion Judgment?” University of Virginia, Department of Psychology, http://people.virginia.edu/~st2sb/Tsang_2011APA_SelfConstrualEmotion.pdf
    • Jill Jacobsona, Li-Jun Jia, Peter Dittob, Zhiyong Zhangc, Dara Sorkind, Sarah Warrene, Veronica Legninif, Anna Ebel-Lama and Sarah Roper-Colemanb, “The effects of culture and self-construal on responses to threatening health information,” Psychology & Health, Vol. 27, No. 10, October 2012
    • R. Markus and S. Kitayama, “Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation,” Psych Review, Vol. 98, 1991
  • Mirror Image Formation
    • Herbert C. Kelman (2008). A social-psychological approach to conflict analysis and resolution. In D. Sandole, S. Byrne, I. Sandole-Staroste, & J. Senehi (Eds.), Handbook of conflict analysis and resolution (pp. 170-183). London and New York: Routledge [Taylor & Francis]
    • Ülkü D. Demirdöğen, “A Social-Psychological Approach To Conflict Resolution: Interactive Problem Solving,” International Journal of Social Inquiry, Volume 4 Number 1, 2011
    • Richards J. Heuer Jr. The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999
  • Confirmation Bias
    • Richard Heuer, The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999
    • Raymond Nickerson, “Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises,” Review of General Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1998
    • “Confirmation bias,” Last Accessed June 18, 2015, Wikipedia.com, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias
  • Partisan Perceptions
    • James Sebenius, “Negotiating Lessons from the Browser Wars,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Summer 2002
    • “Diagnosing and Overcoming Barriers to Agreement,” Harvard Business School, 9-800-333, May 8, 2000
    • Lee Ross and Andrew Ward, “Naive Realism: Implications for Social Conflict and Misunderstanding,” Stanford Center on Conflict and Negotiation, Working Paper No. 48, May 1995
    • James Sebenius, “Six Habits of Merely Effective Negotiators,” Harvard Business Review, April 2001
    • Alice Boyes, “The Self-Serving Bias – Definition, Research, and Antidotes,” PsychologyToday.com, January 9, 2013

Meeting Management – Facilitating from the Side

A consequential yet common misunderstanding is that the meetings taking place every day in organizations across the globe essentially run themselves. The idea that one need only a topic, an invitation, and a medium of communication to have an effective meeting is implicit in many organizations’ cultures. This practice is formed on the notion that when a group assembles, they will share information and/or make decisions in a manner that is essentially efficient.

In my experience, I have found this to be a misconception that is of greater or lesser consequence depending on circumstances such as how well the group knows one another, the size of the group, and the complexity of the problems being discussed. However, I have found that it is always consequential in some way. The consequences are varied but include: wasted time, increased frustration of group members, increased confusion rather than clarity, and increased animosity among participants or factions within a group.

If you are organizing or chairing a meeting, there are a lot of things you can do to avoid the aforementioned consequences. Thoroughly preparing for the content of the meeting, sending out a detailed agenda well in advance of the meeting, and opening the meeting by reminding the participants of the purpose and desired results are all ways to create the right meeting environment.

But what if you are not organizing or chairing the meeting? What can you do then? Donna Silverberg of DS Consulting, a Portland-based conflict management firm, suggests “facilitating from the side.” This is the act of gently intervening in the meeting’s process (or lack thereof) to redirect the conversation in a more productive direction. There are several techniques for accomplishing this in a way that does not usurp the chair’s authority or cause him or her to lose face.

Pose Questions: The simplest, most gentle, and likely the most powerful intervention you can make is to pose a question. The question could be to the group or a specific individual. It can be in the middle of the meeting or between meetings if there is a recurrence. The main criterion for the question is that it aims to shift one or more of the meeting’s unproductive dynamics. For example, in an information sharing meeting where the information is being exchanged chaotically, you could ask group if they would not mind using a framework for sharing information like chronological order, by category or domain, or by department or group. If needed, you could even help the chair save face by saying that you take better notes that way or that it will help you gain a deeper grasp of the subject. This would add structure to the exchange, which will make the information easier to understand and record.

