By Mark Rounds, VP of Corporate Development
“Context is the key!” These words were repeated over and over by my friend and mentor, Alex Laufer, who recently passed away. When dealing with a problem or with a person, Alex would repeat that knowing the context of the situation is the key to discovering the solution.
Everyone has opinions. We are all subject to our own personal biases. They are scripted by many factors including our family upbringing, our workplace attitudes, our political views, and our own personal beliefs and values. None of them are wrong in and of themselves; however, our personal bias can become a blind spot when we are dealing with others. One only needs to read social media threads to observe the strength and conviction of our opinions.
One type of bias is the fundamental attribution error. It is our tendency to explain someone’s behavior based on internal factors – such as their personality or disposition – and to underestimate the influence that external factors – such as situational influences – have on another person’s behavior. We judge others by their behavior, whereas we justify our own actions by our motives in response to a situation. When we view the behavior of others our mind assumes a truth about that person. The problem is we tend to make up our minds and believe the assumption is truth instead of really discovering the context of the person’s behavior. Once our minds are set, we create a reality that is based on assumptions and not the entire story. I have heard people say “perception is reality,” but that is false. Your perception is your reality, but if it is based on assumptions and not all the facts, it is not real but only an opinion.
The cure to the fundamental attribution error is empathy. Empathy is more than walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. It is taking the time to truly understand the motives behind the other person’s actions. Empathy requires time, effort and personal connection; the three things that are lacking in today’s fast-paced technological world. At Vogel Bros., we believe that people are the key to our success. We strive to understand context and motives in the behavior of others to increase empathy and understanding.
The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know much. And as my days on this planet draw to a close, I realize that I must avoid the biases of my past and spend more time in face-to-face discussions to truly understand others. This effort brings Alex’s words to the forefront in my mind: context is the key. So I ask, let’s give each other a break and stop making quick assumptions based on the behavior of others. Instead, let’s put aside our biases and avoid the fundamental attribution error, and seek to understand others. Who knows, you may learn something new in the process.