The New Johari Window #3: Locus of Control
While Gladwell’s observations are well-taken, I would like to note that he fails to mention the other half of the Fundamental Attribution Error. The second half of the error concerns our tendency to attribute our own personal behavior not to character or disposition, but rather to context. I assume that I act like I do not because of some enduring personality trait, but because of the specific setting in which I am operating and specific role I am asked to play or have chosen to play. In other words, we are inclined to external locus of control when observing and analyzing our own behavior and to internal locus of control when observing and analyzing the behavior of other people.
Back to the external locus of control. Even when we are captains of our own ship, we need other people to help us operate the vessel—unless it is very small. Furthermore, if we choose to venture very far from port, we must be mindful of winds, tides, currents, changes in the weather and so forth. Only the very foolish mariner will proclaim his independence from the environment into which he is venturing. Unless we will never leave port or choose to remain very isolated and “small,” we must be mindful of our external world—both human and nonhuman. From this vantage point, an external locus of control seems to be very appropriate.
Taken to the extreme, the external locus of control leaves us eternally vulnerable to the exigencies of the world in which we live. As people with an external locus of control, we hunger for information about the outside world. We are consummate readers of newspapers each day—or we look at our daily horoscope. Our ship often seems to lack a rudder or even a compass. The wind, tide or current carries us to an unknown destination. We have very little influence. We are cast adrift and, like Ishmael, are at best the fortunate survivors of great, often tumultuous events (the Moby Dicks in our lives). We survive not because we are competent, but because we are fortunate. We get where we want to go not because we plan ahead of time, but because we seize on the opportunity to mount our sails when the wind happens to be blowing in the right direction.