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Trigger the reflex for cooperation

To achieve goals of adhesion and commitment with our presentations, it is always helpful to master the fundamentals of our cognitive processes in decision-making. Thus, we saw two weeks ago that the practice of mental arithmetic before making an ethical or moral decision could significantly influence our choices.  Today we will see that we are not always willing to make the most advantageous choices.

“We are not only irrational, but predictably irrational.” This quote by Dan Ariely, behavioral economist, has the merit of emphasizing a reality we often try to conceal. Yet rules and laws – and foremost our economic system – are based on this assumption that faced with a decision, our most spontaneous reflex is to study the possible options and to make the most profitable choice. Determining the optimal decision is part of a research area called “the theory of games.” Studies involving financiers – hence people more used to making profitable decisions – showed that they could be lead into making choices contrary to their interests.

In a collaborative environment, where decisions are based on mutual trust, we have a natural tendency to want to punish those who don’t follow the rules. And this holds true, even if the punishment is against our interest. This is somewhat surprising since, after losing to someone who didn’t follow the rules, not reacting with our interests in mind, means losing a second time. But this seems insignificant when faced with the sometimes-uncontrollable urge to punish one who has transgressed what is considered the norm.  These results tend to show that we naturally have the reflex to protect the base of social values in which we operate.

As for those who, during a game situation, made the initial choice to break the rules, it was shown that if the participants were warned that they would play the game several times over, the proportion of participants inclined to break the rules dropped significantly. These results confirm our natural tendency to cooperate from the moment we know that we will have to interact together again.

We can draw two lessons from this when designing our presentations:

  • When you accompany a decision making process with a group that has suffered a previous injustice, you should anticipate that they will tend to want to dispense justice before getting into gear and moving on.
  • When you need to rely on the cooperation of a group, you have every interest in multiplying the opportunities to plan for the future by spreading out the decision-making process over several meetings, rather than wrapping up in one session.