Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fundamental Attribution Error; A Cautionary Tale

Driving to work this morning, I carefully began to enter the intersection when out of the blue a car cut me off and sped through the red light. My mind immediately began trying to make sense of the reckless behavior I just witnessed. My heart rate is up, I am thinking about my family- that I may not have been able to see ever again if I didn't avoid the car. I find myself saying things like, "That driver is a terrible person! How selfish, only thinking about their need for speed! Probably a criminal fleeing the scene of an armed robbery". These are natural thoughts that help us reason away scary situations but the chances are it was something else influencing the driver's behavior...

We don't only do this in scary situations. We attribute a missed deadline by a coworker as them being "lazy or incompetent". Instead, I ask you to challenge yourself to avoid the fundamental attribution error and think differently in those moments. For example, the driver that cut me off- perhaps his wife needed to be rushed to the hospital and her life was literally in jeopardy. While I still wish he would have used an ambulance or been more careful, I am more sympathetic to the driver. Instead of thinking badly of a colleague who missed the deadline- give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they are dealing with a difficult life situation outside of the workplace that is interrupting their ability to perform. As a leader, take the time to learn what is really going on.

We love to link any unfavorable behavior we see in others to an internal personal character flaw rather than considering that there are external variables at play that make the behavior understandable.

Food for thought!