7 Different Types Of Biases That Lead To Conflict

by | Sep 13, 2023 | Conflict Resolution

In dynamic workplaces, conflicts are bound to arise. However, effectively resolving conflicts requires us to recognize and address the biases that can influence our perceptions, judgments, and decision-making processes.

Biases, defined as systematic errors in thinking that can affect our objectivity and fairness, play a significant role in conflict resolution outcomes. Biases such as fundamental attribution error, confirmation bias, implicit bias, reactive devaluation, halo/horn effect, in-group/out-group bias, and anchoring bias can significantly impact how we approach and resolve conflicts in the workplace.

Today, we will explore these biases and provide strategies for navigating them to foster fair, objective, and constructive conflict resolution in the workplace. By understanding these biases and employing effective strategies, individuals and organizations can overcome biases and promote a more inclusive and harmonious work environment.

A businessman yells at his coworkers as she sits at her desk

1. Fundamental Attribution Error

The fundamental attribution error occurs when we overemphasize personal characteristics and underestimate situational factors when explaining others’ behavior. For example, if a colleague is late for a meeting, we might attribute it to their lack of punctuality rather than considering external factors, like traffic.

To mitigate this bias, it is essential to practice empathy and perspective-taking. By considering situational factors and understanding others’ perspectives, we can develop a more comprehensive understanding of conflicts and promote effective communication and resolution. Recognizing that behavior is influenced by a complex interplay of individual and situational factors helps us avoid rushing to judgment and fosters a more empathetic approach to conflict resolution.

One tool to help navigate the fundamental attribution error is the Rule of 6, a tool from Native American wisdom.1 We create 6 different theories as to why a person is behaving a certain way or taking certain actions.2 It could be that your initial assumption is correct and it could be that you have created an inaccurate narrative around that person’s behavior.

This tool allows you to take the necessary pause between thinking and action. It does not take long to do and provides the space you may need to enter into a challenging conversation with a spirit of inquiry, perspective-taking, and grace.


2. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias refers to our tendency to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs and disregard information that contradicts them. In conflict resolution, confirmation bias can lead us to favor evidence that supports our preconceived notions while dismissing or ignoring evidence that challenges them. This bias limits our ability to consider alternative viewpoints and can hinder effective conflict resolution.

Overcoming confirmation bias requires actively seeking diverse perspectives, challenging our own assumptions, and critically examining information. Fostering open-mindedness and creating a culture of constructive debate and respectful dissent can help mitigate this bias and lead to more objective conflict resolution outcomes.

By consciously seeking out diverse opinions and perspectives, we expand our understanding of the conflict and increase the likelihood of finding innovative solutions.


3. Implicit Bias

Implicit biases are unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that influence our behavior and judgments. These biases can perpetuate discrimination and unfair treatment. In the workplace, implicit biases can impact how we perceive and interact with others, leading to conflicts and strained relationships. Recognizing and addressing implicit biases requires ongoing education, self-reflection, and fostering an inclusive work environment.

Conflict resolution training programs and workshops that raise awareness about unconscious biases can help individuals recognize and challenge their own biases. Additionally, organizations should focus on creating inclusive policies, promoting diversity, and providing opportunities for employees from different backgrounds to collaborate and learn from one another. By promoting diversity and inclusivity, we can challenge our biases, improve our decision-making processes, and create a more equitable and respectful workplace.


4. Reactive Devaluation

Reactive devaluation occurs when we devalue or dismiss proposals solely because they come from an adversary or a party with whom there is a history of conflict. This bias can prevent us from objectively evaluating ideas and hinder effective communication and compromise during conflict resolution processes.

To mitigate this bias, it is important to separate ideas from the sources or parties involved. By focusing on the content and merits of proposals, rather than being influenced by personal biases, we can promote constructive dialogue and increase the chances of finding mutually beneficial resolutions. Active listening, empathy, and suspending judgment are essential in overcoming reactive devaluation. By approaching conflicts with an open mind, we create an environment conducive to fair and productive resolution.

A man and woman arguing in a small office

5. Halo/Horn Effect

The halo effect occurs when we allow one positive attribute or impression of a person to influence our overall judgment of them, while the horn effect is the opposite, where a negative attribute or impression taints our perception of the person as a whole. These biases can lead to unfair evaluations and judgments in conflict resolution situations. For instance, if we perceive a person as competent in one area, we might automatically assume they are capable in other areas as well.

Overcoming the halo/horn effect requires us to focus on objective criteria and consider a range of information. By consciously evaluating individuals based on multiple dimensions and avoiding undue influence from initial impressions, we can make more fair and more informed evaluations during conflict resolution processes. Actively seeking out feedback from multiple sources and considering diverse perspectives can help counteract the biases associated with the halo/horn effect.


6. In-Group/Out-Group

In-group/out-group bias refers to our tendency to favor individuals within our own group and display prejudice or bias towards those outside the group. This bias can escalate conflicts and hinder collaboration in the workplace. In-group favoritism can lead to unfair treatment of out-group members, exacerbating conflicts and creating divisions within the organization. Mitigating in-group/out-group bias involves fostering inclusivity, promoting cross-department collaboration, and recognizing individual strengths.

Organizations should strive to create an environment that values diversity and encourages teamwork across different departments and backgrounds. By embracing diversity and creating an inclusive work environment, we can reduce conflicts stemming from bias and promote a more harmonious and productive workplace.


7. Anchoring

Anchoring bias occurs when we rely heavily on the first piece of information encountered, even if it is arbitrary or irrelevant, as a reference point for subsequent judgments or decisions. This bias can have a significant impact on negotiations and conflict resolution. For example, if a negotiator sets an extreme initial demand, subsequent offers may be influenced by that initial anchor.

To overcome anchoring bias, we must critically evaluate information, seek multiple perspectives, and avoid undue influence from initial anchors. By consciously questioning and reevaluating initial reference points, we can make more objective and unbiased decisions during conflict resolution processes. Engaging in critical thinking, seeking diverse viewpoints, and considering a range of relevant information can help mitigate the effects of anchoring bias and lead to fairer and more informed resolutions.

A team of coworkers celebrating a big accomplishment

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Addressing biases is essential for effective conflict resolution in the workplace. By understanding and navigating biases, organizations can foster fair, objective, and constructive conflict resolution. Strategies like empathy, perspective-taking, seeking diverse perspectives, critical examination of information, fostering inclusivity, and conscious decision-making can help mitigate the influence of biases. By continually challenging our own biases and creating a culture of respect, we can navigate conflicts more effectively and foster a positive work environment where individuals feel valued and heard.

To successfully navigate biases in conflict resolution, it is important to cultivate self-awareness and continuously educate ourselves. This can be achieved through workshops, training programs, and open discussions that encourage individuals to reflect on their own biases and challenge them. It is also crucial for organizations to establish clear policies and guidelines that promote fairness, inclusivity, and diversity.

It is important to note that bias is a deeply ingrained aspect of human psychology, and completely eliminating biases may be challenging. However, by acknowledging biases and consciously working to overcome them, we can improve our conflict resolution skills and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable work environment.


1 Judy Sorum Brown, “The Rule of 6,” Judy Sorum Brown: Courage Curiosity Creativity, Accessed August 18, 2023.

Kiki Grossman J.D., LL.M., Esq

Kiki Grossman J.D., LL.M., Esq

Kristin "Kiki" Grossman is a Florida Supreme Court-certified Family Mediator and specialized in conflict resolution at the Straus Institute at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law. She is committed to helping individuals, teams, or organizations navigate conflict with grace and skill. She is also a dedicated yoga practitioner and teacher.


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