Fundamental Attribution Error and the User

Our minds are constantly trying to make sense of the world. In High School we were trying to understand why Jennifer Jones was so popular. Later, we were trying to understand why homelessness exists, why celebrities have substance abuse issues, why Michael Jordan can dunk from the foul line, but you can barely touch the net. We want to know our place in this world.

And as we do so, we fall victim to a classic psychological folly known as ‘fundamental attribution error’. As we build narratives in our minds for why things happen, we attribute the failures of others to their nature, but we attribute our own failures to our circumstance. It’s a part of the stream of justifications we make to soothe our fragile self-image. It’s a human psychological pattern that crops up again and again.

Enter the user. That person who visits your website, or downloads your app, or fills out your form. When the user has trouble using your thing, your brain is going to automatically jump to the wrong conclusions (even subconsciously). You’ll think their problem is impatience, or lack of knowledge, and you’ll jump to solutions that solves THEIR problem (in other words, the problem with THEM).

But from their perspective, it’s YOUR problem. Your unintuitive interface. Your restrictive options. Your convoluted process that’s tripping them up. The conclusion is natural. Have you ever had a bad experience at the DMV and concluded that the problem was with you?

If you choose to accept their problems as your problem, then you’ll be in much better shape than the next guy, because your problems are in your control to solve.