Summarize or Reframe: Another powerful tool is to summarize or reframe what has been said. You could summarize what one individual said or what the entire group has communicated. This intervention accomplishes three things – (1) it slows the meeting down, (2) it ensures that what is being communicated is being understood, and (3) it creates a new foundation for furthering or pivoting the discussion. You may follow up with a question, or not, and let the discussion more forward naturally, but either way you have created the opportunity for a shift in dynamics.

Pose Process Alternatives: Suggesting a process activity is another way to move the meeting in a productive direction. Three ideas for process activities are below:

  • Ad-Hoc Agenda – Many times meeting are held without agendas. This is unadvisable in most circumstances. If you find yourself in a meeting where the organizer or chair did not distribute an agenda, you can ask that an agenda be put together at the beginning of the meeting. I have done this before by saying, “I hate to ask this but I am exhausted from <moving, being sick, etc> and I want to ensure I stay focused. Could we outline a brief agenda for this meeting to help me stay on track?”
  • Research & Regroup – There are meetings that enter into seemingly never ending debates over issues that are not supported by the factual evidence needed for the group to make a decision. Not only is this activity unproductive for obvious reasons, it is often the catalyst for conflict. In these situations I usually summarize both points of debate from the opposing sides, then ask if each side has research they would like to share with the group. In my experience, the answer has always been “no.” From there, I suggest we all do some research into the issues and regroup to continue the meeting in a week. This gives both time to research and perhaps more importantly a chance to back away from entrenched positions.
  • Propose Priority – Sometimes meetings suffer because the individuals participating in them are unaware of the priority of issues on the table or information that needs to be shared. The meeting will hang on an unimportant topic for too long and breeze past an important one. In these cases, I ask what everyone thinks the priority of information for the group should be and suggest we spend more time on higher priority items first, then address the lower ones.

All of these suggestions are predicated on the idea that if you feel uncomfortable in a meeting or feel that the meeting is unproductive, then you are probably not alone. So facilitating from the side is a way to rescue a meeting, save time, and deliver a more productive outcome.

The Importance of Defining Roles within a Team

I have been working with a client who has recently merged four distinct teams into a single unit. This new unit is under new leadership, and as is often the case with change, there has been resistance to both the new structure and leadership. From my initial assessments with the team members, there are several recurring complaints – the new leader is not the right person for the job, the leader is not managing the group in the best way possible, the original teams should have never been merged because there is no synergy, and the new team lacks a cohesive structure. However, the number one complaint I am hearing from the group is that no one is sure of their role on the new team. From what I have observed, this issue is the one unforgivable sin. The lack of certainty concerning members’ roles is a source of deep anxiety which leads to unease concerning the members’ status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness (see the post Using the SCARF Model to Navigate Psychological Landmines of Negotiation for a more detailed treatment). My sense with this group is that when the team’s role concerns are addresses, they will have a solid foundation to build upon.

Right now almost all of the group’s members have expressed confusion and concern regarding the following questions:

Team Role: At the highest level members are interested in understanding the role of the team within its broader context. Common questions at this level are – What are we as a team supposed to be doing? What is the role of our team within our department and within the broader organization? What are the short-term and long-term goals of the team?

Group Role: Members and managers for the four pre-existing teams are asking – What is my group supposed to be doing? What is the role of our group within our team, department, and within the broader organization? What should my group try to accomplish this year? What should we accomplish in the next three years?

Individual Role:  The questions concerning individuals’ roles are the greatest source of anxiety. Common questions at this level are – What am I supposed to be doing? How is my role going to change? What additional responsibilities will I have in the new team? How do I demonstrate value to the group/team/organization? What are my individual goals for this year?

