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Stepping Outside of Ourselves

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Not everyone lives the way we do. And just because someone may do things very differently than we might does not mean that what he alleges as happening is false.

In social psychology circles, this tendency to discount others who do not share our world view is called “naïve realism” which according to Wikipedia ( is based on three assumptions:

  • People believe that they see the world objectively and without bias;
  • People expect that others will come to the same conclusions, so long as they are exposed to the same information and interpret it in a rational manner;
  • People assume that others who do not share the same views must be ignorant, irrational, or biased. (Id.)

In sum, we each believe that everyone else views the world as we do, through the same “rose-colored” lenses and if they do not, they are ignorant.

I conducted a mediation recently that reminded me of this blind spot. The matter did not settle primarily because the defense was looking at the matter through their own lenses, their own ways of doing things and based on their own world view and the assumptions that go with it, and so gave no credence to what plaintiff was alleging.

Plaintiff is not an American Anglo-Saxon but rather from a different culture. Plaintiff never finished high school, has no credit and works for minimum wage. He engages in a cash economy, that is, paying for a most things in cash.

To improve his credit rating, he went to a dealership to purchase a used vehicle. He found one he liked, haggled over the price and eventually got the deal he wanted. He alleges that he then gave the salesman part of the down payment in cash (let us say it was $3,000 for our purposes) who did not count it but simply put it in his pocket.

Plaintiff next contends that the salesman then introduced him to the finance manager who after checking plaintiff’s credit, determined that the down payment had to be more in order to secure the loan (Let us say $5,000).  What happened next is not clear. The defense alleges that it obtained authority from plaintiff to put the total $5,000 on plaintiff’s debit card while plaintiff denies any such conversation, urging instead that the conversation was only about the additional $2,000. The defense claims that after the initial $5,000 was declined by the card company, it was able to place $2,000 on the debit card. Plaintiff denies that no declination of the card ever occurred. The Retail Installment Sales Contract – the contract to purchase the automobile-  lists the down payment as $5,000.

According to the defense, it never received the $3,000 in cash. However, it agreed to release the vehicle to plaintiff with the understanding that plaintiff would return the next morning with the $3,000 in cash. (The defendant was closing for the evening.) According to the defense, plaintiff claimed he had the cash at home and would bring it in the next day.

When that did not occur, the defense telephoned and texted plaintiff about bringing in the $3,000.00 in cash. When plaintiff did not respond, the defense had the vehicle repossessed.

Plaintiff then sued claiming that he had handed $3,000 in cash to the sales person and so did not owe any money. He also pointed to the contract which showed that the full down payment had been received.

The defense claimed that plaintiff was not telling the truth in that he never gave any cash to the salesman. The salesman denies receiving the money. The defense further contended that the contract was slightly incorrect in that initially, it was going to debit plaintiff’s account for the entire amount, but when that transaction was rejected, it debited it for the lesser amount and plaintiff agreed to go home, get the cash and bring it back. As the defense thought it would receive the down payment in full within hours, it saw no need to change the contract.

Did plaintiff give the cash to the salesman as he claims or is he lying?

In analyzing plaintiff’s story, the defense looked at the facts from its own perspective or rose colored lenses- highly educated Anglo Saxons who live in a credit economy and have excellent credit. While I suggested that perhaps it should look at this from a different perspective, and with an understanding of plaintiff’s differences in culture and background and way of life, I sensed a great hesitancy and resistance to my suggestion. To the defense, it simply did not seem plausible that someone would give cash to a salesman who later denies receiving it. The defense was making a lot of assumptions in order to make plaintiff’s story inconsistent- assumptions that it was not even aware that it was making until I asked the questions.  Mostly, it was assuming that plaintiff was a lot savvier, and sophisticated about purchasing a vehicle on credit than plaintiff may well have been.

Perhaps I do not find plaintiff’s story as implausible as does the defense because my husband and I went through a similar experience. We purchased a golf cart for cash- actual cash- and got a receipt. Several months later, when it needed a repair, we contacted the company and learned that our purchase was nonexistent in the company’s books. Luckily- I still had the receipt and so could prove the purchase. It seems that the salesman who sold us the golf cart pocketed the cash and sold us a golf cart that was not even listed in the inventory of the company. Perhaps it is because my husband and I are both lawyers that the company took us seriously when we showed it the receipt and asked for the repairs.

But again, whether we are telling the truth should not depend on whether our world view is the same or different than the sales person with whom we are dealing. Rather than discredit someone because they are not like us, we should take into account that such differences may well account for why someone will conduct themselves in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

In light of  this holiday season, perhaps we should remember that no matter how different we may be from one another, in truth and in spirit we are all part of the same tribe: humankind.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a very happy and wonderful holiday and  a healthy and prosperous new year.  Happy Holidays and Happy 2017!!!

… 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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