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One Dispute, Two Perspectives – Why Self Delusion Plays an Important Role in Resolving Conflict

It’s remarkable that in a dispute, when two people have experienced exactly the same set of events, their recollection of the part they played can be different.  Listen to what they say and neither did anything to cause an issue.  Daniel Pinker (Angels of Our Better Nature – 2011) suggests that the human mind is capable self deception when recalling a conflict, to the point where we come to believe our own distorted view of the facts.

Reviewing the work of other psychologists, Pinker believes that our minds are capable of holding two narratives, i.e. an accurate record of what happened, concealed in favour of a story which casts us in a much better light.  In other words, we hide the truth from ourselves. It’s thought that we do this to improve our chances in any negotiation following conflict.If we genuinely believe that we have done nothing wrong, we’ll be less likely to give away the negative aspects of our involvement.

So if two people have such contradictory views of a dispute, and will not agree on the facts, how can we ever find a resolution?   Pinker believes that self delusion needs to be punctured:

‘It may take ridicule, it may take argument, it may take time, it may take being distracted, but people have the means to recognise that they are not always right.’

And that’s why mediation and restorative approaches can prove so effective.   Both take time, both rely on honest and open discussion, both encourage sometimes painful reflection, both give people the opportunity to listen to themselves – powerfully combining to give disputants a unique opportunity to re-evaluate their ‘memory’ of past events.

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