The stress that is caused by not knowing the answers to these questions appears to intensify the longer they remain unanswered.

In Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate, authors Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro note that the roles we play within differing contexts represent a core emotional concern that is driven by our sense of meaning and purpose in the role we assume.  Shapiro summarizes this concern through the question, “Are the many roles we play meaningless, or are they personally fulfilling?” [2] The authors note that fulfilling roles have three attributes: 1) They have a clear purpose, 2) They have a personal meaning, and 3) They are not based on a pretense. [3]

So what does this mean for my client? First and foremost, it indicates that the lingering questions causing so much doubt must be addressed in a manner that to the extent possible meets the three criteria stated above. But that is easier said than done. How should we work through the process of having those questions answered? An outline of the approach I have designed for the group is below.

Addressing the Core Concern of Role

(1) Acknowledge the Situation: The first step is acknowledging reality as it exists. Openly recognizing that allowing the team’s concerns to linger has had a negative impact on the team and committing to actively working towards clarity will help assuage some of the anxiety that has grown within the team. An essential part of the expression of commitment to resolving the issue is to share a plan for accomplishing this goal. This action will give added weight to the commitment.

(2) Seek the Input of the Team’s Sponsor: The second step is to seek guidance from the team’s sponsor (the individual(s) that decided on the consolidation) as to the new team’s initial and ongoing for mandate. What does the sponsor see as the team’s goals, their organic limitation of scope, and what opportunities could the new team capitalize on?

(3) Seek Input from Team Members: The third step is asking team members about how they believe they best fit into the new team based on the sponsor’s input. What was the previous set of responsibilities? How do they think that will change within the new team? What would like to contribute? What do they want to avoid? What are their strengths? The key in this step is to understand each team member’s interests as related to their role.

(4) Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a tool used by project managers to document a project’s tasks and their relationship to one another. The process for creating a WBS involves identifying major project tasks, the subtasks of the major tasks, and subtasks of the subtasks. So what does this have to do with our dilemma of role definition? Just as this tool can be used for determining the tasks needed to complete a project, it can also be used to identify the tasks involved in a team’s regular operations. Facilitating the team through identifying the breakdown of their operational tasks consists of the following:

  1. Identify the high level tasks the group needs to accomplish. For example, recruiting, marketing, program management, budgeting, etc. would be high level tasks.
  2. Identify the subtasks (level 1) of the high level tasks and the subtasks of subtasks (level 2). This should have the work to be accomplished broken down to a level that cannot be further subdivided.
  3. Identify the recurrence of the task. How often will it need to be completed?
  4. Identify the group and individual task ownership for second level subtasks. Some tasks may not have an owner and that is okay. Filling in ownership gaps will be negotiated later.

Once this has been accomplished, the team will have a good idea of the sponsor’s vision for the team, each team member’s perspective of how they fit or would like to fit in the team, and work that needs to be completed. These three sets of information lead to the next step in the process.

(5) Negotiate the Roles:  The fifth step in the process is to negotiate the scope of each team member’s role based on the sponsor’s input, the team’s input, and the WBS data. How to go about this process of negotiation depends to a large extent on how much each member’s role is changing. If most of the roles will be fundamentally different than before the consolidation, then this will be a more intensive process that may be assisted through the use of a facilitator. If the roles are not fundamentally changing, but are being modified, then negotiating up through the team’s hierarchy may be best. Here, each team member would negotiate their role with the supervisor who would submit the final role descriptions for approval. Another issue to consider at this stage is how changes to negotiated roles will be handled in the future when team members leave or the team acquires new responsibilities.

(6) Canonize the Goals, Roles, and Agreements: The final step in the process is to document the goals, roles, and agreements that were reached throughout the process. Make sure that the documented information is accessible to team members so they can clarify the group’s goals, the groups task, or their own or others roles in the future.

The importance of clear roles for healthy team functioning cannot be overstated. Role definition creates a clear structure for the team, its groups, and its members that sets a foundation for clear expectations and conflict mitigation. The previously outlined process is one way for teams to more clearly define themselves.


