Negotiating with Yourself and Losing: Making Decisions with Competing Internal Preferences

Authors: Max H. Bazerman, Northwestern University; Anne E. Tenbrunsel, University of Notre Dame; Kimberly Wade-Benzoni, Northwestern University

Publication: Academy of Management Review

Year: 1998

Focus Area: Prevention, Decision Making, Emotion

Relevance: Enabling people to make good decisions and avoid fraud can involve listening to both one’s rational thoughts (the should self) and intuitive feelings (the want self).

Summary: This article argues that an individual’s internal struggle between what he wants to do and what he thinks he should do can be thought of as taking place between the “want self” and the “should self.” Want is conceptualized as emotional, affective, impulsive and hot headed, while should is rational, cognitive, thoughtful and cool headed.

  • The want self dominates at the moment of decision making.
  • The want self tends to dominate when deciding on a single option. Single options reduce the need to justify the decision, which leads to less rational and more emotional decision making. The need to justify a decision activates the should self.
  • The authors caution that the want self is not always wrong: a disagreement among the two selves “signals the need to think harder about the the information provided by each of the two selves.” In particular, the want self may process information that is difficult to articulate but nonetheless important; in other words, hunches and gut feelings should not necessarily be ignored.
  • Negotiating and striking a deal with the want self can be particularly important because the want self can simply override the should self at the moment of decision making.

Author Abstract: The field of organizational behavior includes the study of how individuals organize and manage conflict among themselves. Less visible has been the study of conflicts occurring within individuals. We propose that one form of intrapersonal conflict is the result of tension between what people want to do versus what they think they should do. We argue that this want/should distinction helps to explain the “multiple-selves” phenomenon and a recently discovered group of preference reversals noted in behavioral decision and organizational behavior research. We develop a history of knowledge on intrapersonal conflict, discuss how conflicts between what one wants to do and what one should do result in inconsistent behavior, connect this pattern of inconsistency to recent literature on joint versus separate preference reversals, and outline prescriptions for the management of intrapersonal conflict.

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