When it comes to fundamentals, basic building blocks of knowledge and skills that lead to mastery and success usually come to mind. What we don’t realize is that there are certain fundamentals that can do the exact opposite for us and lead us to demise. The Fundamental Attribution Error or FAE is one of those.
The FAE, which also goes by the name of correspondence bias or attribution effect, is probably best understood when described: it’s when we attribute ill-intentions to what another person says or does. The pernicious “other side of the coin” is that when it comes to our own behaviors, we almost always attribute it to our circumstances or environment and not our intentions. In other words, we’re really good and giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt while denying it to others….after, it’s the other person who has the problem, not you (right?).
The FAE isn’t some new concept, it’s been described in the psychology literature for some time. What was new and a jolt for me was being aware of how often I commit it.
What does that look like practically? Here is an example:
Your kid has destroyed part of the drywall in the garage by throwing a screwdriver into it about 100 times and making it stick. You see it and immediately think how ungrateful and disrespectful the kid is. You also begin to worry about the destructive behavior you know he is beginning to develop.
While I’m not sure that’s what my parents thought back in 1975 when they first saw the garage wall mentioned above, I do know they weren’t happy. I also know the reason that I did it had nothing to do with the reasons given in the example. It’s just that I had gotten pretty good at throwing a screwdriver and making it stick in the wall. I simply needed extra practice so I could take it to the next level….with a knife in a tree (oops! didn’t notice I tore up a wall in the process).
After what you just read, are you starting to get a bit of a jolt too? My guess is you are because the FAE is one fundamental that seems to be inherent vs acquired (although some of us learn to make a fine art of it over the years). My other guess is that results you get when you make the FAE are the same as mine: not good for either your relationships or outcomes.
So what to do?
First, be aware of 5 signs that indicate you may be tromping around in FAE territory:
- Disappointment in the other person or pride in yourself.
- Self-justification, excuse making, and giving yourself the benefit of the doubt.
- Anger, frustration and casting blame and judgement toward others.
- Inferring motives to others you wouldn’t ascribe to yourself in the same situation.
- You feel these same things from others and feel judged or victimized.
Second, replace a trending FAE mindset with:
- Curiosity and Interest – observe behavior and results from a place of curiosity.
- A key question- what are some other reasons an otherwise sane and rational person would do this (besides the one you are inferring)?
If want to improve your relationships and results, consider how the FAE is impacting you. It’s one of those low-hanging fruit kind of things you can begin to address and get really positive results fairly quickly…with practice. Like many things, it’s simple and not easy.
If this is all new, where and with who is the FAE showing up most in your life? If you decided to address it, how would it positively affect your relationships and results?
If you’ve already recognized FAE and are addressing it, outstanding! What’s working well for you and what isn’t? Please leave a comment and share the wealth.