A major difficulty acknowledged in negotiation and conflict resolution research is that parties tend to exaggerate the degree to which the other party’s interests oppose their own. This egocentric view is commonly held as a true belief – or it may be used as a negotiation tactic to enhance power and control.
Consider commercial negotiations. For example, in corporate acquisition negotiations we may see an egocentric interplay with the acquiring corporate interests being overstated as significantly misaligned versus a self-interest in retaining jobs.
Also in personal divorce negotiations, people often strongly focus on and magnify their ex-partner’s opposing views. Even though it is clearly to their practical disadvantage, one party claims they are definitely ‘right’ while the other is definitely ‘wrong’.
Egocentric tendencies distort perception
So why do parties develop increasingly negative perceptions of each other? Negotiation research reports this is commonly due to egocentric tendencies, which are not helped by the:
- ‘belief polarization’: when dealing with contentious issues, parties tend to exaggerate the gap in their positions and engage in increasingly hostile exchanges
- ‘rational perceiver assumption’: the other party disagreeing with you is regarded as being irrational or biased, or at least ill-informed
- ‘confirmatory bias’: parties tend to focus on data that confirms their beliefs and deny those that do not
- ‘false consensus effect’: tendency to over-estimate that others share your beliefs and opinions
- ‘illusory superiority’: propensity to amplify the effect of your positive qualities/abilities relative to others and to under-estimate your negative qualities
- ‘spotlight effect’: belief that everyone is paying close attention to you
- ‘fixed-pie belief’: the other party’s gain is your loss.
Tips for Managing Egocentrism
The main issue for egocentric misperception is the inability of negotiators to see the situation from another’s point of view. Of course we all have egocentric tendencies: the self is the usual starting point in making judgments. However, the more parties are egocentric, the more likely they will become deadlocked.
Here are some suggestions for managing egocentrism.
- Conduct a quick awareness check. Which of the above egocentric tendencies do you notice apply to you? What do you need to do to become less of an egocentric thinker?
- Research the other party. Develop an accurate description of the other party and understand their likely behavior. Check if any of the above egocentric tendencies apply to them.
- Always systematically prepare for negotiations from the viewpoint of the other party. Discipline yourself to this approach to preparation. When you prepare for negotiation from your viewpoint first, you will find it hard not to be influenced by your egocentric blinkers.
- Review your decision-making process. Four useful principles** for improving decision-making are:
- Widen your options – Consider at least two robust options for every decision. One research study showed that adding just one alternative makes very good decisions six times more likely.
- Reality-test your assumptions – Enforce vigorous debate on both sides of an issue to test assumptions. Note we are twice as likely to consider information that tends to confirm our assumptions than that which does not.
- Attain some distance – ‘Fire’ yourself and ask what your successor would do. Important because the status quo is powerful and research shows that over time even arbitrary choices are regarded as valuable and right.
- Prepare to be wrong – Set a clear plan ‘B’ now. Important because our predictions are often incorrect, even when made with high confidence.
**C & D Heath – Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Business (Crown Business, March 2013)