Fundamental attribution error
We assess ourselves and other people differently
At 9 am, Peter was sitting in the HR director's office drinking hot, tasty coffee. They were informally discussing Jenny, Peter's subordinate.

– How is she doing? – Helen, HR director, asked.
– Well, in general she's doing well, – replied Peter thoughtfully, – But I am afraid she has some difficulties with time management.
– Does she? – Helen raised her brows.
– Jenny has fallen behind the schedule in a couple of projects.
– Is this her fault?
– I am positive that it is. It's not that difficult to plan your day or week to work efficiently. She has to make an effort – that's it, – Peter shrugged.

Two hours later, Peter was sitting in Anna's office. Anna was his boss, and, looking at her face, Peter guessed that today wouldn't be the day of his promotion.
– We need to discuss your time management skills, – Anna said coldly, – You often fall behind the schedule, and this disturbs me.
– Yes, I know that I do, but it's not my fault!
– Huh!
– In the first case, I got the guidelines too late. Guys from the IT department forgot to send them to me. In the second case, the scheduling was poor, and it was just impossible to do so much work in three weeks…
– Yes, I know that you always have an excuse. But I'm sure you could perform better if you improve your planning skills. All you need is to make an effort!

The trap Peter found himself is called "fundamental attribution error", FAE. This term was introduced by a Canadian-American social psychologist Lee Ross back in 1967. People tend to assess themselves and others in different ways. When we see that our colleague or subordinate makes mistakes, we believe it's their fault and only theirs. But when we're asked about our own blunders, we always underestimate our impact and overestimate the influence of the circumstances. Other people seem to us a little bit lazy and absent-minded, and we believe that this is the source of their difficulties. But if we face some troubles, we always fall victim to external factors.

We all make FAEs while thinking of others; it's a part of human nature. But we can make a conscious effort to overcome it. For instance, we can scrutinize all the facts while appraising subordinates' performance instead of jumping into conclusions.

Svyatoslav Biryulin
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