207. Our judgements and assumptions of others (fundamental attribution bias and how it impacts our relationships)

We all make assumptions and judgments of others – but did you know there is a bias we have in our judgements?

This bias shows up in all of our relationships and it can create an opposition and divide in places we actually want empathy and compassion. 

In this episode we explore the Fundamental Attribution Bias, how it impacts our relationships and what to do about it. 

As mentioned in the episode, you can find the Spotify playlists here, and sign up for Simple Saturdays here. 

Key topics covered in this episode 





Hey guys, it’s Shawna, your nerdy girlfriend and counselor from simple on purpose.ca Welcome to the simple on purpose podcast. I want to give you a heads up right away this podcast will retire for the summer. So just a heads up. Our summer starts at the end of June. I encourage you in those months to use the archives, we have over five years of episodes on all of the topics. So if you want to be intentional about listening to them, I suggest you use the Spotify playlists and define those, you can go to simple on purpose.ca and click listen. You’ll find the links to the playlist we’ve got them on different topics like habit change mom on purpose, life on purpose, minimalism emotions, they’re all there for you check them out. And this summer also follow along with a simple Saturday’s email. If you aren’t a subscriber, I definitely encourage you to join that that is just a really like, warm and cozy place that I love to be with you guys. It comes out every two weeks, so it’s not gonna overwhelm your inbox. And I like to share some simple and purposes, purpose thoughts, some posts you might like. And that’s actually where you guys gave me this nickname, your nerdy girlfriend. So it’s a really great space to be. I’ll link that in the show notes as well. Let’s get into today’s episode this month, we’re talking about relationships. What is the purpose of a relationship? Is it to support your survival, emotional support, to entertain you to find love to find connection. This has definitely changed over the years of purpose of a relationship, especially if you look in the context of a marriage. It used to be about survival for a woman to be under the care of a man that was the world that was the culture unfortunately, it still is in some places. But even friends and communities, there was a need for support and survival, there was a need to do things together. So it is a more modern concept that our relationships are there to entertain us to make us feel loved to feel connected and seen and valued for the better and the worst, right, and that’s a whole other topic. But we all know that we are a social species. And maybe some of us feel that it is definitely true, that relationships are important to us to our to our well being.

