May 28

Unconsious Bias @ Work: Fundamental Attribution Error


The Hidden Pitfall of Attribution Error in the Workplace and Its Impact on Recruitment, Feedback, and Development

As we navigate the complexities of the workplace, it's easy to fall prey to cognitive biases that can significantly impact our interactions with colleagues, decision-making processes, and ultimately, the success of our organizations. One such bias is the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), which can have far-reaching consequences in areas such as recruitment, feedback, and employee development.

So, What is Fundamental Attribution Error?

Fundamental attribution error, is the tendency to attribute the behavior of others to their character or personality, while attributing our own behavior to external situational factors[1][3]. This bias can lead us to make inaccurate assumptions about others, overlooking the role of circumstances in shaping their actions.

Recruitment: The Blinded Eye of Attribution Error

During the recruitment process, attribution error can lead us to make hasty judgments about candidates based on limited information. We might attribute a candidate's impressive resume or confident demeanor to their inherent abilities, overlooking the potential role of external factors such as education, experience, or even luck[1]. Conversely, we might dismiss a candidate's mistakes or weaknesses as a reflection of their character, rather than considering the situational pressures they may have faced.

To mitigate this bias, recruiters can adopt a more nuanced approach by:

  1. Considering a broader range of factors, including skills, experience, and cultural fit
  2. Conducting multiple rounds of interviews to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the candidate
  3. Using standardized evaluation criteria to reduce the influence of personal biases

Feedback: The Double Standard of Attribution Error

When providing feedback to employees, attribution error can lead us to focus on their perceived character flaws or lack of motivation, rather than addressing the specific behaviors or actions that need improvement[4]. This can result in demotivated employees who feel unfairly judged, rather than empowered to make positive changes.

To avoid this pitfall, managers can:

  1. Focus on specific, objective behaviors or actions that require improvement
  2. Provide constructive feedback that emphasizes the impact of the behavior, rather than making personal attacks
  3. Encourage open dialogue and self-reflection to help employees identify areas for growth

Development: The Missed Opportunities of Attribution Error

In employee development, attribution error can lead us to attribute an individual's struggles or successes solely to their personal abilities or work ethic, overlooking the role of training, resources, or organizational support[5]. This can result in missed opportunities for growth and development, as well as unfair expectations placed on employees.

To overcome this bias, organizations can:

  1. Provide comprehensive training and resources to support employee development
  2. Encourage a growth mindset, recognizing that abilities can be developed through effort and learning
  3. Foster an open culture that encourages feedback, self-reflection, and continuous improvement


Fundamental Attribution Error is a pervasive bias that can have significant consequences in the workplace, from recruitment to feedback and development. By recognizing the role of situational factors and adopting a more nuanced approach, we can create a fairer, more supportive work environment that fosters growth, development, and success. Remember, the next time you're tempted to attribute someone's behavior to their character, take a step back and consider the broader context. The results may surprise you.







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