Importance of Attribution Theory for Organizations

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Problems in Perception and Attribution
  • Stereotyping
    Social Perception
    Fundamental attribution error
    Self-serving Bias
  • Articles Case Study
  • Implication for Manager
  • Conclusion


Everything about yourself affects how you see things in your day to day life. Your beliefs, attitudes and experiences all shift your point of view in a way that is specific to you. This can sometimes be a good thing, as a different perspective on a topic or task can allow group members to find multiple solutions. However, it can be negative if your perception of things begins to cloud your judgement or is severely altered from what it should be. While you do have some degree of control over your own perception and attribution towards things, usually by making a conscious effort to take a second look and you cannot control the perception and attribution of others. The concepts of perception and attribution are things we encounter every day without realizing it. Perception is simply defined as how a person sees the world around them and how they interpret that information. It is a subconscious thing that the mind does and is contingent on your ability to pay attention to your surroundings and your existing knowledge. Attribution is what happens when a person takes the information they perceived and determines a reason as to what happened. What you attribute things like success to depends on your own perception and behaviours, which may be wrong due to being unrealistic or having the incorrect information for the situation. Things like bias and misconceptions can cloud that reasoning, which can interfere with a person's proficiency in the workplace and may contribute to issues with diversity.

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Problems in Perception and Attribution

Generally, people use a number of shortcuts when they judge others. These shortcuts are also called perceptual errors or barriers to perceptual accuracy. Perceptual errors are present all around us. What we think, see, believe about an issue or person is not always correct. This is due to perceptual errors. Perceptual error means the inability to judge humans, things or situations fairly and accurately. Some of the examples could include such things as bias, prejudice and stereotyping, which have always caused human beings to err in different aspects of their lives. The following can occur among employees and managers in the workplace on a daily basis:


Stereotyping is the tendency to judge someone on the basis of the perception of a group to which that person belongs to. Stereotypes can be deeply ingrained and powerful enough to influence life-and-death decisions. Stereotypes widespread generalizations, although they may not contain a shred of truth when applied to a particular person or situation. (Stephan P. Robbins & Timothy A. Judge, 2019, p. 178). Stereotypes are not necessarily negative, sometimes they can appear complimentary. For instance, Asians are sometimes stereotyped as good at math meanwhile Africans are stereotyped as athletic. But these stereotypes are still inaccurate and can be they are simply false. Asians are bad at math and Africans are very poor athletes. In addition, “positive” stereotypes oversimplify the complex abilities of each group. After all, Africans can be great scientists and Asians can be great athletes.

Social Perception

Social perception refers to the ability to make accurate interpretations and inferences about other people from their general physical appearance, verbal, and nonverbal patterns of communication. Facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures, and body position or movement are all ques people with higher levels of social perception pick up on to work out what other people are thinking, feeling or are likely to do next. (Aronson et al, 2010). Having at least one person with higher levels of social perception in a team has been found to increase the likelihood of better performance of the team and developing collective intelligence. (Chikersal & Prerna, et al, 2017). A positive self-concept individual tends to notice positive attributes in another person. In contrast, a negative self-concept can lead a perceiver to pick out negative traits in another person. Having a greater understanding of self allows us to have more accurate perceptions of others.

Fundamental attribution error

The tendency to underestimate the influence of external factors and overestimate the influence of internal factors when making judgments about the behaviour of others. (Stephan P. Robbins & Timothy A. Judge, 2019, p. 176). People frequently make errors in judgment based on own perceptions. This is not due to poor judgment or bad decision-making, but perceptions and the resulting misperceptions are formed by an inherently faulty process. Lateness is a classic example of the fundamental attribution error. Another person’s lateness will be attributed to internal characteristics, such as being inconsiderate. But when you arrive late for an appointment, you are likely to explain your lateness in terms of some external factors such as traffic.

Self-serving Bias

The tendency for individuals to attribute their own successes to internal factors and put the blame for failures on external factors. (Stephan P. Robbins & Timothy A. Judge, 2019, p. 176). Self-serving bias occurs in all different types of situations, genders, ages, cultures, and more. For example, a job applicant, Mr. A believes he has been hired because of his achievements, qualifications, and excellent interview. For a previous opening, Mr. A did not receive an offer for, he says the interviewer did not like him.


Frank Freeman stated that an attitude is a dispositional readiness to respond to certain institutions, persons or objects in a consistent manner that has been learned and has become one’s typical mode of response. Meanwhile, Thurstone said, “An attitude denotes the sum total of man’s inclinations and feelings, prejudice or bias, preconceived notions, ideas, fears, threats, and other any specific topic.” The perceiver's attitudes affect perception. For example, supposedly Mr. X interviewing candidates for a very important position in his organization, which is a position that requires negotiating contracts with suppliers, most of whom are male. Mr. X might feel that women are not capable of holding their own in tough negotiations. This attitude will doubtless affect his perceptions of the female candidates he interviews.

Articles Case Study

“Stereotyping can and does lead to perceptual inaccuracies and their negative consequences. To the extent that stereotyping create social injustice, result in poorer decision making, stifle innovation, or cause underutilization of human resources and they also can contribute to ineffectiveness and inefficiency.” (Dr. Amir Abou Elnaga, 2012, p. 61).

“Factors such as negative stereotypes and perceptions, limited mentoring and networking options, family-related issues, funding availability, and discrimination remain as problems confronting today’s working women (Bible & Hill, 2007; Evers & Sieverding, In Press). In the present investigation, we focus on one of the most persistent factors still challenging working women which is workplace gender discrimination” (Tessa E. Basford, Lynn R. Offermann & Tara S. Behrend, 2013).

