Although I'm currently dogless, I consider myself a dog lover. One dog in particular — Caneel, a golden retriever who passed on long ago — still occupies a warm place in my heart. Caneel taught me something about how people (myself, in particular) make mistakes when we try to understand why others do what they do.
I used to walk Caneel every morning in a park near home. Even though there was very little traffic in our neighborhood, I kept her on a lead until we reached the park, for safety. She'd pull me along, keeping the lead taut, sniffing everything as she went. I always assumed that she needed a little more obedience training.
When we would reach the park, I'd take her off lead, always expecting her to bound off immediately into the woods. She never did. She would sit, looking up at me, puzzled, tilting her head first one way then the other, as dogs do. I'd say, "OK, go!" And off she would go. I couldn't figure out why she would tug at the lead all the way to the park, and then, once freed, she needed encouragement to go run.
One day, I realized that her experience of the lead might be different from mine. She might have been thinking, "Rick put me on the lead so he won't get lost, and he wants me to pull him along to show him the way to the park." And when I took her off the lead, she might have been thinking, "Are you sure you'll be OK without me for a few minutes if I run off?"
Crazy as this explanation sounds, it fits the data. It might be right.
Often When someone does something
that causes you some inconvenience
or discomfort, tolerance might be the
best available choice. Why they did
whatever they did might not
make any real difference.we assume that we know why others do what they do, but we're often wrong. Here are some of the many ways we get it wrong when we guess why others do what they do.
- Premature conclusions
- We reach conclusions before we have enough data to justify them. Sometimes, we reach conclusions with no data.
- The Fundamental Attribution Error
- We attribute to character what might better be attributed to circumstances. See "The Fundamental Attribution Error," Point Lookout for May 5, 2004, for more.
- Presumed omniscience
- We presume that we already know all there is to know about why someone might do what he or she just did.
- Preferred explanations
- We have biases and preferences among the many theories and conjectures about human motivation. We see what we expect to see, or worse, what we want to see.
- We're afraid to question (or seek validation for) some hypotheses, because of the consequences of finding out that they're incorrect (or correct).
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
- What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: III
- When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you doesn't comply
with policies you rightfully established, trouble looms. What role do supervisors play?
- Social Transactions: We're Doing It My Way
- We have choices about how we conduct social transactions — greetings, partings, opening doors,
and so on. Some transactions require that we collaborate with others. In social transactions, how do
we decide whose preferences rule?
- That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I
- In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects,
"That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work,
and how can the respondent escape the trap?
- Suppressing Dissent: II
- Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can
lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders
who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmtlLsgRTNeVYbbjyner@ChacGsYkGoSpoqkNzOmOoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.