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Managing Our Own Expectations

During a mediation, one or more parties will often bring up the topic of managing expectations- usually in reference to the other party. The discussion will be to the effect that I, as the mediator, should go into the other conference room and have a “candid” conversation with that party to lower their expectations of what to expect in settlement.

A recent article in the Dear Negotiation Coach series of the Harvard Project on Negotiation suggests that it is equally important to manage our own expectations. That is, not only should I have that “candid” conversation with the other party, I should have it with the first party as well.

In “Dear Negotiation Coach: Managing Expectations of Our Own “, (posted November 15, 2022) the Pon staff writer suggests that rather than focusing on the other party, we should perhaps step back and look at ourselves and our own expectations. To make this point, they reference a study:

Consider a simple example from a laboratory study by psychologists Peter Ditto and David Lopez. They asked their participants to evaluate a student’s intelligence by examining information about him, which was presented one piece at a time on a series of cards. The information was quite damning, and participants were told they could stop examining it as soon as they’d reached a firm conclusion. The result? When participants liked the student (based on information they received from someone who interacted with the student on another task) they were evaluating, they turned over one card after another, searching for the one piece of information that might allow them to say something nice about him. But when they disliked the student, they turned over a few cards, shrugged, and wrote him off.

This research suggests that if we walk into a negotiation thinking our counterpart has little experience or not much to offer, we will interpret whatever she says or does in ways consistent with that view. Our expectations become self-fulfilling prophesies—often to our detriment. (Id.)

The staff writer also notes that another downside is the escalation of commitment or sunk cost bias. (Id.) If we believe that we do have more experience etc., than the other party, (That is, the balance of power tips in our favor.), when we do get a piece of information that is “bad news” or disconcerting, we are liable to disregard it to avoid the cognitive dissonance it creates. Instead, we will justify our previous choice and now, even more so, stick with it even though it has become a losing proposition. As the saying goes, we are throwing good money after bad! We will say all sorts of “justifications” to ourselves to keep on the chosen course of action. Instead, as this article notes, we should step back, take objective stock of the situation and of our OWN biases and expectations and act accordingly by changing them!

Resolving any dispute or conflict is a two-way street. Not only should you be concerned with the expectations of the other party, but should also be cognizant of your own and be prepared to change them as you gain new information, knowledge, and insight into the dispute from the other party’s perspective.

…. 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

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