The Fundamental Attribution Error vs. Mutual Growth Environment:
When we make mistakes or errors we tend to attribute our failure to circumstances. Example: I was late because there was traffic.
When others make mistakes or errors we tend to attribute their failures to character flaws. Example: They were late because they are poor planners.
The challenge is that in both cases we lose the power to influence the outcomes. If we rely too heavily on circumstances to explain our failures we may fall into habits of justification. When we rely too heavily on the attribution of failures of others to character flaws we stop recognizing our own ability to practice assertive communication to influence the course of events i.e. though positive and clear statements of desired change and/or observation to the other of the cost of continuing to engage in their current pattern of behavior.
In truth, while from the typical perspective these two areas – failure due to circumstance or failure due to “character flaws” could be argued to account for 99% of all failures (the last 1% being the odd circumstance that truly was unavoidable such as a natural disaster ) I might argue for an atypical perspective.
Most failures simply come from habit. Habit which develops from the ongoing interaction of external and internal factors. In schools studies have shown that students with historically low grades can show substantial improvement when they are provided with material that shows them that their ability to do well is not due to their circumstances or inherent character flaws, but in their ability to develop a mindset that their mind is a muscle. Once this concept was learned and integrated, students with previously poor performance ignored the circumstances they had previously used to justify poor performance and stepped away from the stories others had been providing them that they were “lazy” or “bad” and showed an ability to do well and engage in new habits that provided positive results.
The challenge is that while we may tend to use circumstances to justify results, those circumstances are often based upon assessing those around us has having character flaws that we can not change. We engage in a double process of attributing the failure of others to blame them for our circumstances. This is Lose/Lose thinking – for us!
When we simply acknowledge our own failures as a combination of habits that don’t work or that we are “in the middle of a learning process” where failure in the middle is the normal path to developing mastery and combine this with the idea that those around us are also dealing with their own combination of habits and at different places in their learning process we step into a world where we can interact powerfully with other to both influence the learning of others, be influenced by what others have learned and in which positive change is the hallmark of our daily life.
So… we can continue to engage in justifying our failures with our circumstances, blaming others for their character flaws and continue to get the same results which may be comfortable but not what we really want, or we can start to see others and ourselves has having immense potential with physical muscles, emotional muscles, mind muscles, and spirit muscles with those around us being our training partners.
It’s a different lens that doesn’t allow for a “fundamental attribution error” but instead focuses on the creation of a Mutual Growth Environment. It’s a lens that encourages us to Be the Difference, and to encourage others in their journey to Be the Difference as well.
P.S. The fundamental attribution, in my experience, is often magnified in close personal relationships or in work relationships between levels – i.e. provider to supervisor or supervisor to provider. It is only through the consistent application of a Mutual Growth Environment lens that these differences don’t turn into “blaming patterns”.