Deliberation style: the art of group decisions
The decoy effect is just one example of how to present information in an advantageous way. What about the way decisions are made as a group? “Deliberation style can sway the outcome,” explains Professor Pillutla. “We can learn a lot from the way that juries make decisions about the fate of defendants.” The trial process through which juries share information and vote can inform group decision-making in any setting, he explains.
He takes Negotiating and Influencing Skills for Senior Managers participants through an exercise to reveal the difference between verdict- and evidence-driven results. Two groups made up of three people are told that they belong to a committee that will decide whether a candidate is shortlisted for a job. Each group member is given a role – vice president of finance (the committee chair), sales or operations and given different pieces of information about the job candidate. They’re told that the candidate will be shortlisted if they meet two criteria – communication and self-confidence. One group member is given information that suggests the candidate meets the threshold on communication but not on self-confidence, another group member’s information suggests that the candidate meets the threshold on self-confidence but not on communication. The third is told that the candidate meets the threshold on both criteria. Professor Pillutla gives each group the same distribution of information as described above but secretly asks them to reach a decision using different deliberation methods.
Members of group one (the verdict group) are asked to reach an individual decision on the candidate before any discussion and then asked to meet, discuss and make a decision. Members of group two (the evidence-based group) are told to withhold making any personal decisions, discuss the candidate, make a consensus judgement about each of the criteria as a group and then reach a final collective decision.
The results show that making an individual judgement before discussing the candidate – seen with the verdict group – increases the likelihood that the candidate will not be shortlisted. Why? “When group members have already made individual decisions [the verdict group], they come with the mindset of simply voting to accept or reject the candidate. In the case above, since two committee members would have made the personal decision to reject the candidate (one on the basis that the candidate lacks communication skills and the other that the candidate lacks self-confidence), the vote results in two people not supporting the candidate.
“The psychology of juries and group decision-making means that when we vote early on we spend time, rather than sharing information, defending the position we have already taken. If the vice president of sales has outright rejected the candidate, they will argue why this person is wrong for the job.
“On the other hand, when groups discuss the qualifications of the candidate on each of the criteria and then make a decision, they tend to methodically run through each of the measures before making an informed decision. In this situation, if the vice president of finance proves that the candidate can communicate and is self-confident based on the facts provided, the two others who think the candidate has met the threshold on only one criteria – albeit on different ones – might be more likely to change their mind about the qualifications on the other criteria.”