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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

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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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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