  1. Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro. Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate. New York: Penguin, 2005.
  2. Daniel L. Shapiro. “Teaching Students How to Use Emotions as They Negotiate.” Negotiation Journal. January 2006.
  3. “Summary of Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate.” Transformation Management LLC. Last Accessed June 18, 2013. http://goo.gl/OUoFgl

The Navajo Peacemaking Process

One of the first articles I read concerning Alternative Dispute Resolution was Robert Yazzie’s “Traditional Navajo Dispute Resolution in the Navajo Peacemaker Court.” In it, Yazzie explains the basic Navajo concepts of law and justice and outlines the process used in Navajo Peacemaker Courts.

Yazzie advocates for the Navajo Peacemaker Process (NPP) as a more effective model of justice than the United States judicial system. His advocacy is supported primarily by describing the more holistic and relationship-focused approach of the NPP.

This post summarizes the key concepts and NPP outline presented in Yazzie’s article, and it closes with a brief discussion of the merits of the peacemaker process as a means of both criminal justice and civil dispute resolution.

Prior to explaining the NPP, Yazzie explains several concepts related to the Navajo culture’s conception of justice.

  • Beehaz’aanii: Typically translated as “law,” the word beehaz’aanii has a deeper meaning than common English usage suggests. Yazzie explains that beehaz’aanii is the foundational, timeless, and absolute essence of life. Beyond rules for living, it is the fundamental, shared sense of the “right path.”
  • Hozho: Yazzie notes that hozho means “the perfect state,” and “that ‘there is a place for everything in reality, and there is hozho when everything is in its proper place, functioning well with everything else.’” This concept has a special focus on relationships expanding from family relationships to all things. The purpose of beehaz’aanii is to support hozho.
  • Nalyeeh: The Navajo word that seeks compensation for a transgression, and “it is also a demand to do things in the proper way.” The amount of compensation needed to make amends is “enough ‘so there will be no hard feelings.’” Material retribution is not the central aim of nalyeeh, rather, the aim is healing and preserving relationships.
  • The Scope of Conflict: If the scope of conflict in a legal dispute is measured by the number of parties and issues involved, then the scope of conflict in Navajo disputes is much broader than the scope of conflicts in the U.S. justice system. The NPP includes the disputant’s immediate and extended families and anyone else that is touched by the matter in dispute. This broad perspective also applies to the scope of the issues discussed, which can include the opinions, values, beliefs, and stories of all parties involved.
  • Naat’aanii: The naat’aanii is a wise, respected, and well-spoken man or woman who leads the peacemaker ceremony. The naat’aanii differs from an American judge in that the naat’aanii’s role is to guide and facilitate the resolution process rather than make decisions for the parties. The  naat’aanii is also expected to teach and provide guidance to the participants during the process, a role unfamiliar in the U.S. justice system.

These concepts point to the deep sense of community at the heart of the Navajo perspective, as well as the deep sense of the meaning of the law, the focus on relationships, and the broad scope of conflict all form the foundation of the NPP. The seven step peacemaker process follows:

