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Many of Us Make Big Assumptions About People’s Personality Without Being Aware of It

Many of Us Make Big Assumptions About People’s Personality Without Being Aware of It

Think about the last time somebody annoyed you. Maybe your boss shouted at you for something that wasn’t your fault. Did you think something like this?

“She’s so short-tempered.”

“She’s just an unreasonable person.”

“She can’t control her anger.”

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If you did, then you could be guilty of making a fundamental attribution error.

What is a fundamental attribution error?

Making a fundamental attribution error means explaining someone’s behavior based on internal factors, like personality type, rather than considering how external factors could have influenced their actions.[1]

For example, if a friend fails to complete his homework on time, you might think, “It’s because he’s so lazy,’ when in reality, your friend might have been working overtime at his second job, leaving him no time for schoolwork.

To help you become more self-aware, check out this list of situations where you might make fundamental attribution errors:

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  • At work. Especially when we disagree with someone or their behavior damages our own performance.
  • With family. We might unfairly judge someone’s character because we think we know them so well.
  • In relationships. Arguments can cause us to make rash assumptions about our partner’s personality.
  • In public. When we don’t know people well, it’s easy to judge them without considering the reasons behind their actions.

Here are some examples of fundamental attribution errors in our daily lives:

Check out the examples of fundamental attribution errors below, and see if you can recognize yourself in any of the scenarios. If so, don’t worry – it’s 100% possible to change the way you view others.

  • When someone hurts your feelings. It’s tempting to make big assumptions about someone’s personality when they’ve hurt you. Try to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
  • When dealing with strangers. We’re quick to make snap judgements, often about people we’ve never even spoken to. Next time you see a parent shout at their child in public, try considering the stress they might be under, instead of instantly judging them to be a bad parent.
  • When arguing with a partner. Fundamental attribution errors can be really damaging to a relationship, and might make your partner feel unfairly criticised. Have you ever been arguing about a relatively small issue, and said something like, “You’re so thoughtless”, or “You never listen to me”? These dramatic statements are rarely true and often make unfair generalizations about your partner’s behavior.
  • When you disagree with someone. When someone presents a point of view you completely disagree with, it’s easy to think, “He’s so stupid.” However, this kind of black and white thinking prevents us from being open to new ideas. It’s also unfair to others.

Why do we make fundamental attribution errors?

There’s a key reason that we make fundamental attribution errors about others, but not about ourselves.

We know the reasons and context behind our own behavior, but other peoples’ motivations often remain a mystery. If you are late to a meeting because you’re caring for a sick family member, you’ll probably go easy on yourself. If a coworker is late, you might assume they slept in or couldn’t be bothered to check the time.

Not knowing the true reasons for someone’s actions significantly affects they way we judge them.

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How can you catch yourself before making a fundamental attribution error?

Luckily, it’s possible to stop ourselves before we make fundamental attribution errors. This can help us to be more understanding, build better relationships, and feel less hurt by the actions of others.

Next time you catch yourself making a blanket judgement on someone’s personality, try the following techniques.[2]

Avoid generalizing someone’s behavior

Try not to use words like, ‘always’ or ‘never’ when describing someone’s behavior. Instead of saying to your partner, “You never help with the housework,” try saying something like, “You haven’t helped much with the housework this week.” This feels much fairer and more reasonable.

Look for the best in people

Fundamental attribution errors often occur because we’re assuming the worst of people. We tend to think that other people are selfish, stupid, or thoughtless, while thinking of ourselves as kind and reasonable. Try to see the best in other people, rather than searching for evidence of their flaws.

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Make up excuses for peoples’ actions

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and see if you can come up for any excuses for their behavior. For example, “She was short with me because she’s tired after caring for a newborn all night,” or “He pushed into the front of the queue because he needs to buy urgent medical supplies.” This exercise helps you to consider all the possible reasons for peoples’ behavior.

Ask the person about their behavior

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. Wondering why someone behaved the way they did? Just ask. You might get an answer like, “Sorry, I’d had a long day. I can see that I was wrong.” Be sure to word your question in a constructive, understanding way. Don’t insult the person or make unfair accusations.

How many times have you judged someone unfairly? Use these tips to stop making fundamental attribution errors and start understanding others instead.

Reference

More by this author

Eloise Best

Eloise is an everyday health expert and runs My Vegan Supermarket, a vegan blog and database of supermarket products.

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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

Most discussions on positively influencing others eventually touch on Dale Carnegie’s seminal work, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written more than 83 years ago, the book touches on a core component of human interaction, building strong relationships. It is no wonder why.

Everything that we do hinges on our ability to connect with others and formulate deep relationships. You cannot sell a house, buy a house, advance in most careers, sell a product, pitch a story, teach a course, etc. without building healthy relationships. Managers get the best results from their teams, not through brute force, but to careful appeals to their sensibilities, occasional withdrawals from the reservoir of respect they’ve built. Using these tactics, they can influence others to excellence, to productivity, and to success.

Carnegie’s book is great. Of course, there are other resources too. Most of us have someone in our lives who positively influences us. The truth is positively influencing people is about centering the humanity of others. Chances are, you know someone who is really good at making others feel like stars. They can get you to do things that the average person cannot. Where the requests of others sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, the request from this special person sounds like music to your ears. You’re delighted to not only listen but also to oblige.

So how to influence people in a positive way? Read on for tips.

1. Be Authentic

To influence people in a positive way, be authentic. Rather than being a carbon copy of someone else’s version of authenticity, uncover what it is that makes you unique.

