Thursday, December 27, 2007

Optimistic Overconfidence

Are you involved in some conflict currently? What stands in the way of it coming to biblical resolution?

Some researchers devote a huge amount of energy to studying barriers to conflict resolution. One group divides various types of barriers into three categories: (1) those that arise from the use of certain strategies and tactics; (2) those that arise from certain psychological processes; and (3) those that arise from organizational or structural factors.

One example of a psychological process that can hinder parties from coming to biblical same-mindedness is optimistic overconfidence. Optimistic overconfidence refers to someone persuading himself that everyone else will embrace his perspective, as long as they are objective and fair, once they become aware of the “facts.”

The problem with optimistic overconfidence is that it stems, often unwittingly, from a selfish embrace of one’s own interests to the exclusion of the interests of others. It’s like saying, “My interests are the only ones that make sense. Surely everyone will see this once I lay it all on the table.” This kind of thinking excuses us from our responsibility to discover and satisfy the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). It can also lead to serious miscalculation of how others will respond to what we share and propose.

A powerful illustration of optimistic overconfidence comes from the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37. According to the text, Joseph dreamed on two occasions that he would reign over his parents and brothers someday. Confident of the interpretation of both dreams and confident that both had come from God, Joseph shared them with his family. He expected they would readily agree and that everything (and everyone) would just fall in line. We all know how things went—not exactly according to plan.

The lesson is the importance of practicing biblical same-mindedness during times of conflict, even if we are thoroughly convinced that our thinking is correct and we are completely in the right. Our confidence could just be the result of our overestimating the fairness, reasonableness, and appropriateness of perspectives and proposals based on nothing more than our own self-interest.

Discussion Questions:
1. Have you ever personally suffered from optimistic overconfidence during some conflict in which you were involved? What happened? Base on your experience, how would you describe the pitfalls and dangers associated with optimistic overconfidence?
2. In chapter 8 of “Where Do We Go From Here?”. the process of biblical same-mindedness is summarized. In your opinion, which of the steps is most critical to avoid optimistic overconfidence?
3. How does Philippians 2:3 apply to the subject of optimistic overconfidence? What other Scripture(s) also could be cited on this topic?
4. What might Joseph have done differently with the information he received from God in his dreams?

Note: For more information on the process of biblical same-mindedness, check out "Where Do We Go From Here: The Path To Biblically Resolving Conflict" by Randal L. Gilmore. Available here.

For more on barriers to conflict resolution, see "Barriers to Conflict Resolution", edited by Arrow, Mnookin, Ross, Tversky, and Wilson.


© Blogger Templates | Tech Blog