Let me let you in on a little secret: Everything you do is judged by the people around you.
Unfortunately, people tend to judge only what they choose to see. For example, if you're late to work, the automatic judgement might be that it's because you're irresponsible and can't manage your time. Yikes! Why couldn't they see the accident and traffic jam during your commute or the sick child you had to help?
Where We Go WrongThe problem with these judgements is that you probably do the exact same thing. We tend to believe that others' problems are due to others' imperfections, whereas our own problems are situational.
What makes the error worse is that we flip attributions when describing ourselves.
Ask yourself: Do you have a tendency to discount others' situations when describing their actions? Do you always have a reason or an excuse for your own problems?
This is a recognized phenomenon called the Fundamental Attribution Error. Being able to identify and diagnose the FAE's effects will enable you to build stronger relationships both at home and in the workplace.
Why Does This Happen?We find causes or attributions only where we look for them.
The good news is that there is one consistent way to make sure your own judgement isn't being clouded by the FAE. The most formidable combatant against the perils of the FAE is time. Experiments have shown that the greater the distance between incident and attribution, the more we are willing to consider the importance of the situation.
For example, think about presidential elections. One experiment asked voters why one candidate prevailed over another the day after the election. As the FAE predicts, people attributed the victor's personal character and beliefs to his triumph. When voters were asked the same question a year later, they were much more willing to allow for the effects of the situation on the voting base, such as the economy, unemployment rates or mood of the country.
What You Can DoChallenge yourself to put as much time as you can between incident and attribution.
Allow a cool-down period after you walk out of the boss's office before you try to decide why he's so stressed out.
Don't forget the saying "put yourself in their shoes." It's cliched, perhaps, but a valid point just the same. Train yourself to ask the question: If I were in the same situation, would I have fared any better?
With a bit of humility, perspective and time, we may yet be able to improve our judgment of others and create a better workplace, home and society.
Ben Drake is an Air Force Officer, grad student and the Communications and Branding Lead at @be_influential. Create your portfolio today and show the world what you have to offer.
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