When we judge others too harshly

By on / Negotiation Skills

Adapted from “Overconfident, Underprepared: Why You May Not Be Ready to Negotiate,” by Kristina A. Diekmann (professor, University of Utah) and Adam D. Galinsky (professor, Northwestern University), first published in the Negotiation newsletter, October 2006.

In 1991, during Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Anita Hill, then a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, testified that she had been repeatedly sexually harassed by Thomas during his tenure at the Department of Education and then while working as a special assistant to Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hill claimed that Thomas had harassed her on numerous occasions but acknowledged she had not confronted her boss or taken action against the harassment.

Hill’s testimony generated considerable public suspicion and condemnation. A number of opinion polls conducted during the hearings found that most respondents did not believe Hill; they simply could not imagine that someone would tolerate such sustained harassment.

Research by Kristina A. Diekmann, Adam D. Galinsky, and Ann Tenbrunsel suggests Americans may have asked themselves the following question when evaluating Hill’s credibility: “How would I have behaved in that situation?” Forecasting errors may have led them to conclude erroneously that they would have taken immediate and decisive action to end such harassment.

Most people have trouble predicting their negotiation behavior and identifying the negative consequences of overconfident forecasts. Moreover, in negotiation, our inaccurate self-predictions cause us to judge others too harshly. You can temper this unfair criticism by thinking about important motivations that you would experience in the same situation—such as the desire to get or keep a job or to avoid the tension of confrontation.

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