Thursday, December 17, 2015

Negotiating about issues

Today, I want to talk a little about negotiation.  Not price negotiation that is all about the numbers.  I mean issue negotiation.  Gun control, gender identity, peace treaties – the kind of thing where you need to understand each other and come to some kind of agreement.

It turns out that most of us are doing it all wrong.  When we go into a negotiation of this kind, we try to explain our position to the other side, expecting that if they only understood the situation better, they would agree.  Or at least they would move closer to our position on the subject.

But think about this.  Our position is based on the facts and experiences that we have had over our lifetimes.  Their position is based on their facts and experiences.  It turns out that we overestimate the accuracy and value of our own position because it is based on only a subset of reality.  And we underestimate the accuracy and value of their position because we don’t know all of their facts and experiences. 

So your goal in an ideas discussion should be to better understand the other side’s facts and experiences and to see how your own position is wrong. Unfortunately, this is really hard. Our brain is not wired to do this cognitively.  We suffer (in this case often literally) from self-reference bias, false consensus bias, and confirmation bias. 

We are also not wired to do this emotionally.  Our identities are strongly tied to our ideas. So even admitting we may not be 100% accurate jeopardizes our identity. Going in with the assumption that our position is wrong and with the intention to change it is both scary and painful. 

But if you put some effort into doing this, you end up with two major benefits.  First, you become much better at convincing other people about your ideas.  Second, you will learn a lot about your own ideas, where you are mistaken, and how you can improve your conception of the world.

Go ahead, give it a try.