The Fundamental Attribution Error is about our tendency to attribute the flawed behaviors in others to their character rather than the environment they are in. Conversely, by virtue of the same error we attribute our own flawed behaviors to the environment rather than our character.
An example in a nutshell: if I miss my weekly blog post it is because I am incredibly busy (environment). If you miss yours, it is because you are inconsistent (character). The fundamental attribution error is about character versus environment.
That is a simple definition. If you really want to unpack it, Wikipedia has a great article. But let me turn to a case study to illustrate the point further before indicating how to leverage this error for organizational growth.
A Fundamental Attribution Error Case Study
You slam the phone on a Friday afternoon, stressed and disappointed. A second banker has refused to extend you credit to support the purchase of materials to manufacture your biggest order to date. All you need is a 90 day float!
Just then, your Executive Assistant walks in to ask if she can go home a couple hours early to get a head start on the weekend.
You snap at her: “Do whatever you want!”
[featured-image single-newwindow=”false”]Image courtesy of Derek Kimball
As she leaves, you ruminate on her irritating sense of entitlement and “work to live” philosophy that is so backwards (i.e., different from yours).