The Assumption of Good Will

Hello Dear Reader,
This is one of my earliest blogs from back in 2018. It came to mind as I am dealing with some minor misunderstandings with a colleague. I was reminded of my very human tendency to make negative judgments about myself or the other person when there is conflict. And I know I’m not the only one who is subject to this. The remedy is often simply to assume the best instead of the worst and see what follows. I hope you enjoy this revisiting of a favorite topic.

Ruth E. Stitt

Sometimes the people in our lives behave in confusing or offensive ways.

Over the lifespan, each of us develops explanatory models to assist us in understanding our own and others’ behavior. These models are highly subject to error.

One of these is what social psychologists label “fundamental attribution error.” This means that when someone behaves in a way we don’t like—another driver cuts us off in traffic, or cuts in line at the market, for example—we tend to believe that this is because they have some sort of internal character defect of laziness, carelessness, or selfishness.

In contrast, when we are explaining our own similar behavior, we attribute it to external forces and circumstances. When I am the one in the wrong, I quickly rationalize that I had a good excuse based on my circumstances. I had a very important meeting to get to, perhaps. But when you commit a…

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