Sometimes, people do, or say, really horrible, hurtful or just stupid things. Your immediate response is a flash of anger, or of disgust, perhaps it’s one of frustration or annoyance. Perhaps you vocalise those feelings; “You idiot!”, “What the hell did you do that for?”, “Are you stupid?”. Maybe you’re at work and so can’t say those things, but you think them instead; “Wow, Greg really is a dumbass”, “Sally is such a …!”, “How did Steve even get that damn promotion?”.
It leaves you feeling raw, emotional, sometimes drained, especially now. You wonder how it could have happened, how someone could be so slow, so simple, so obviously not cut out for whatever it is they were doing.
👉👈 Blaming the person
Here’s the thing. You’ve fallen for what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error
. It’s one of a horrendously long list of cognitive biases (and I mean it’s a looong list
). Cognitive bias are tricks your brain plays on you to make stumbling through existence easier by taking shortcuts in your thinking.
The fundamental attribution error goes along the lines of “That person did that thing because of some flaw in their personality”. It explains someones behaviour being caused by just who they are, not external factors. (This reverse is actually also true, when you do something bad, you don’t blame yourself, you blame external, environmental factors instead).
Someone pulls out of a junction in front of you causing you to brake hard? “Hey, what an a**hole!” or someone drops a plate, “Hey, what a clumsy a**hole!”, or someone get’s the clients name wrong on a report, “Hey, what a useless a**hole!”.
🕳 Avoiding the trap
So, to avoid the FAE trap and stop yourself getting angry, frustrated or upset at someone else’s behaviour, try this exercise.
When something happens, and you feel that bubble of feeling rise, pause a moment and try to come up with at least three reasons that could explain that persons behaviour. Those reasons can’t be “They’re an a**hole Mike!”, but external reasons that could cause their behaviour.
For example - someone pulls out on you forcing you to brake. Perhaps they’re on their way to, or from, a hospital as a family member is ill and they’re distracted. Perhaps they couldn’t see your car as the sun is behind you, or you’re behind a bend.
A colleague misspells a client name on a proposal. Maybe they didn’t write that part. Perhaps Word aut0corrected it. Maybe it’s just a typo. Someone drops a plate. It was probably wet. They’ve got a bit of arthritis in that hand. Someone made them jump.
The great thing about this exercise is that it forces you to pause for a moment and put yourself in their shoes. It helps you exercise your empathy gland (there isn’t one of those, but you know what I mean). The pause puts distance between you and your feelings, slowing down your immediate reaction of anger or frustration and allowing you to practice empathy for someone. Ultimately, it might end with you asking R U OK? Which, frankly, can only ever be a good outcome to any bad situation.
👩💻 Some sweet links from the #people slack
📪 End #post
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