The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

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What Is 'Attribution Error'?

Attribution Error means that when others screw up, we blame it on them, but when we screw up, we blame the situation and circumstances. When something isn't working, find out more about the situation before blaming the person.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Attribution Error'

Let’s assume you hire a contractor to build a house, and give him a clear deadline for completion. The deadline comes and goes, and the project isn’t done. Three months go by before the house is complete.

Unless you’re feeling particularly charitable, you’re likely to think the contractor is unprofessional, lazy, or inexperienced. You tell all of your friends who are interested in building a house not to hire that contractor — he over-promises and under-delivers.

Now imagine the situation from the contractor’s point of view. The original plan was to buy lumber from a particular supplier that is typically trustworthy, but one of their trucks broke down, delaying the shipment. The situation required finding another supplier on short notice, which was difficult, since supplies of the materials were scarce. The contractor moved heaven and earth to get the job done as quickly as possible — without the contractor’s intervention, the project would have been delayed six months.

The Attribution Error means when others screw up, we blame their character; when we screw up, we attribute the situation to circumstances. By assuming the contractor’s actions were due to a character flaw, you made an error in judgment — the contractor actually went above and beyond the call of duty, given the circumstances. Because you weren’t aware of the circumstances, however, you blamed his character.

Avoiding the Attribution Error makes it easier to stay on good terms with the people you work with. If you’re working with someone who consistently fails to perform to expectations or deliver what they’re supposed to, then you have a legitimate issue that needs to be resolved. Otherwise, it’s beneficial to give people the benefit of the doubt unless a particular behavior clearly becomes a Pattern. When you understand the reason behind a person’s actions, it usually makes you see their behavior in a different light.

When something isn’t going as expected, try to find out as much as you can about the circumstances surrounding the behavior you’re noticing. More often than not, you’ll find that it’s a matter of circumstance, not a fundamental character flaw.

Questions About 'Attribution Error'


"Rare is the person who can weigh the faults of others without putting his thumb on the scales."

Byron J. Langenfeld, World War I aviator


From Chapter 8:

Working With Others


https://personalmba.com/attribution-error/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

More about Josh Kaufman →