Fundamental Attribution Error: Why You Are Such a Jerk

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!”

Image courtesy of Derek Kimball via sxc.hu.

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).

6 Keys to Starting a Difficult Conversation Properly

If you have ever found yourself stumbling out of a meeting room at work thinking, “Boy, that did not go well!” then this blog post is for you. After all, we have all been there haven’t we? So often, we recognized that if we had put even just a little more preparation into the discussion it might have had a very different outcome.

Image courtesy of Forest Runner on flickr.com and published under Creative Commons license.

I remember this baffling discussion I had a number of years ago with my boss.

Don’t Dread That Conversation, Design It!

If you want a tough conversation to have a positive outcome then you need to set it up for success. Like so many physical things, form is critical to function: so prepare yourself with a well-designed plan using the five critical components I identify below.

Image courtesy of Calgary Reviews

We dread difficult discussions because they so rarely have a satisfying outcome. Why is that?

Who Is the Right Person to Have This Conversation, Anyway?

I have never been fired. Yet. But there was one particular time I came close enough to know that sickening feeling that happens when you realize that the world of work you had become so comfortable with is about to come crashing down around you. The closest I ever came to being fired was because of a conversation that I should not have had.

the axe

Image courtesy of Marcel Hol via sxc.hu

Negotiation: Defuse Anger with Empathy

He came pumped to win. I saw him walk into our offices with his angry on: shoulders hunched a little, forward body posture, head lowered. Likely he had got to where he had in his organization because he was good at this. He was there to defend his company’s position and was personally committed to achieving an outcome in favor of that position. That’s fair enough.

Photo courtesy of dimitri_c at sxc.hu

He started in nice. They usually do. But the body language was telling me that he was gearing up to win by using anger.