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How attributional errors can create problems in the work setting?

This is a very open-ended question, and students could quite appropriately go in numerous directions with it. Comments should clearly articulate the relevant dimensions of the attribution process. Better answers will also cite relevant research results. One possible answer is presented below.


The attribution process denotes to the ways in which people come to comprehend the causes of their own and others’ behaviors. Attributions influence person perception, since the presumed reasons for someone’s behavior may affect judgments about their essential features or traits, or the appropriateness of their level of performance in a given set of circumstances. Regarding the presumption of fundamental features of traits, errors in attributions could lead to inaccuracies in hiring and firing decisions, performance appraisals, or recommendations for promotion or transfer.

In a supervisory setting, behavioral reactions to the same outcome can be melodramatically different, depending on perceptions of the situation and the attributions made. Research results reveal that managers treat workers differently when they perceive them as either good or poor performers. Depending upon whether attributions are appropriately made to internal or external causes, the resultant differences in managerial behavior may properly reflect employee abilities with appropriate consequences, or may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In particular, managers should be aware of the human tendency to commit the fundamental attribution error (i.e., overemphasize personal causes and underemphasize situational causes) when making attributions about other’s behavior, especially in the case of poor performance. Similarly, the self-serving bias (the human tendency to attribute successes to internal factors and failures to external factors) might be kept in mind in evaluating job candidate’s comments about their past performance. Attempts to compensate for potential attributional errors are more likely to result in accurate person perception.

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