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Attribution Bias

by Jeff Thompson
June 2009

From Jeff Thompson's Enjoy Mediation Blog

Jeff Thompson
As conflict resolvers, we are suppose to notice the things that others can not because we are trained to do so. We are also trained in knowing the terms of certain traits, characteristics and actions. Knowing these terms does not make one smarter than the other, or display a sense of superior mediator skills when compared to others but rather I look at it as an additional tool in the mediator's toolbox.

Knowing these terms and also being able to identify them when being displayed in 'real time' is crucial as a conflict resolver. Why? One of the first tasks we are faced with is diagnosing the conflict. When looking at the circle of conflict [read more here], understanding terms such as attribution bias can help you understand the people involved and the actions they have taken.

According to Wikipedia, attribution bias is defined as a cognitive bias that affects the way we determine who or what was responsible for an event or action. Types of these biases include:

Actor-observer bias
When you do something, it is because of the circumstances of the situation but when someone else does it, it is because of their disposition.

False Consensus Effect
Believing everyone else thinks the same way they do.

Incompatiblity Bias
Assuming your interests are are not compatible with the other party.

Sinister Bias
Thinking someone acted a certain way to purposely have a negative impact on you.

You can read about many more of them [here] and read all about the cognitive biases [here].

So you might be asking again, why bother? I am not suggesting when mediating an issue between two parties, if you see one person displaying the actor-observer bias that you call them out on it. What I think can help is by recognizing what it is that they are doing will allow you to properly decide on a method that can assist the party to move away from that bias and move in a positive direction.
This short posting by no means is intend to be a lesson on attribution biases and cognitive bias. If this has sparked your interested, I suggest researching articles and papers to gain further insight at such sites like Beyond Intractability and CRINFO.

Biography


Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.

Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.

He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.

(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)



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