December 30, 2010

Attributional charity

The fundamental attribution error
The fundamental attribution error refers to the tendency of people to over-value factors inside the person to explain observed behaviors of others while under-valuing the influence of factors outside the person for those behaviors. Put differently, people overestimate the importance of dispositional factors and underestimate the importance of situational factors. We do this in particular when explaining behavior of other people. When we try to explain our own behavior, especially when things did not go well, we have more consideration for situational factors.

December 29, 2010

Bad baskets spoil good apples

I have just finished reading Philip Zimbardo's book The Lucifer Effect, How Good People Turn Evil. Zimbardo is the social psychologist who ran the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, which was 'a classic demonstration of the power of social situations to distort personal identities and long cherished values and morality as students internalized situated identities in their roles as prisoners and guards'. The book's website, The Lucifer Effect, gives, among other things, an overview of the book's content, and contains sections about heroism, resisting influence, and dehumanization.

December 24, 2010

This year's blogposts

I enjoyed blogging this year. I learned a lot from writing these 229 posts and from the interaction that emerged from them. Thanks to all the followers of this site. Here is a selection of some of what I think are some of the most interesting posts.
  1. 3 Tips for students of the solution-focused approach
  2. 6 critical reflections on the importance of doing what works
  3. A mathematical look at change can be helpful for practical change professionals
  4. Applying the strength of weak ties to find a new job

December 23, 2010

Underestimating the Prevalence of Others’ Negative Emotions

In the post Losing the surplus problem, I said that people who feel bad sometimes have a surplus problem. Their primary problem is that they feel bad, their secondary problem, the surplus problem, is that they feel bad about feeling bad. They view the fact that they feel bad as a problem. This may be because they feel that their feeling bad makes them abnormal. In that post I argued that it is not uncommon for people to think that other people don't have as many problems as they have. "One reason for this may be that from the outside ‘inner stresses’ are usually rather hard to perceive. When people experience problems they will, in general, put on a happy or brave face when showing themselves in public. We generally don't wear our heart on our sleeves. From a distance people usually look rather calm and controlled. This may falsely create the impression that we have problems while other people don't. And it may explain why we are susceptible for professionals who try to convince us that experiencing difficulties must mean we need (their) professional help."
Having negative emotions is normal. Other people experience it too although that is sometimes hard to see. A new study confirms that people tend to underestimate the prevalence of others' negative emotions.

December 21, 2010

Leadership and attribution styles: does modesty work?

Cora Hagen asked me an interesting question about Jim Collins' Level-5 leadership relates to Martin Seligman's explanation of optimistic attribution styles. First, I'll explain these concepts briefly and then I'll reflect on Cora's interesting question.

Level 5 leadership: the window and the mirror
In Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team have analyzed the leadership behaviors of leaders of extraordinarily successful companies (more about this here). They called the leadership style of these leaders Level 5 leadership which was characterized by professional will and personal modesty. Collins uses the metaphor of the window and the mirror to describe how Level 5 leaders talk about failure and success. When results are poor, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors or bad luck. When results are good, they look out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company to other people, external factors and good luck.

December 7, 2010

What would you like to learn to like?

Have you always liked everything you like now? Did you always appreciate every type of music you appreciate now? Have you always enjoyed doing everything you enjoy doing now? I think you will answer these questions with 'no'. Apparently, what we appreciate is not fixed, it can and will develop over time. I remember, it must be more than 20 years ago, how I put down a book which I disliked because I found it extremely boring and abstract. I was very surprised when, a few years later, I found myself reading in the book thinking how marvelous it was and what a great resource it was. It struck me how much my frame of reference must have changed and how different my sense of what was interesting apparently had become.

December 4, 2010

The Center of all Things

Nice video. I agree. I think this: A challenge for individuals as they grow up is to become less egocentric; for humanity it is to become less anthropocentric

December 2, 2010

Effective conversation: focus and sensitivity

Achieving success often depends on many factors like knowledge, experience, planning and organization, access to capital, technology, timing, and luck, and so forth. But nearly anything in life we would like to accomplish also critically depends on our conversation and communication skills. Ineffective conversation can be spoiler of success. When is conversation effective?

Effective conversation depends critically on 1) a focus on what you want to achieve and 2) sensitivity to the frame of mind of other people. This clear focus makes it possible to concentrate on what needs to change and on what that change should result in. In general, people appreciate the honesty and the clarity of focusing on the desired situation. Sensitivity to the frame of reference of the person you’re talking to is just as important. It enables you to communicate in subtle and respectful manner. In general, people find it very important to be taken seriously. When you take them seriously, it will be very likely that they will to the same to you. People have a strong tendency towards reciprocity; they tend to respond to a positive action with another positive action.

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