Discover your unique take on an issue and then live up to and honor that. Once of the reasons social media influencers are so powerful is that they have carved out a niche for themselves or taken a common issue and approached it from a novel or uncommon way. People instinctually appreciate people whose public persona matches their private values.

Contradictions bother us because we crave stability. When someone professes to be one way, but lives contrary to that profession, it signals that they are confused or untrustworthy and thereby, inauthentic. Neither of these combinations bode well for positively influencing others.

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2. Listen

Growing up, my father would tell me to listen to what others said. He told me if I listened carefully, I would know all I needed to know about a person’s character, desires and needs.

To positively influence others, you must listen to what is spoken and what is left unsaid. Therein lies the explanation for what people need in order to feel validated, supported and seen. If a person feels they are invisible, and unseen by their superiors, they are less likely to be positively influenced by that person.

Listening meets a person’s primary need of validation and acceptance.

Take a look at this guide on how to be a better listener: How to Practice Active Listening (A Step-By-Step Guide)

3. Become an Expert

Most people are predisposed to listen to, if not respect, authority. If you want to positively influence others, become an authority in the area in which you seek to lead others. Research and read everything you can about the given topic, and then look for opportunities to put your education into practice.

You can argue over opinions. You cannot argue, or it is unwise to argue, over facts and experts come with facts.

4. Lead with Story

From years of working in the public relations space, I know that personal narratives, testimonials and impact stories are incredibly powerful. But I never cease to be amazed with how effective a well-timed and told story can be.

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If you want to influence people, learn to tell stories. Your stories should be related to the issue or concept you are discussing. They should be an analogy or metaphor that explains your topic in ordinary terms and in vivid detail. To learn more about how to tell powerful stories, and the ethics of storytelling, take a look at this article: How To Tell An Interesting Story In 4 Simple Steps

5. Lead by Example

It is incredibly inspiring to watch passionate, talented people at work or play. One of the reasons a person who is not an athlete can be in awe of athletic prowess is because human nature appreciates the extraordinary. When we watch the Olympics, Olympic trials, gymnastic competitions, ice skating, and other competitive sports, we can recognize the effort of people who day in and day out give their all. C

ase in point: Simone Biles. The gymnast extraordinaire won her 6TH all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships after doing a triple double. She was the first woman to do so. Watching her gave me chills. Even non-gymnasts and non-competitive athletes can appreciate the talent required to pull off such a remarkable feat.

We celebrate remarkable accomplishments and believe that their example is proof that we too can accomplish something great, even if it isn’t qualifying for the Olympics. To influence people in a positive way, we must lead by example, lead with intention and execute with excellence.

6. Catch People Doing Good

A powerful way to influence people in a positive way is to catch people doing good. Instead of looking for problems, look for successes. Look for often overlooked, but critically important things that your peers, subordinates and managers do that make the work more effective and more enjoyable.

Once you catch people doing good, name and notice their contributions.

7. Be Effusive with Praise

It did not take me long to notice a remarkable trait of a former boss. He not only began and ended meetings with praise, but he peppered praise throughout the entire meeting. He found a way to celebrate the unique attributes and skills of his team members. He was able to quickly and accurately assess what people were doing well and then let them and their colleagues know.

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Meetings were not just an occasion to go through a “To Do” list, they were opportunities to celebrate accomplishments, no matter how small they are.

8. Be Kind Rather Than Right

I am going to level with you; this one is tough. It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of proving oneself. For people who lack confidence, or people who prioritize the opinions of others, being right is important. The validation that comes with being perceived as “right” feeds one’s ego. But in the quest to be “right,” we can hurt other people. Once we’ve hurt someone by being unkind, it is much harder to get them to listen to what we’re trying to influence them to do.

The antidote to influencing others via bullying is to prioritize kindness above rightness. You can be kind and still stand firm in your position. For instance, many people think that they need others to validate their experience. If a person does not see the situation you experienced in the way you see it, you get upset. But your experience is your experience.

If you and your friends go out to eat and you get food poisoning, you do not need your friends to agree that the food served at the restaurant was problematic for you. Your own experience of getting food poisoning is all the validation you need. Therefore, taking time to be right is essentially wasted and, if you were unkind in seeking validation for your food-poison experience, now you’ve really lost points.

9. Understand a Person’s Logical, Emotional and Cooperative Needs

The Center for Creative Leadership has argued that the best way to influence others is to appeal to their logical, emotional and cooperative needs. Their logical need is their rational and educational need. Their emotional need is the information that touches them in a deeply personal manner. The cooperative need is understanding the level of cooperation various individuals need and then appropriately offering it.

The trick with this system is to understand that different people need different things. For some people, a strong emotional appeal will outweigh logical explanations. For others, having an opportunity to collaborate will override emotional connection.

If you know your audience, you will know what they need in order to be positively influenced. If you have limited information about the people whom you are attempting to influence, you will be ineffective.

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10. Understand Your Lane

If you want to positively influence others, operate from your sphere of influence. Operate from your place of expertise. Leave everything else to others. Gone are the days when being a jack of all trades is celebrated.

Most people appreciate brands that understand their target audience and then deliver on what that audience wants. When you focus on what you are uniquely gifted and qualified to do, and then offer that gift to the people who need it, you are likely more effective. This effectiveness is attractive.

You cannot positively influence others if you are more preoccupied by what others do well versus what you do well.

Final Thoughts

Influencing people is about centering your humanity. If you want to influence others positively, focus on the way you communicate and improve the relationship with yourself first.

It’s hard to influence others if you’re still trying to figure out how to communicate with yourself.

More Tips About Making Influence

Featured photo credit: Wonderlane via unsplash.com

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