Recently, I shared some thoughts on Hanlon’s Razor and its relationship to self-awareness and mindfulness. Now, I’d like to do the same with the Fundamental Attribution Error, another tool that supports our emotional intelligence growth.
The Fundamental Attribution Error (also known as the “attribution effect”) addresses our tendency to attribute the behavior of others to their character, and attribute our own behavior to environmental factors. Or, the Tim Smith version - when others behave poorly, it's due to their flawed character; when we behave poorly, it's because of the situation. That second part makes this tool a powerhouse in developing our self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
Let’s look at an example using my friend Jai again. Over coffee, he tells me about an occurrence at work where he lost his temper and barked at a peer. I smile, and listen, and think to myself, “Oh Jai, you’re such a hot-head, you really need to work on your EQ and relax.” I don’t have to say it aloud, I’m attributing his behavior to his character, to having a short-temper and poor EQ.
A few days later, I find myself frustrated and act out similarly; I bark at someone too. But it's different when I do it. In my situation, its due to how immature my co-worker acted. Plus, I hadn’t had enough coffee that morning. In my review of the occurence, I give myself a ‘hall’ pass because of the situational factors of having an immature coworker and insufficient caffeine.
So what? An excellent question! What if we take our knowledge of the Fundamental Attribution Error and stick it in our back pocket, and we keep it there until we have the opportunity to use it. It won’t take long, I promise. We consistently assess and evaluate and attribute the actions of others. Knowing about the attribution effect helps create a little pause, that mindful moment. In that pause you can consider what spin you may be putting on the behavior of others, and if you’re holding yourself to similar standards.
When I work with a team of leaders to improve how they interact, we often talk about the Fundamental Attribution Error. It's a powerful tool to help raise awareness about our perspectives, those colorful lenses through which we see ourselves and others. A team or person who genuinely integrates this into their interactions can make huge strides in developing their self-awareness and emotional intelligence, which helps them work more efficiently and more effectively.
What do you think? How might you use this, or how do you use this?
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