The New Johari Window #2: Models of Interpersonal Awareness

The New Johari Window #2: Models of Interpersonal Awareness

Attribution Error

There is another aspect operating in the acquisition and use of opaque knowledge about self. This third aspect has to do with attribution. We are often only opaquely aware of our consistent patterns of behavior, choosing instead to attribute our behavior to the specific setting(s) in which we find ourselves. We believe that our behavior is primarily a function of context and external forces—while we tend to walk around with a different theory of attribution regarding other people. This alternative theory is based on an assumption that other people operate as they do because of their ingrained personality or “character.” As the attribution researchers, Jones and Nisbett suggest:

. . . the actor’s perceptions of the causes of his behavior are at variance with those held by outside observers. The actor’s view of his behavior emphasizes the role of environmental conditions at the moment of action. The observer’s view emphasizes the causal role of stable dispositional properties of the actor. We wish to argue that there is a pervasive tendency for actors to attribute their actions to situational requirements, whereas observers tend to attribute the same actions to stable personal dispositions.

We are rarely completely “blind.” At some level we “know” what we don’t “know.” Our knowledge is opaque, in part, because we view ourselves from a state or contextual point of view, whereas others tend to view us from a trait or personality perspective. We think we can change (it’s a matter of situation), whereas others don’t think we can change (it’s a matter of personality). This attribution error is not entirely off-based. There is just enough error to enable us to discount how other people see us—but just enough truth in the attribution to force us (at least sometimes) to listen to what other people say about our consistent behavior patterns (our “personality”).

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About the Author

William Bergquist

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant, professor in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 45 books, and president of a graduate school of psychology. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations. His graduate school (The Professional School of Psychology: www.psychology.edu) offers Master and Doctoral degrees in both clinical and organizational psychology to mature, accomplished adults.

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