Study Finding: Self-Centeredness Is A Barrier to Effective Negotiation

Self-Centered? (photo by Marilyn Swanson)

By: Donald L Swanson

A study on “egocentrism” and “misunderstanding in conflict and Negotiation” is enlightening. [Fn. 1]

“Egocentrism” is defined as an “excessive interest in oneself . . . at the expense of or in disregard of others.”

Study Findings

The study finds, in three separate experiments, that negotiating parties, (i) have egocentric barriers to effective negotiation, that (ii) can be minimized by focusing on opposing interests and priorities. 

Specifically, the study finds that negotiating parties:

  • tend to assume, inaccurately, that what’s important to themselves is also important to their opponent;
  • often fail to recognize compatibility between their own interests and an opponent’s interests; and
  • will improve accuracy in judging an opponent’s interests when attention is focused on the opponent’s interests.

Such findings have significant implications for mediation!

Misperceptions on Opposing Interests—First Experiment

In their first experiment, the study’s authors examine whether perceptions of a negotiating opponent’s interests and priorities are “egocentrically biased.”  

What they find is that perceptions of an opposing party’s interests and priorities are driven more by one’s own interests than by the opponent’s actual interests:

  • participants assume that issues important to themselves are also important to their negotiating opponent, regardless of what’s actually importance to the opponent; and
  • a party’s own interests influence perceptions to such an extent that judgments about an opponent’s interests are sometimes “exactly opposite” of what the opponent actually thinks.

The study hypothesizes that such misperceptions occur because people give, (i) little thought to their rival’s interests and priorities, and (ii) too much thought to their own. 

The first experiment confirms the hypothesis that:

  • People misjudge their negotiating opponent’s priorities, based upon their own priorities.

Misperceptions on Compatibility—Another Experiment

In another experiment, the study’s authors examine whether negotiating parties can recognize when an opponent’s interests are actually compatible with their own.

What the authors find is that vested interests create a “psychological barrier” to an accurate understanding of an opponent’s interests and priorities.

First, they find that negotiators with no vested interest perceive an opponent’s interests accurately.

But second, they find that negotiators with vested interests:

  • completely misjudge the direction of an opponent’s interests (i.e., seeing opposing interests as incompatible with their own—even when compatibility exists); and
  • commonly fail to recognize compatibility with an opponent’s interests on any issue the negotiator values and is motivated to defend.

Minimizing Misperceptions—A Third Experiment

In a third experiment, the study’s authors examine whether the accuracy of a negotiating party’s perceptions of an opponent’s interests can be improved by focusing directly on the opponent’s interests.

Prior to negotiations, the participants are instructed to think about issues and priorities that are “most and least important” to their negotiating opponent.

What they find is this:

  • When a negotiating party is given “strong and explicit instructions” to consider their opponent’s interests and priorities instead of their own, that party judges the opponent’s interests and priorities more accurately; and
  • When egocentrism goes away, so too does biased perceptions.


Here’s a huge “thank you” to the authors of this study.

Their findings make perfect sense and have significant implications for mediation and mediators.


Footnote 1.  The article is “Egocentrism Drives Misunderstanding in Conflict and Negotiation,” published in Vol 51, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, at 15-26 (2014).  Its authors are John R. Chambers and Carsten K.W. de Dreu.

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