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Learing From Our Mistakes

by Phyllis Pollack

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

      Why do we keep making the same mistake over and over again? Every time it happens, we tell ourselves that we should learn from our mistake and do it “correctly” the next time.

      While this logic seems rational, it is not borne out by research. A Live Science article posted on April 23, 2008 by Jeanna Bryner entitled “Why You Make The Same Mistake Twice,” explains that our failure to learn from our mistakes results from a phenomenon called “tip of the tongue” or TOT.

        “A tip-of-the tongue state occurs when your brain has accessed the correct word, but for some reason can’t retrieve the sound information for it. . . .”

        “The reason. . . is that the time spent not remembering causes our brain to reinforce that “mistake pathway.” (Id.)  (Emphasis original).


        Simply stated, when we try to remember a word, what we, in reality, are doing (once again) is going down the wrong pathway in our brain, or “error learning.”

         The article suggests that the way to correct “error learning” is to repeat the word – out loud or in our heads – once we find the right word and the next time, simply look it up or ask a colleague rather than allow our brain to go down the wrong path, yet another time.

       The article concludes that this phenomenon has been found in music and in sports. That is why we are told to practice music slowly – so as not to reinforce the mistakes.

       Could this phenomenon apply to negotiation and dispute resolution? There is no reason why it should not. How many times have you found yourself in the same situation or fact pattern but with different people involved? It is what makes you think that it is you. . . not them.

        In negotiation, it is always wise to take it slowly and not “rush” to the bottom line. Experts will say it is not “wise” to rush the process: that the parties must conduct the “negotiation dance” to obtain the desired result; if they rush it, they will not reach the desired end.

       This study provides a more simplistic reason for not rushing the negotiation dance: so that you won’t keep making the same mistake over and over and over again.

      . . . Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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