When things go wrong we often start looking for someone to blame.
If sales are down, we ask, “Who dropped the ball on sales?”
If there was a mistake on a document sent to an important client, “Who let that mistake appear in the document for the important client?”
If the economy is poor, “Who fell asleep at the switch?”
If there is no milk left in the refrigerator, “Who used up all the milk!?”
We call this the Fundamental Attribution Error or FAE. The FAE is (in part) the tendency to blame a person or group of people for something going wrong instead of pointing the finger at the system or situation. The FAE is an error because most problems are a failure of a process, not a person.
Better Way to Handle Problems
- Catch yourself starting to blame someone when something goes wrong.
- Give the other person or people the benefit of the doubt.
- Build the habit of looking for the systemic or environmental causes to problems. Try the 5 Whys exercise.
In your corner,
PS: Consider “Sales are down because the VP of Sales is an idiot” versus “Sales are down because the market is waiting for the next big version of our product because we announced it too early because the product manager panicked when the competition announced a similar product because no one taught the product manager when is too soon to announce a product like ours because we don’t have a process to train product managers in the best practices for our company.”