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Snap Judgments

by Phyllis Pollack
April 2015

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack

Snap Judgments. We all make them … and how they can lead us astray! This obvious point is made in a blog posted on March 2, 2015 on the Harvard Program on Negotiation’s blog website ( entitled “How Snap Judgments Can Lead Negotiators Astray In Negotiation Conversations” ). The unidentified authors once again remind us; “New research shows that our stereotypes about other people’s warmth and competence often mar our decisions and behavior in negotiation conversations.” (Id.)

Research by Professors Amy J. Cuddy of Harvard Business School, Susan Fiske of Princeton University and Peter Glick of Lawrence University indicate that we evaluate others based mainly on their warmth and competence. Of these two, the researchers found that we tend to “perceive warmth before competence and usually weigh warmth more heavily.” (Id.) And, most notably, they found that “warmth and competence make up a full 80% of our judgments of others.” (Id.)

When we think of “warmth”, we think about such traits as “… trustworthiness, sincerity, friendliness, and kindness.” At the other end of the spectrum, when we view someone as being “cold”, we think that she is deceptive, or even cruel. (Id.)

The researchers note that we categorize others as either warm, cold, competent or incompetent without even realizing it. For example, working mothers are often seen as being “warmer” than but perhaps not as competent as working fathers or as men or women who have no children. Thus, we will view a woman with no children as cold and competent… until she has a child; then we will view her as warmer but less competent! (Id.) Despite this, in some situations, the working mother with her aura of “warmth” may make a more favorable impression over the cold but competent male. (Id.)

Similarly, the researchers found that we often view the elderly or disabled person as warm and incompetent. And, we often judge the homeless and the poor as both cold and incompetent. (Id.).

So, how do we catch ourselves from making these snap judgments and become better at negotiating? The blog suggests that first we take our time with the other person- get to know her as an individual. Engage in small talk so that your evaluation of the other person is not simply a “freeze frame” view. At the same time, allow the other person to get to know you: show your warmth and competence so that she, too, does not evaluate you based on a “freeze frame” view. And, as we all know, it is often how we communicate rather than what we say that makes the impression. As has often been said, listen to what the other person is saying to understand her needs and interests; active listening is the key here. (Id.)

… 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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