One of the most amazing features of human beings is this: They can explain anything. Maybe it comes from the fact that we are parents and our children keep asking us, "Why?" And as older, superior beings, we just naturally have the proper explanation to our kid's request. ("Why did I drop that sofa on my foot? I did it to show you what a severe bruise looks like, that's why.")
No matter the cause, we have a strong need to understand and explain what is going on in our world. Because people must explain, it opens up some interesting influence possibilities. Think about it for a minute. If you can affect how people understand and explain what is going on, you might be able to influence them, too.
First, let's understand the basic principles of how people explain things. Then we will look at applications.
There is a theory about how people explain things. It is called Attribution Theory. The theory is really quite simple despite its rather strange sounding name. (When you see the term, "attribution," you should think of the term, "explanation," as a synonym.) The theory works like this.
When we offer explanations about why things happened, we can give one of two types. One, we can make an external attribution. Two, we can make internal attribution. An external attribution (get ready for this) assigns causality to an outside agent or force. Or as kids would say, "The devil made me do it." An external attribution claims that some outside thing motivated the event. By contrast, an internal attribution assigns causality to factors within the person. Or as the sinner would say, "I'm guilty, grant me forgiveness." An internal attribution claims that the person was directly responsible for the event.
Here are some common examples. You are taking lot of efforts to achieve your targets however when it comes the target achievement, You take a peek and see, ahhhhh, below targets. You think about these disappointing results for a minute and realize what a lousy manager you've got and how he is not supporting you and how unfair the target set were and . . . you make a lot of external attributions. What caused the below targets? Events outside of you. External things.
Now, on the next review you take a peek and see, ahhhh, a above targets. Well, what can I say? When you're hot, you're hot. If you've got it, flaunt it. Some people are born great. Where's the causality? Inside of you, right?
You assign causality to factors within the person and make internal attributions.
Okay, this is real simple. When the world asks us, "Why?" we provide either an internal attribution or an external attribution. Pretty obvious, but what has this got to do influence?
Consider this chain of events.
- The world asks me, "Why?"
- I provide an attribution.
- My future behavior depends on the type of attribution.
Now, if we can control the attributions people make, then we can influence their future behavior, right?