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The System Approach and Avoiding Fundamental Attribution Error

The System Approach and Avoiding Fundamental Attribution Error

In the previous blog, we saw that when we tend to overvalue the role of person factors and overlook the impact of external influencing factors, we are making a mistake that psychologists have termed the fundamental attribution error (FAE).In this blog, we will look into 2 aspects to effective root cause identification for Human errors – avoiding FAE and using the System approach for cause identification.

As per James Reason, two approaches to the problem of human fallibility exists: the person and the system approaches. The person approach focuses on the errors of individuals, blaming them for absent-mindedness, lack of concentration, or moral weakness. The system approach concentrates on the conditions under which individuals work and tries to build defences to avoid errors or alleviate their effects.

The Person approach is a traditional technique which looks at events to be arising primarily from aberrant mental processes such as forgetfulness, inattention, poor motivation, carelessness, negligence, and recklessness. Naturally enough, the associated countermeasures are directed mainly at reducing unwanted variability in human behavior – which is almost impossible!

On the contrary, in System approach, errors are seen as consequences rather than causes, having their origins not so much in the perversity of human nature as in systemic factors. These include recurrent error traps in the workplace and the organizational processes that give rise to them. Countermeasures are based on the assumption that though we cannot change the human condition, we can change the conditions under which humans work. A central idea is that of system defences.
How often have you really tried to understand the situational factors that could be affecting this person’s work leading to Human errors? Probably not often.

The fundamental attribution error is so prevalent because it’s rooted in psychology, so completely overcoming it can be difficult. However, following can be helpful in combating FAE and reach to the actual root cause:

1. Practicing Empathy:

Instead of jumping into conclusions and declaring the error to be an internal personal characteristic, try to slip into the shoes of the other person and evaluate what made him do the error.

2. Open Discussions:

Having an open discussion or brainstorming session with your investigating team and error producer can let to cross the person bias-barrier and come up with real cause of the error.

3. Know the individual in personal life:

Getting to know people in your team (as an investigator or manager) in personal life can be the best way to avoid FAE. The possibility of making person-based judgements significantly go down with the knowledge about the real personal characteristics

4. Acknowledging FAE:

Yes! Finally, the one exercise that can help you avoid FAE and lead to rational root cause in case of Human errors is knowing about FAE (Fundamental Attribution Error). It’s only when you know the wrong road can you avoid it, isn’t it?

Using the above tools to keep away from blaming people for the Human errors, you can now clearly look into the external PIFs (Performance Influencing Factors) present in the system that led to the errors. The System approach can be used further to identify effective countermeasures thus, preventing lapses.

You can avoid the blame-game by getting to the real cause of errors by using SECA modules that help you adopt system approach to errors. Employ most effective error control methods with SECA. Contact us today to take the next step that helps you control errors.