Find Mediators Near You:

Over Confidence Can Kill!

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

My husband is known as an “aggressive driver” who, being impatient, takes unnecessary risks in his driving. When I mention these attributes to him, he retorts that he has yet to have an accident after all of these decades. In sum, like many of us, he is over confident in his driving skills based on his luck of not having had an accident.

His over confidence got the best of him the other day. Thinking he had enough room, he tried to pass a forty-foot container tractor trailer truck and several cars on a transition road between two freeways. He ran out of room. Luckily there were plastic barrels full of sand at the gore point which we (yes- I was a passenger!) hit. Also, luckily, he had slowed the vehicle down enough so that the air bags did not deploy.  We suffered no injuries- (although his lower back “suddenly” started to bother him the next day!)- and the vehicle suffered minimal damage.

I tell this story to make a point: over confidence can be dangerous. While typically we discuss the over confidence bias in the context of negotiations, trials and other non-life-threatening events, this bias applies to all situations.

In her March 27, 2018 post, Tammy Lenski discusses the overconfidence bias in more mundane terms, titling her article, “Is the overconfidence effect sabotaging your communication.” Ms. Lenski notes,

The overconfidence effect is a natural bias toward believing that we’re better at something than we are. The overconfidence effect can distort belief in the accuracy of a strong memory, estimations of how long it will take to get things done, judgment about our intelligence compared to others, and even the reliability of eyewitness accounts. It can sabotage communication during conflict, too.  (Id. at 1.)  

She then discusses a training she gave in which a participant mediator used facial expressions to one of the parties to show disapproval. The facial expression did not get the message across as the party thought the facial expression was aimed at the other party and not her. (Id. at 2-3.)

In another training example, Ms. Lenski played an audio tape in which she taps out a well-known tune on a djembe drum. To her, the tune was obvious. She asked the listeners if they could identify the song and many said “yes”. But when she asked the listeners to name the tune, many of them got it wrong. Both sides were overconfident; they thought their ability was much greater than their actual performance revealed. (Id. at 3-4.)

As Ms. Lenski summarizes:

 Overconfidence in our ability to send a clear signal can create a communication gap we never intend. Overconfidence in our own ability to understand their signal can widen the gap further.  (Id. at 3.) 

The morale of the story is: do not assume. Instead, ask the confirming question to determine if the listener really understood what you were saying. And further, do not assume your abilities to be as great as you think they are. Be more conservative in your estimates. That way, you will not run out of room as did my husband creating the potential for a much more life-threatening situation than just a simple “misunderstanding.”

…. Just something to think about.  


Phyllis Pollack

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… MORE >

Featured Mediators

View all

Read these next


Cutting Your Losses

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.The key to making a smart decision at mediation is to know when to let go and when to push forward – when...

By Steve Mehta

Stages in the Mediation Process

From Arnold W. Zeman's blog Geoff Sharp of mediator blah…blah points today to a discussion paper for union members, Should I try mediation? that was written by David Bleiman, a...

By Arnold W. Zeman

How It Is

"As long as you have certain desires about ?how it ought to be you can't see how it is."?— Ram Dass, Spiritual Teacher I woke up this morning and eventually,...

By Brook D. Olsen