studies have concluded this that supportive relationships are actually the number one predictor of well being in your life, it’s not money, it’s not your health or your job or how trendy your clothes are. It is people deep relationships. This is from the longest running study on the topic called that Harvard adult development study. If you have some people in your life, and it doesn’t need to be a lot that you feel like you can rely on who you support, and they support you that is the highest predictor of feeling well being in your life. Kind of crazy. So we know deep within us that we need relationships for many reasons. However, we run into obstacles just to be in the daily life of relationships with others, I want to talk about a common way that we create opposition in our relationships. And that is our assumptions. We fill in the blanks a lot. We fill in the blanks on what others are thinking we do this more often than we should probably we mind read. Have you ever mind read what your husband was thinking and decided he’s probably mad at, you know, just me, we fill in the blanks on what others are thinking, often what they’re thinking about us, they think I’m overreacting, they don’t think I’m good enough. They think I don’t know what I’m talking about. They know why I’m mad, and they just don’t want to admit it. And a lot can be said for what we’re projecting of ourselves and our own insecurities into this blank space. We also make assumptions about why they’re doing what they’re doing, what are their motives. And this is where I want to talk about the fundamental attribution bias, which is about this bias that we have when we look at what other people are doing, and what our brain makes it mean about them. Now, I don’t think this about people that don’t want to give an example, if you see somebody who doesn’t take the grocery cart back and you are someone who takes the grocery cart back, what are you thinking? Are they are they lazy? So I live in a town where the carts are free, you might live in a world where you gotta get that coin back. And you might come to different conclusions. But this can go the other way, right? So imagine you’re someone who never takes the cart back. And you see that person across the parking lot who is taking the cart back? What pops up for you? They’re probably judging me. Oh, they think they’re so great. We do this really quietly in the back of our minds. We look at other people’s actions, and we make assumptions about the type of person that they are. We’ve heard so often actions speak louder than words but we forget that any action can have a lot of circumstances, thoughts. feelings experiences conditions that express that action that lead up to that action. And I’m not talking about obvious situations where someone is causing harm or acting unethically in a morally, I’m talking more of that day to day stuff in our relationships, the things we judge in those around us. Relate relationships are one of the most common topics in counseling, because we know we need relationships. So when our close relationships feel off, our sense of stability feels off. Relationships, our deepest work, we live in relation to others, others are a mirror for us, a mirror for our own defenses, our triggers, our measuring sticks, our struggles, the things we rejected ourselves, our self judgment, perception is a projection, our experience of, well, anything but our experience of another person depends on us. So imagine we’re reading a book or watching a movie or someone said something, really anything, we all develop different meanings about the things because we are different, and we’ve had different experiences that shape, what meaning we give to things. Our perception is a projection of us of our own stories, our values, our cultural upbringing, our likes, our dislikes, our experiences, what we’re comfortable with what we’re not how we measure right and wrong. Here’s an example, if someone is very oppositional, but you grew up believing that it was noble and kind and diplomatic, to keep the peace, that oppositional person is going to trigger a lot in you, you’re going to have a lot of discomfort in judgment of the person. Or you will deny all those emotions and just wonder why it’s such a struggle to be around them. And imagine the opposite. If you grew up believing it was necessary to be oppositional that there are in justices in the world, someone has to take a stand. And if you care about something, you will say something, then they look at the person who seems to placate or seem apathetic, and that will trigger something in them. With a fundamental attribution bias, we make conclusions based on what we see in others. If a coworker is late to a meeting, we might assume that they’re disorganized. They’re disrespectful. We see the action and we make an assumption about who that person is their character, their motives. And maybe it’s true, like with most things, right, maybe sometimes they’re disorganized or disrespectful, maybe sometimes, but probably not all of the time. Like this is true for most things. But the most important part of all of this, the thing that I think can actually help us shift our perspectives on how we look at others make assumptions about them, Sidner judgments about them is the flip side. This bias has a flip side, which is when we do the thing. We attribute our actions to external circumstances, we justify it not by our character, but by what is happening to us. If we are late to a meeting, we have reasons right. Like, I had to get my kid off to school, I’m a mom, right? Or I had to print those meeting notes. The printer didn’t work. This bias is in almost every relationship from siblings to coworkers, to the lady at yoga to our kids to our partners. If my partner doesn’t want to talk about a subject, it’s because they’re scared to be vulnerable. They can’t handle their feelings like something’s wrong with them, right? Confirm this for me. But if I don’t want to talk about a subject, it’s because I’m not feeling safe. Right? Something else is the problem not perfect little me. If my partner doesn’t text me back during the day, I can assume they don’t care about me. They care more about work. They’re dismissive, how selfish of them. But if I don’t text them back during the day, I was busy. There’s so much stuff on my plate, I got distracted. Don’t you know how hard I work? There’s just so much I need to take care of how can you expect me to text you back like that? This is the contrast. How about with our kids, if our kid has a bad attitude, and we know they can have bad attitudes, we have a lot of assumptions about them. They’re moody, they’re petty, they’re dramatic. Oh my gosh, drama queen in the house. But if we have a bad attitude, we can probably list seven different external reasons that caused our bad attitude. We do this with perfect strangers to think of how you feel when someone cuts you off in traffic. I mean, sure, there’s obnoxious drivers and we just assume they’re being jerks. But if we found ourselves in that situation where we’ve had to cut someone off, we can tell you about all of the conditions out of our control that led up to that like Siri didn’t tell me I had to merge here. Soon enough, the person beside me didn’t let me in soon enough, whatever. We do this in the service industry a lot where opinions are formed on the employees or the managers based on how long the food takes or how long the line is at the cashier and you know that People who have worked in the service industry, you can see them, they are a patient, they are like a weak headed, we know what it’s like to be understaffed or someone calls in sick, or maybe the training wasn’t great, or you’re over scheduled, there’s a lot of demands on you, you can just tell the difference for the people who have been there. We make assumptions about people online, we can build up elaborate stories about the type of person it takes to make that certain type of social media post, and you fill in the blanks with whatever you notice in yourself, because we have a life online. So we do this quite often online. Whenever I learn about the way our brain filters information, and it has this bias, sometimes this bias actually doesn’t make our life better. I just wonder why. Why are we built this way? The short answer is to save energy. So our brain is always doing this. Assessing, categorizing, assessing, categorizing, it is the most efficient way, it would be too labor intensive for our brains to stop and think about all the external factors and this person’s life experience and all of the things in order to accurately know them their motives, their character. But if we can just look at the information, we have a person’s actions, we immediately categorize this person good, bad, right? Wrong, then we can know how to handle that person, and we will stay safe in that social environment. So these judgments are often too quick to perceive. And yes, they’re based on our past experiences and opinions. But ultimately, this is here to keep us safe is protective. And we do need some of this for sure we do. We need to have that intuition to help us navigate our social settings. But we also need to be aware of times where this fundamental attribution bias creates a me versus them mentality, or even in us versus them, when we applied to groups of people, which we see a lot more of, especially politically these days. So imagine you’re at work, and you have a co worker, and they always slack on this part of the job. Or we think oh, they’re entitled, they’re lazy, and probably I’m not gonna get too close to them, because that’s not who I am. That’s not in line with my values.

