Coaching Research

Helping the Coachee or Mentee Interpret Behaviour

One of the common and dangerous misunderstandings of managers in organisations is called correspondence bias*.

We tend to assuming that someone else’s behaviour (positive or negative) can be attributed to fixed personality traits (for example, the need to control, or risk aversion), while explaining our own bad behaviour as a reaction to circumstances.

Gilbert identifies four root causes for our misinterpretation of other people’s behaviour:

  • We lack full awareness of the situation
  • We have unrealistic expectations of them
  • We make exaggerated assessments of behaviour
  • We fail to correct our initial assumptions

Correspondence bias is closely allied to two other unhelpful patterns of thinking: attribution bias and confirmation bias. Attribution bias occurs when we make unevidenced assumptions about other people’s motivations or character.

So we tend, for example, to assume that competitors are less moral or hard-working than we are. In the case of direct reports or working colleagues, we often project on them unconscious motivations of our own, which we would prefer not to have or are ashamed of.

Confirmation bias occurs when we only notice behaviour that reinforces an opinion we have about someone and ignore all the evidence to the contrary.

As a coach or mentor, we can help clients overcome these narrow and judgemental mindset by helping them to become more self-aware of how these biases arise and play out in their interactions with colleagues.

Here’s how:

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