  1. Opening Prayer: The process begins with a prayer, which is aimed at setting a constructive tone for the meeting and focusing the participants’ attitudes in a positive direction.
  2. Emotional Expression: Zazzie notes that “In Navajo ceremonial practice, you identify what is inside. You bring it out so you can deal with it; That is why we not only allow but encourage expressions of feelings – to bring them out.” This succinctly describes the second step in the peacemaking process in which all participants (not exclusively the parties in dispute) have an opportunity to discuss their perspective concerning the matter in conflict. This step is aimed at healing the wounded relationship between parties.
  3. Lecture: The third step in the process sees the Naat’aanii provide insight about how the dispute relates to Navajo values citing traditional Navajo prayers, folklore, and traditions. As Yazzie notes, “The lecture is information, wisdom, teaching. It gives the disputants the tools they need to go on to the next stage of the [process].”
  4. Discussion: During this step of the process participants work to objectify the problem and eliminate barriers to a solution like the primary participants’ attitudes, misunderstandings, denial, minimalization, and externalization. Yazzie points out that the presence of participants beyond the disputants – their families, neighbors, friends; etc. – helps to counteract some of these barriers. Acting in a spirit of solidarity, the participants, “come to agreement through discussion. They identify the problem and the solutions to it. They eliminate the problem by making certain that everyone is part of the solution.”
  5. Consensus: The result of the discussion phase of the process is consensus about how to proceed with the solution. It is important to note here that Yazzie does not mean consensus in terms of general agreement – he emphasizes that consensus in this context means everyone involved agrees with the solution. He notes that this is to ensure respect for the relationships existing amongst the participants.
  6. Reconciliation: The aim of the peacemaker process is not to distribute justice, but for individuals with interdependent relationships to be reconciled to one another and to the agreement they reached. Yazzie notes that commitments to agreement the disputants reached are general more reliable that judgements handed down to them.
  7. Closing Prayer: The process is concluded as it began with a prayer. The prayer acts as a “seal on the agreement,” which serves to remind and commit all participants to the agreement.

Yazzie closes his synopsis of the NPP by noting that peacemaking reconciles two often seeming opposed goals – the rights of individuals with the needs of the broader group they function within. This attitude of respect and balance, which is the spirit of the process offers insights into optimizing dispute resolution. A few thoughts on the merits of this concept follows:

  1. Emotional & Spiritual Dimensions of Conflict: I love that the Navajo Peacemaker process looks at conflict resolution with a more holistic view of the persons in dispute. The more aspects of the human being that are acknowledged and explored in the context of the conflict resolution process, the deeper the restorative and healing benefits will be. In the U.S. justice system, these dimensions of the human experience are not acknowledged, much less explored.  However, if they were brought into the criminal justice side of our system, they may go a long way in efforts to rehabilitate the offenders and heal the victims, as has been exemplified by restorative justice work.
  2. Conflict Stakeholders: Another aspect of the NPP is the focus on the network of relationships that are affected by a dispute, not just those who are directly involved in the dispute. This seems like such a wise acknowledgement of the consequence that conflicts have on families, workplaces, religious communities; etc. Our justice system is lacking when it comes to representing the needs of individuals affected by, but not directly involved in, the dispute. Though this certainly makes the administration of justice simpler, it does not respect the deep strain that conflict puts on the affected groups that are not involved in the justice process, which has the effect of minimizing the scope of the offense that led to the conflict. This is especially true for criminal matters in which the state assumes the role that should be held by the victim and the community.
  3. Relationship Focused: The NPP is deeply focused on preserving relationships, though not to the extent that the process has an accommodating bias. As discussed, it holds both the individual and community’s needs in balance. This focus is the foundation of a solid community. When we recognize and respect the deeply interdependent nature of our being, then making all attempts to preserve and strengthen the relational ties that bind us together and facilitate our effectiveness as a community is paramount. This is, of course, another point of contrast to the U.S. justice system, which has a strict transactional focus and generally does not recognize the importance of deep, well-maintained, cross-cutting ties within community.

Yazzie’s piece offers an insight into a process that has much to offer. The NPP’s focus on the holistic human experience of conflict, the broad base of conflict stakeholders, and the deep importance of relationships in conflict resolution and prevention provides a solid perspective for considering our own means of dealing with conflict.



Robert Yazzie, “Traditional Navajo Dispute Resolution in the Navajo Peacemaker Court,” NIDR Forum, Spring 1995.

Dovetailing TED Talks – Sally Taylor and William Ury

I recently attended Nashville’s TEDx where I had the opportunity to hear Sally Taylor’s recount her inspiration for and implementation of the Consenses project. Her talk was wonderful because it spoke to the deep, mysterious, and powerful nature of our perspectives. Taylor’s project brings physical manifestation to what makes life so interesting and challenging – there are 7.125 billion different human perspectives, experiences, and stories.