But what about the things that others might think that we slack on? Well, it’s probably because we’re under resourced, or we think it’s a low priority, we used our assessment, or we need training for it, or our boss won’t offer whatever. We also do it with social groups right here right around us. Imagine like as moms, you see, that group of moms over there, they are so blank, fill in the blank. And since I am not like that, I will not get close to them. The fundamental attribution bias helps us feel a sense of control, when we can read a person so to speak. This can show up a lot more for us in new settings, uncomfortable social settings, where we need to establish some safety within ourselves. We use this to quickly categorize who is safe, who is not, it gives us a sense of control. Ultimately, the bias is not based on facts, the facts will require work, curiosity, conversation, vulnerability, empathy, this bias can just bypass empathy and go right to conclusion. And that’s normal, right? Sometimes empathy can be a risk, it can cloud our intuition, it can make us vulnerable. But in a relationship where we do want safety, connection, compassion, we know empathy is like oxygen. I’m going to link some notes on that in the show notes of past episodes I’ve done on empathy and different relationships. Where we want more empathy, we need to be especially aware of this bias. If we seek more empathy, especially with the people we love. We cannot rely on our instantaneous assumptions. Again, based on our perceptions. We need to get more curious, we need to ask more questions. It reminds me of that account that I’m sure you’ve seen online called Humans of New York, where they take this portrait of someone in New York, and it’s just some person you’ve never seen before. But you look at it. And you might form a story about them in your mind. But the thing that they pair it with is someone’s deep and very personal story that they share with this post. Again, if you’re just looking at the photo, you’re going to make some conclusions. Perception is a projection but then you read their story and you look at them again, and your perception is rewritten. From all of this, I encourage you to remember there’s always a flipside, where we find ourselves taking these actions, we attribute them to our external circumstances, or maybe we even do this for our kids. We we don’t use this with just ourselves. We sometimes use it with people that we need them to be viewed a certain way. We let ourselves off the hook we let them off the hook. But when others take that action, or when another kid takes that action, we attribute it to their internal character. When I learned about this bias, I could see it by up a lot, mostly in my marriage, because that’s a place that’s really vulnerable. Marriage is really an arena of two people triggering each other all the time. So as I’ve seen my own bias come up, here’s some things I try to do. One, I try to laugh, like, I really laugh out loud at myself, sometimes with the conclusions I come to. I know I’ve shared this post before, something like my husband put the groceries away wrong, he must not care about me. And so like our brain can work. So I’m going to link that in the show notes. And then second, I stopped taking myself so seriously. And I don’t mean lowering my standards, but really about having compassion, and not making everything feel like this big, high pressure situation on who I need to be really making peace that I am messy and selfish and careless, sometimes I am all of those things to it has really brought me a lot of freedom and allowing it and others and then myself. Of course, I’ve got an episode on that. I’m going to link that in the show notes Two. And three, I get curious. If it’s a stranger, I find myself making up stories to practice different conclusions like that person is speeding, because they’re sisters in labor, like I did that, that happened to me. Or that person didn’t record and return that shopping cart, because they want to leave it handy for someone on this other side of the parking lot. Again, I don’t care about cards, like that’s kind of for me, or this person is probably having a really crappy day, and it’s hard for them to pretend they’re okay, and make a small talk at the grocery store with me, I don’t need this cashier to make me feel better. Like they can just have their own experience in view and whatever they’re in. And if it’s someone I can have a conversation with, I want to ask rather than assume, I don’t want to keep filling in the blanks. I don’t want to keep mine reading I want to ask. Ultimately, we know our judgments can become walls. So where we want to seek connection, we need to learn to dismantle our judgments and our stories of one another and man that takes humility, and hope and commitment and Jesus and hopefully some sense of humor and all of this. I’m going to put some links in the show notes, I always encourage you to go check them out. Go to simple on purpose.ca. Click Listen, you’ll find all of the episodes there. I filled them all with show notes and there also is a full transcript too if you ever want to read the episode. I really enjoy talking about relationships. I really enjoy working on them. They are one of my most favorite arenas to do this work. If you want one to one support on this, you can look into coaching with me. I’ll link that in the show notes as well. All right friends, have a great one.



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