Recently, a board member walked into a meeting forty minutes łate. Offering no apology, I quickly labeled him as aloof, detached and uncaring.
The following board meeting, it was my turn and I walked in late. The meeting was well under way, so I offered no explanation. Of course, I had one- I spent the morning battling traffic and supporting a sick child.
Although we both showed up late- when he did it, I labeled him as aloof, and when I did it, I was just dealing with life.
Leadership motivational speaker and best- selling author, Patrick Lencioni's new book titled, The Advantage, calls this kind of logic the Fundamental Attribution Error. It relates to the tendency to attribute the negative or frustrating attributes of others to personality or character( ie- she's a bad listener, she's always late, she's self-centered, etc).
What I found so interesting is that when we screw up, we never attribute our own mishaps to personal attributes or character flaws but to environmental factors.
When we observe undesirable qualities in others, we almost always see it as a character flaw. When we do the same thing, we see it as an environmental challenge.
Knowing this basic oversight, I can be more compassionate to others and give them the same benefit of the doubt that I give myself. By putting myself in other's shoes and assuming their actions ( or lack of) are not innate character flaws, I cut them some deserved slack.
When we go to work, we bring all of our challenges and priorities with us. This includes everything in our unique home environment like children, spouses, or a sick cat. We can't just sweep our other problems under the carpet and pretend they don't exist. Sometimes these parts of our lives spill over to work.
Instead of building a case against someone, assume the best and see if it stems from their environment at home or work. Trust them to have a good reason instead of choosing to be suspicious.