The Beautiful Dilemma of Our Separateness | Sally Taylor | TEDxNashville


Taylor’s talk dovetails nicely with William Ury’s latest talk in which he  discusses the power of listening. Our sometime vastly different perspectives on the same objects or events can only be bridged through the act of thorough listening. If I want to understand the depth of the beauty and tragedy of your perspective, I can only do so by deep listening. As Ury’s so gracefully points out, it is the act of listening that allows us to bridge the differences arising from our varying human perspectives.

The Power of Listening | William Ury | TEDxSanDiego

HALT, Conflict, and The Buddha

If you read this blog regularly, I know you must be thinking, “Not another acronym post!” Alas, this has been ‘The Year of the Acronym’ [1]. Thus far, we have reviewed RAIN, an acronym that can be used for mindfully responding to conflict, AIM, an acronym for preparing to communicate, and SCARF, an acronym for managing socio-neurological responses to conflict. This post will review the conflict resolution implications of a very well-known acronym. Of all the acronyms we have discussed, HALT is by far the most widely used and well-established in our cultural lexicon.

HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely (or Lost), and Tired. It is widely used in the recovery community as a basic self-awareness tool. Alcoholics and addicts are advised to “take time to HALT,” to be aware of the impact hunger, anger, loneliness, or being tired may have on their mental state. By remaining aware of these basic attributes of experience, addicts are much better positioned to avoid succumbing to negative mental states that can lead to relapse.

HALT fits especially well with the previously explored concept of RAIN because it offers a basic tool for investigation of an individual’s present-time experience (the ‘I’ in RAIN).

In the conflict resolution context, HALT can be used for introspection as well as extrospection, and it can be used in both literal and figurative ways. Introspectively, HALT serves as a self-care tool for the Conflict Manager [2], while extrospectively, the tool serves as a framework for being mindful of the current state of others involved in the conflict management process. This awareness, both within and without, is cultivated through asking questions both of ourselves and others about what is affecting our current state of mind. By asking questions to ensure everyone’s basic needs are being met, the practitioner is able to remain self-aware and balanced and to establish and maintain a healthy rapport with others, even when the conflict management process becomes tense.

HALT is typically prescribed in a literal sense, but the tool also has figurative value. Literally, we can pay attention to the sensations of hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness as real-time, physical and emotional realities. In this literal implementation of the tool, we can eat if we are hungry, we can pause and step away from the situation if we are angry, we can reach out to connect with a friend or loved one if we are lonely, and we can rest if we are tired. We can address those needs directly, and by doing so, cultivate a mental state that is open, relaxed, and more conducive to conflict resolution.

HALT also has figurative [3] value that yields deeper introspection of what is needed to rebalance and reconnect with our productive mental capacities. Turning to the Buddhist concept of the ‘Three Poisons’ can help to broaden the scope of HALT. The Three Poisons are the three unproductive mental states of Greed (attachment), Anger (aversion), and Delusion (misapprehension). When a person’s thinking is heavily influenced by the Three Poisons, it will be much more difficult to engage them in productively working through conflict. Aligning the Three Poisons with HALT provides a frame of reference for HALT’s figurative value.

Through this lens, we now see hunger as something not limited to the physical realm, but any “hunger” born from unhealthy attachment. We can HALT to ask ourselves what we think we need but are not getting – the fuel of an unproductive state of mind. Bringing this broader, figurative perspective to the experience of others in the conflict management process allows us to question if their behavior may be an indication that they are not getting what they think they need.

