We examine “conversational receptiveness” – the use of language to communicate one’s willingness to thoughtfully engage with opposing views. We develop an interpretable machine- learning algorithm to identify the linguistic profile of receptiveness (Studies 1A-B). We then show that in contentious policy discussions, government executives who were rated as more receptive - according to our algorithm and their partners, but not their own self-evaluations - were considered better teammates, advisors, and workplace representatives (Study 2). Furthermore, using field data from a setting where conflict management is endemic to productivity, we show that conversational receptiveness at the beginning of a conversation forestalls conflict escalation at the end. Specifically, Wikipedia editors who write more receptive posts are less prone to receiving personal attacks from disagreeing editors (Study 3). Finally, we develop a “receptiveness recipe” intervention based on our algorithm (Study 4).
Julia Minson is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of government. She is a social psychologist with research interests in conflict, negotiations and judgment and decision making. Her primary line of research addresses the “psychology of disagreement” – How do people engage with opinions, judgments and decisions that are different from their own?
At the Kennedy School Julia is affiliated with the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and the Center for Public Leadership. Julia teaches courses on negotiations and decision-making as part of the Management, Leadership and Decision Science area, as well as through HKS Executive Education. Prior to coming to the Kennedy School, Julia served as a Lecturer at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, where she taught Negotiations at both the MBA and the undergraduate levels. She received her PhD in Social Psychology from Stanford University and her BA in Psychology from Harvard University.