Fundamentally . . . We All Err


I am articulate and analytic, while you are a tad nitpicky, but he is a raving bigot.

Our tendency to attribute positive aspects of our lives to our internal behaviors and abilities, while attributing negative aspects to external factors, is called the “fundamental attribution error” (FAE) in psychology.   This concept also involves describing our own behaviors and thoughts in more positive tones than we ascribe to others.    The problem is that these views are not reality.

People will fervently list all the misstatements or “lies” of an opposing candidate, while ignoring or minimizing those of their candidates.   Emotional distance from another person increases this tendency to “think bad and blame”.

Here are a couple of examples of how this sounds:

I won the lottery because I am a good person and deserve to win. (Earned Reward)

You won due to blind luck (Random Event)

She probably won because she rigged the contest. (Evil Action)

Hmmm . . . not too big a leap to see this in work situations, is it?    With the implications for personal mental health, effective communication, conflict management, and team-building, managers and leaders need to actively coach others to minimize use of the FAE as a framework for viewing themselves and others.

I received this promotion due to my hard work and obvious intelligence.

You received your promotion because you are a nice person . . . I guess.

He was promoted because he’s a “brown-nose” and buddies with the boss.

If the person can learn to be more objective, then they can do  the hard work of actually thinking and analyzing  what is being said before responding.  Even more importantly, they will be able to recognize their own thinking patterns that are reinforcing the tendency to commit the fundamental attribution error and can replace those patterns with a more logical and objective framework.

Teaching people to be critical thinkers instead of judgmental thinkers is hard, since the person has to be motivated to learn in the first place.   Working with others to improve their ability to avoid this error requires a combination of competencies centered on emotional and social intelligence, assertive communication, and critical thinking skills.

How have you experienced the fundamental attribution error in your work place?

What specific skills do you think are necessary to minimize our tendency toward the FAE?