Poor Richard's Junto: management science, entrepreneurship, business ownership, management

This blog dares leaders to do better. We encourage those managers with the wits to change and we exchange ideas in management science to mutual benefit and personal development. This is the place for those leaders who admonish folly and hubris and yet are devoted to continuous mental development, entrepreneurship, business ownership, & business management. As such, let this be a forum for thought leaders, CEOs, and business owners as Ben Franklin once did with the Junto and his almanac.

If two men exchange dollars; each man stands to gain a dollar. However, let these men exchange ideas, and each stands to gain a fortune.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Negative Attribution Bias – What are you assuming?

Ever been enjoying a nice drive, blasting your favorite music, when you ended up stuck behind another driver at the intersection on a green light? Did you immediately think what an idiot the other driver was? Maybe your internal voice said, “Hey put down the phone, quit looking in the mirror, and stop acting like an entitled jerk who thinks the world revolves around you; the light’s green – let’s go!”  Acting on your frustration, did you lay into the horn to voice your objection to the sheer audacity of this nuisance to society…..…only to find out the driver was stopped to let a fire truck pass?  It happened to me once. Imagine how I felt when I realized I was the jerk who had his radio too loud and was too impatient to realize the other driver had a perspective greater than my own that benefited my own safety.

Humans by nature tend to have a bias to attribute negative meaning to circumstances. We often think we were cut-off in traffic because the other driver was careless rather than because they were distracted and rushing to the hospital to visit a critical loved one.  Leaders must be very cognizant of this bias.  It’s not uncommon for a CEO to think they’re smarter than everyone else around them and not realize that their own behavior discourages direct reports from disagreeing with him. The CEO negatively assumes a “yes man” equals ignorance rather than merely conditioned response to the CEO’s behavior. The sales manager may think sales are down because she assumes her staff is not making enough sales calls. She negatively assumes that the staff needs to be micromanaged when in reality she may be unaware of a shift in the marketplace or an internal systems failure that stretches the sales cycle.  The non-profit leader who asks for volunteers may attribute a lack of compassion when their request is rejected rather than assuming the other party is already overcommitted to other charities.

The underlying elements that permit negative attribution bias to flourish often stem from a lack of self awareness (of the stresses and inputs influencing behavior) and a lack of self confidence (the calm assertive force that maintains objectivity in light of said influences).   The CEO’s stress to meet quarterly earnings may cause a degree of impatience and frustrated reactions to bad news that undermines their effectiveness to lead and to maximize the utilization of their direct reports. The sales manager, unconsciously reacting to the stress of the CEO and fearful for her job, might react with negative assumptions on her team’s performance. Rather than objectively evaluate the business environment or individual team member contributions, it’s likely the manager will react to what she interprets as her boss’ expectations. This can lead to condescending behavior, frustration, and micromanagement rather than trust and leadership benchmarked to the realities of a changing marketplace.  She spreads fear rather than possibility and expends energy rather than energizing others.  Ask yourself, what are you assuming? Are you reacting or creating?

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