“According to Weiner, interior or exterior location of attribution related emotion of self-esteem with our performance that affected. People are proud after a victory and after fracture embarrassed. So, when related this success to internal factors (such as their talent and effort), they have pride and when attribute their failure to external factors (characteristics of the task or luck) they feel shame. Conversely, this is the stability of an attribution which will determine future expectations when people attribute success or failure to other factor do not change from one moment to another moment” (Sodabeh Mirsadeghi, 2013, p. 75).

“Forgas (1998) found an influence of mood on the fundamental attribution error. The author found that participants in a positive mood had a greater tendency to commit the fundamental attribution error than participants in a negative mood. Forgas and Locke (2005) found an influence of emotion on the actor-observer effect. The authors found that participants induced to feel sadness made stronger internal attributions for the behaviour of others than for the self, while no such difference existed for participants induced to feel happiness. The examples above demonstrate that moods and emotions can have an influence on the attribution biases” (Martin D. Coleman, 2013, p.73).

“Social perception is unique to race relationships. Given the increased polarization of various groups in our society along several dimensions (e.g. age, sex, politics, dress) differential social perception is probably contributing to the misunderstanding among many groups. The study also seeks to go one step beyond perceptual phenomena in the Brunswick (1956) sense by looking to what causal locus intergroup behaviour becomes attributed” (Birt L. Duncan, 1976, p.591).

“The existence of self-serving attributional biases come from two general traditions. The first is represented by a series of interpersonal influence studies which examined the relationship between causal ascription and the success of influence attempts. Studies of the relationship between causal ascriptions and outcomes in skill-oriented performance tasks provide the second source of relevant data” (Dale T. Miller & Michael Ross, 1975, p.214).

“The limited evidence is mixed but overall it suggests that using family leave may be harmful to the careers of men than women. Although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees a job upon return from leave, the law cannot control others’ perception of the employee upon his or her return. The fear of negative perceptions may prevent employees from using family leave. The primary purposes of this study, were to investigate experimentally whether use of FMLA for various reasons negatively affects perceptions of leave takers’ citizenship behaviours and whether men and women who take family leave are viewed differently” (Julie Holiday Wayne & Bryanne L. Cordeiro, 2003, p.234).

“Alfred Adler (1870–1937), who developed the theory of Individual Psychology, emphasized that a person’s attitude toward the environment had a significant influence on his or her behaviour. These interactions, however may cause a conflict between a person’s attitude and behaviour. This conflict is referred to as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance refers to any inconsistency that a person perceives between two or more of one’s attitudes or between one’s behaviour and attitudes. Festinger (1957) stated that any form of inconsistency that is uncomfortable for the person will prompt the person to reduce the dissonance which is conflict” (Jeffrey Pickens, 2005, p.44-45).

Implication for Manager

The first implication for a manager in perception and attribution is perception into motivation. The management can use this way of concept that advantages to the business and for influence motivation within their employees. For example, when an employee perceives something in the workplace as discouraging, modifying that thing in some way will alter how they perceive it to some degree. That is why it requires the management to apply attribution theory and find out what is the cause to discourage motivation and how that can be changed when an employee perceives their supervisor’s response to their work as a disappointment, the supervisor needs to be clearer with their response.

The second implication for a manager in perception and attribution is reinforcing and modifying the company policies which are the policies that can affect the perceptions and attributions of those who work there and it can be a culture in the business workplace. If the enforcement is not weak and complex, employees could develop their own view of how the things are handled in the business that is different from the business owners’ have, simply because of how things are conducted daily and can make any adjustments on how policies are handled or adjusting the policies themselves, it can help bring perceptions close to the truth and help prevent the problems occur in the business. The last implication for a manager is the management style. Perception and attribution have more effect on the management team. All the employees' perception can be influenced and controlled by this style and managers may have a clear picture through this management style on how the employees and the supervisor interpret their actions at work and there will be more than one interpretation to the work they do especially when people are not going to have a universal viewpoint. A consistent management style will generate more negative perceptions that will impact the interpersonal relations between staff members. So, feedback can help with these problems.


According to Yolanda Williams, perception is a psychology professor that can be defined as the way to recognize and interpret the information gathered through the senses. This also includes how we respond to a certain situation with the given information. Organizations today take enormous measures to ensure that employees frame the right perception lest it could be detrimental to the organization. Effective communication skills are of paramount importance to perception in the workplace. Manager today need to understand organizational success can be achieved only if the perceptions of the employees are well addressed and understood. This addressing may involve correcting the perceptions as well. If the employees have a favourable perception of their job, the likelihood of organizational success is high. Consequently, the retention of employees would also reduce and would no more be a challenge. This underlines the significance of perception in the workplace and stands testimony to the fact that it can make or break an organization.

Attribution theory is important for organizations because it can help managers understand the causes of employee’s behaviour and can assist employees in understanding their thinking about their own behaviours. The perception of the causes of a certain behaviour may affect the judgment and actions of both managers and employees. It may also play a significant role in motivation. According to the theory, you want to be able to understand the reason for the actions you take and understand the reasons behind the actions other people take. You want to attribute causes to these behaviours, which should give you some feeling of control over your own behaviours and related situations. Attribution theory is concerned with the relationship between personal perception, social perception, and interpersonal behaviour. Attribution theories are many but they share the following assumptions. To conclude, attribution errors can be reduced by increasing interpersonal communication, workshops, and team-building sessions.

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