The ‘fundamental attribution error‘ is a psychology term used to describe how we often make mistakes in interpreting why people have done something.
‘People have a tendency to give personality based explanations for other peoples behavior more weight than situational factors. ….(But) people tend to explain their OWN behavior to situational factors more than personality factors.’
An example of this is, if I see you respond angrily to a difficult customer I am likely to conclude that you are impatient or unskilled in customer relations but if I snap at a customer I know that it is because I am sleep-deprived because my child has been unwell and frustrated because this is the fifth time I have dealt with unreasonable complaints from this particular customer.
Susan Weinschenk says that knowing about the fundamental attribution error doesn’t seem to stop us from continuing to make it. Which is sort of reassuring to me because I repeatedly notice myself doing it! She suggests we:
‘try and build in ways to cross-check your own biases. If your work requires you to make a lot of decisions about why people are doing what they are doing, you might want to stop before acting on your decisions and ask yourself, “Am I making a Fundamental Attribution Error?”
My approach is to build some flexibility into my interpretation of the event by brainstorming as many different explanations as I can for why the person might act that way.