I didn’t think much of it at the time but my colleague Pat Kua has been asking me the question whenever I’ve been describing something that I find confusing to him.
After about the third time I noticed that its quite a nice tool for getting us to reflect on the systems and feedback loops that may be encouraging the behaviour witnessed.
In one of our conversations I expressed confusion at the way something had been communicated in an email.
Answering the question made me think why the person would go for that approach and allowed me to see why what I initially thought was obvious actually wasn’t.
A common example of frustration for consultants at ThoughtWorks is around travel and hotel booking which is booked centrally.
People are often frustrated that they end up with a different hotel/flight than they would prefer.
Asking the question in that case helped to understand that the people doing the booking reported to the finance manager and had been told to ensure costs didn’t exceed a certain level.
…the fundamental attribution error describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviours of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviours.
The fundamental attribution error is most visible when people explain the behaviour of others. It does not explain interpretations of one’s own behaviour—where situational factors are often taken into consideration. This discrepancy is called the actor–observer bias.
Asking this question seems to help us avoid falling into this trap.
Now I just need to remember to ask myself the question instead of jumping the inference ladder to conclusions!