Central to this blog is the profound difference between Positional aka win-lose and Interest Based aka win-win Bargaining. I posted on this last year:
In a nut shell, in conflict we adopt almost instant positions or demands. This is positional thinking and we set out to ‘win’. Interest-based approaches in contrast suggests we challenge our own positions and ask ‘why?’. ‘Why do we want that?’ We set out to look for win-win possibilities. It is much easier to reach a good outcome in conflict, if we interrogate our interests and seek to meet those, rather than dig into our positions and try to ‘win’. Which often results in what the Romans said: Eremus pacem fecerunt et invocabant’ aka ‘they made a wasteland and they called it peace’.
I have been making very successful multi-million dollar conflict deals that were in both sides’s interests, are sustainable, and which build the on-going relationship, in the 25 years since I first used interest-based bargaining to dig my company out of a riot. But I rarely can get anyone else to look at conflict through the lens of their interests until they have suffered disaster and have no alternative: ‘now what?’
So it sometimes feels like I waste my breath. Writing this to you dear reader. The resistance to moving from Positional Thinking to Interest Based thinking is overwhelming. It often seems impossible in conflict situations for most people to make the journey.
Why is this? Why do very smart people stick to Positional Thinking until catastrophe happens? Why do they want to take a self-righteous stand and be prepared to go to war to sustain it, regardless of their interests? Von Clausewitz cautions on how unpredictable the outcomes of wars are, but we wage them at the personal and national level nevertheless. We seem to be an inherently positional species.
One way to explore this is via one interesting development in neuroscience: the recognition that something like 95% of our mental processing is automatic and unconscious. Keith Stanovich invented the distinction between TASS, The Autonomous Sensory System and ACS, the Analytical Control System in his ‘Robot’s Rebellion’. Howard Margolis elaborated on it in his ‘Patterns, Thinking and Cognition‘ and Jon Haidt took it further as the Elephant and the Rider metaphor in his forthcoming ‘Righteous Mind’ and now in his latest book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman is calling it System 1 and System 2.
Essentially our TASS/Elephant/System 1 is a pattern recognition device that instantly evaluates a situation for its upside and downside to us. This is an essentially positional process and is intensely self righteous. Indeed, it usually recruits our conscious ACS/Rider/System 2 not to improve the quality of its pattern recognition, but as a sort of attorney or PR manager. System 1 uses all the smarts of System 2 to justify the pattern recognition we have automatically achieved, and to defend any actions, decisions based on this automatic process. In a social species, there must have been more evolutionary advantage in appearing right, which is easier if we believe we are right, than actually being right. Hence Positional Bargaining is an automatic, TASS/Elephant/System 1 default that requires major effort to over-ride.
Kahneman has a famous case that illustrates the power of our TASS/Elephant/System 1, our automatic pattern recognition. Try it out.
Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Which alternative is more probable?
A. Linda is a bank teller
B. Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement
Approximately 85% of Harvard undergraduates pick alternative B, even though it is logically impossible for it to be more probable that Linda is a feminist bank teller than just a simple bank teller. i.e. feminist bank teller is a subset of all bank tellers. A fair number of undergraduates deny this answer even when the logic is pointed out.
Perhaps this is why positional bargaining is so hard. We find it almost impossible to override our automatic pattern recognition when it screams ‘we are right, they are wrong‘ and ask ourselves the simple question: what is in our interests? We know Linda is a feminist bank teller! It is obvious she is not a boring non-feminist bank teller, but we are not being asked to judge the latter, only feminist bank teller versus all bank tellers.
It takes wars, intense suffering, extensive loss before our TASS/Elephant/System 1 comes round to questioning it’s knee jerk pattern recognition and self-righteousness. I found the same in labor relations: the management and unions had to suffer real losses before their ACS/Rider/System 2s were given a hearing. Which really sucks. The Seven Step Creative Conflict Model behind this blog is an attempt to tame the Elephant and direct her/him in the direction of his/her long term real interests, not the instant often delusional self righteous take on the conflict we face.
The Elephant is in control, is the Rider most of the time: