Attribution Error, Devilish Little Error with Big Impact

Attribution error was a major concept discussed in the podcast (Season 3, Ep 1) and is a common factor that limits performance on teams. What is attribution error? What can we do about?

What is Attribution Error?

Attribution error is the idea that we fundamentally give a larger benefit of the doubt to ourselves than we do for others. Let’s assume I feel like you are taking more of the pecan pie than you should. It’s an error in my reasoning that I assume you have ill intent. I might assume you are selfish. Whereas, if I take more of the pie than the group thinks I should, I’ll likely chalk it up to being hungry. Or I might just tell myself, “This is really good pie!” And it probably is. 🙂

This is attribution error. And it’s common. You might say it’s human nature.

I attribute ill intent to others, but I’m a little more forgiving with myself. You can see how this mistake in human reasoning is a primary cause for much of the tension and underlying conflict on teams.

It’s the type of conflict that you don’t want to bring up. You know you should. However, it’s just too uncomfortable to address.

What to Do About Attribution Error?

First, do not address it! Seriously.

If your school or organizational health is not solid, do not attempt to address attribution error or any other type of conflict. It will only make matters worse.

Instead, take the steps needed to build trust. This starts by leading with vulnerability. Anyone can lead with vulnerability, but ultimately it must start with positional leaders.

As teams step into larger amounts of vulnerability and trust grows, then they can venture into the fringe of conflict. That fringe where problems are solved efficiently and challenges are met with creativity.

For more on attribution and what to do about it, check out this episode of the Mafost Mashup.