Figuratively, anger is transformed from solely looking at external causes of anger to our subtle, internal aversions that quietly drive imbalance in our experience. Paying close attention to our real-time experience or the experience of others, we can look for the subtle ways that aversion is manifesting as obstacles to effective conflict management. In facilitated discussions, I often see aversion as a look of misapprehension or dissonance displayed across a participant’s face. They are not angry; they are just resistant to what they are hearing. This more subtle aversion can cue the Conflict Manager to focus in on the participant’s resistance.

Loneliness or feeling lost is closely related to delusion. The concept of delusion implies that we are disconnected from the way things really are and isolated from the reality of the moment. We could express the same concept as being lost, which can give rise to loneliness. Checking in with ourselves or others regarding how our thoughts are in or out of accord with the present reality will minimize the sense of loneliness and being lost and make the search for common ground much easier. Typically, I notice delusion as a misunderstanding of facts, as a misunderstanding of others’ perceptions, or as the result of a miscommunication. Anything that prevents a shared reality amongst participants in the conflict management process is a delusion that fits in the loneliness category. Overcoming this obstacle varies in difficulty but can be achieved simply by bringing the participant’s attention to misunderstanding or miscommunication.

Tiredness does not directly align with the three poisons, but figuratively, it lends itself to an interpretation similar to aversion. In this sense, aversion is born of the tiredness or fatigue that accompanies dealing with a pattern of conditioned mental and emotional responses. For example, in frustration one co-worker comments about another, “I am tired of Samantha’s attitude.” Here the condition of attitude is causing a mental and/or emotional exhaustion. This figurative interpretation provides another avenue for awareness of how conditioned responses and leading to fatigue and aversion in ourselves and others.

Leveraging the power of HALT as an efficient checklist of conflict sustaining behaviors both for ourselves and others can prove to be a useful gauge of present-time experience. Extending the perspective of HALT from the literal to figurative domain allows us to further leverage the value of this tool.



  1. Yes, this is a shameless attempt to emulate Infinite Jest
  2. By this I mean Negotiator, Facilitator, Mediator, Ombudsperson; etc.
  3. I know you may be thinking that this is a stretch, and I would not dare to argue with you. If you will bear with me for one moment, I think there is value you to be found in this exploration

Using the SCARF Model to Navigate Psychological Landmines of Negotiation

The human brain is organized under a simple operating principle – maximize reward and minimize threat. Sometimes we express this basic principle as an attempt to avoid pain and engage pleasure or the willingness to approach versus attack.

Regardless of how we express this idea, it is at work when our five senses feed our brains raw data, which the brain then classifies as threatening or rewarding. As often noted, this response system is attributed to our species’ survival-centric past.

When the data received is classified as rewarding our brains signal to us that we are safe to engage. This state of being has been associated in studies with enhanced problem solving, insight, and collaboration.

When, on the other hand, our brains classify incoming data as threatening, our state of being is much different. Mental resources are diverted from the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for abstract thinking, analysis, self-management, and the capacity to predict likely outcomes. The ability to perceive subtle or contextual signals needed for problem solving and collaboration is significantly decreased, and the individual under threat will tend to think in more generalized terms and be less willing to take risks.

Researchers now understand that the neurological networks that constitute this basic classification system of threatening or safe are largely the same for physical and social threats and rewards.

In “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating with and Influencing Others,” David Rock outlines the social circumstances that can trigger our brains’ reward and threat responses [1]. SCARF is an acronym for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness [2].

If a negotiator remains mindful of these five domains when working with the other side, he or she can avoid triggering threat responses while simultaneously engaging the reward response of their counterpart. This is a scenario which makes for a much more effective and pleasant negotiation and is critical to collaborative problem solving.

Status is one’s sense of importance in relation to others. It is threatened when one’s perceived importance or rank is challenged or demoted, and it is rewarded when one is acknowledged and shown appreciation.

Within the context of a negotiation, status threats are easily triggered through positional bargaining. When one negotiator challenges another, a status threat is the likely result, which is one reason this this type of bargaining exercise can be ineffective.

