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Communication Barrier – Fundamental Attribution Error

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Thu, Jun 28, 2012

You’re clear on your One Thing.  You feel there’s some traction in your leadership team, yet something seems amiss in your weekly meeting rhythm meetings.  The meetings are sedate, absent excitement, conflict and drama that you feel might exemplify a team grinding together to get things done.  Is this good or bad?  

Most likely it’s bad.  Meetings that are boring usually mean your people are afraid of conflict

One of the great destroyers of teamwork is called the Fundamental Attribution Error. Fundamental Attribution Error (peanuts) resized 600The fundamental attribution error simply is the way we as humans choose to attribute someone else’s negative behavior to their character, while we attribute our own negative behavior to the environment. 

In other words I do bad things because of the situation I was caught in.  Others do bad things because they are just inclined or predisposed to be that way. 

How do we look at success then?  Again we attribute others success because of their environment.  They got lucky, they were in the right place in at the right time.  Well if they weren’t working for so and so they would never have achieved that.

Our success.  Ahhh! We’re successful because of our outstanding talent and character.  They were lucky, good fortune gave them a head start.  We had to grind and work for everything we achieved and yes our character and talent eventually made us successful.

Have you found yourself every being guilty of the Fundamental Attribution Error?  Do you ever look at a fellow colleague, peer, or business person and feel they got into the right environment and if you were there you’d have done even better.  How lucky were they?

Until we begin to understand the people we work with and what makes them tick we will not be able to get a full and complete trust level with our leadership teams.  Sharing Personal information at the beginning of each weekly meeting is part of that vulnerability movement to develop trust, however it’s a small step.

Often it requires a step like the first exercise in Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team where leadership team members share personal histories.

The controller who constantly monitors every penny the firm spends can be seen to be obsessive and compulsive along with, well controlling.   Yet when it’s discovered he’d been born to poor parents, lived in a home with inconsistent electricity and no indoor plumbing, you begin to realize his motivations.  He doesn’t wish to have the company or himself go back to that type of environment.  So he’s scrupulous in his position, painstakingly precise about what he approves and disapproves. (Not necessarily a bad thing for a business, but challenge for those who want to change and innovate.) 

Overcoming the Fundamental Attribution Error is the first step to build trust in your leadership team.  Five Dysfunctions of a teamTrust is at the base of the triangle and the most important aspect of getting results in your organization.  Without trust you will have few if any conflicts, low commitment, people avoiding responsibility, and poor results.

Which is the best way to get higher accountability, individual meetings or team meetings?  Is it more important to monitor behavior or performance metrics?  We’ll discuss these in my next blogs.  

Topics: Accountability, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Fundamental Attribution Error

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The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

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