Role thinking: Standing in other people’s shoes to forecast decisions in conflicts
Abstract (Via SSRN)
Better forecasts of decisions in conflict situations, such as occur in business, politics, and war, can help protagonists achieve better outcomes. It is common advice to “stand in the other person’s shoes” when involved in a conflict, a procedure we refer to as “role thinking.” We tested this advice in order to assess the extent to which it can improve accuracy. Improvement in accuracy is important because prior research found that unaided judgment produced forecasts that were little better than guessing. We obtained 101 role-thinking forecasts from 27 Naval postgraduate students (experts) and 107 role-thinking forecasts from 103 second-year organizational behavior students (novices) of the decisions that would be made in nine diverse conflicts. The accuracy of the forecasts from the novices was 33% and of those from the experts 31%. The accuracy of the role-thinking forecasts was little different from chance, which was 28%. In contrast, when we asked groups of participants to each act as if they were in the shoes one of the protagonists, accuracy was 60%.
Introduction (Via SSRN)
We examined the problem of predicting the decisions people will make in important and novel conflict situations such as occur in politics, war, business, and personal affairs. To date, neither statistical nor casual models have been found to be feasible for such situations and so decision makers must rely on judgmental methods. We investigated an approach to improving judgmental forecasting for conflicts by deriving forecasts from experts’ analysis of information about the
roles of the protagonists.
Conflict situations are often complex because they involve interactions between two or more parties with divergent interests. The complexity of conflicts provides fertile ground for hindsight bias. In retrospect, experts delight in claiming that the proper decisions in conflict situations were obvious and that the decisions that were actually made were absurd. One possible reason for decisions that appear absurd in retrospect is that people involved in conflicts fail to properly consider the viewpoint of other protagonists. Robert McNamara, head of the U.S. Department of Defense during much of the Viet Nam war, drew this conclusion in the documentary, The Fog of War (Morris 2003). One of the lessons he said he had learned was that he should have put himself in the shoes of the enemy. This is the common-sense advice typically
given to people who deal with conflict situations, and people often tell us that this is what they do.
We were unable to find prior research on the predictive value of instructing people to “put yourself in the shoes” of other protagonists in a conflict situation. Our primary hypothesis was that following that injunction in a structured manner should improve the ability of people to predict the decisions made by parties in conflict situations. We expected that those with more expertise in conflicts would be better able to use the information about roles. However, we had reservations over the extent of any improvement in forecasting accuracy due to the difficulty individuals might have in thinking through the interactions of a novel conflict.