If a negotiator would like to trigger the other side’s reward response, they can easily do so by listening, asking for the other side’s advice, and acknowledging the merit of the other side’s perspective. All three of these actions are inexpensive and effective concessions to offer your counterpart.

The Certainty domain is about our desire for security in future outcomes and is driven by our brains’ reliance on pattern recognition as a means to save processing capacity. When certainty decreases, our threat responses are triggered; when certainty increases, our reward responses are triggered.

Keeping in mind the other side’s desire for certainty at the negotiation table allows for more skillful communication within and execution of the negotiation process. By avoiding ambiguous and evasive communication, we avoid triggering a threat response. By explicitly discussing our perspective, we can give the other side certainty within the negotiation context.

If we want to engage the other side’s certainty reward response, we can propose process options like jointly mapping out both sides’ issues and interests to get a clearer sense of the full landscape of mutual and conflicting interests. When we are in the closing stage of the negotiation, we can also engage the reward response by being thorough, clear, and explicit in the agreement we reach.

Autonomy is the perception of exerting control over one’s environment; a sensation of having choices.” In a negotiation the threat and reward responses are engaged based on how much control or influence the negotiators perceive they have over the outcome of the discussion – more control equals more autonomy reward; less control equals more autonomy threat.

It may be too obvious to note, but the mere act of negotiating with another entails a dramatic reduction in one’s sense of autonomy. That is one reason that negotiating can seem so stressful – it is an exercise in being out of control.

Here it helps to signal to the other party that you are open to their influence and want to understand the options they find most desirable for agreement. These steps can reduce the risk of threat. Brainstorming, jointly selecting fair standards for settlement, and using techniques like ‘you split, I choose’ (i.e. if two siblings were trying to settle the inheritance of a single piece of property, one sibling could be given autonomy to divide the property while the other sibling is giving the autonomy to choose which piece of the property they want) help to activate the brain’s reward responses.

The Relatedness domain stems from our brains’ recognition of “In” and “Out” groups. Our reward system is trigger by being around those we perceive as being in our “In” group, and our threat system is triggered by being around those we consider in our “Out” group.

This is a very germane consideration for negotiation. Many times we have to negotiate with those who are perceived as outsiders. From international conflict resolution to intra-community disputes over gentrification, relatedness can pay a key role in reaching agreement.

Building rapport with the other side in a negotiation is the key means of diminishing threat responses and increasing the reward responses associated with this domain. For negotiators this means that both time and interest have to be invested in getting to know the other side as a human not a professional counterpart. This process may not be fast or natural, but the value of creating a sense of relatedness is the higher quality interactions in the subsequent negotiations.

The final domain of consideration is Fairness, which is “a lack of favoritism toward one side or another” [3]. We intuitively know how threatening it can be if someone is treated unfairly. It can trigger resistance and even anger in the person who perceives that are not be treated equally. However, when a person senses they are being treated fairly, it can engage the brain’s reward system and produce a sense of ease and satisfaction.

In negotiation, the concept of objective criteria or fair standards used as a means of settling conflict issues can serve both as a protection against threat and a catalyst for reward. When both parties find criteria which are independent of the subjective perception of either side, they will be satisfied knowing that they reached a fair means of settling their dispute. However, if one side tries to impose their desired settlement upon the other without persuading the other side of the fairness of their perspective, they will trigger the other side’s threat response, and agreement will be more difficult to achieve.

The SCARF Model provides the negotiator with a well-established map of the potential socio-neurological pitfalls to avoid when trying to find common ground with others. By keeping in mind the other side’s (and your own) need for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness, you will be in a much better position to easily avoid triggering the other side’s threat responses, which can damage or derail you effort at negotiating.


  1. David Rock, “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating with and Influencing Others,” NeuroLeadership Journal, 2008.
  2. Yes, this is very similar to Fisher and Shapiro’s theory in Beyond Reason.
  3. “Fairness,” Merriam-Webster.com, Accessed April 24, 2015, http://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/fairness