In What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the effects of the fundamental attribution error (FAE) in several different articles. In a later chapter which specifically references and talks about the fundamental attribution error, he discusses job interviews and some of the research conducted on the FAE showing that our behaviour is much more dependent on context than we would like to admit (unless we want to find an excuse).
Psychologists use the term fundamental attribution error, to describe the human tendency to fixate on supposedly stable character traits and overlook the influence of context in determining behaviour.
We often know others through one main social role, and do not see them in other contexts which reveal very different sides of their personalities. A job interview is a very specific situation, and provides a snapshot of someone’s behaviour in a very artificial environment. If we want to understand consumer behaviour we need to understand the person in the situation. If marketers are to avoid the fundamental attribution error, they need to think more about context and real behaviours, and much less about opinions. We hear a lot about the need to build up our own personal levels or self-esteem or self-worth, especially during our teens and in early adulthood.
While these ideas from modern psychology are interesting and potentially accurate for many people in theory, pointing out that an individual has low self-esteem does little to change the situation and in practice leads to these individuals often developing coping approaches which may stay with them for years (and even life) if left to fester or they go unchallenged. When any adult individual feels threatened he or she may show some or many of the following physical signs of defensiveness in their behavior. Clearly not all of these will be exhibited (and not at the same time) but the chart above provides a useful list of the visually observable behavior that could be seen in a few of these areas and thereby give a clue that the person concerned is feeling somewhat defensive about a particular experience in the workplace. In addition to physical defensive signs are the often more subtle but nonetheless observable mental signs of defensiveness that some individuals may exhibit when feeling defensive about a situation. The goal in providing lists of physical and mental signs of possible defensiveness in the charts above is not to turn supervisors and managers into amateur psychologists or possible counselors to employees who may need professional help in some cases. Defensive behavior is a response to being told what to do or being treated with disrespect some other way.
This is very useful to me in considering how to give feedback to others who have taken assessments in looking for outward signs of defensiveness as well as educating them on inward signs of defensiveness they may be experiencing. While I agree that managers have the formal authoritative power to put employees into a defensive pattern – to imply that is ALWAYS the case is not terribly helpful to managers who truly want to help their employees to grow. During my first 360 (many years ago) I was told that some colleagues found me to be defensive. There is no benefit in black and white thinking that equates to us (employees) and them (managers), or in blaming managers for everything – especially on a leadership forum.
Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. ReadyToManage is your one-stop shop for world class employee and personal development resources. For some people, as they get older, this is easy because they know what they're good at and where their faults lie. For me this is easy as I have been teaching, lecturing and blogging for decades and feel secure in what I write. It's good to listen to others, but as the deep conversations if something doesn't make sense to you you should speak your mind. After a lifetime of being psychic, I find that most people have the ability to "dialogue" with "spirit", or any name you give it, which guides their destinies - they simple are not aware.
We can all agree that being fake is a negative thing -- no one wants to feel like they're being played by someone who is just acting, nor does anyone want to be known as someone who doesn't live true to themselves. Millennials in particular, who have matured in the age of social media, struggle to both pin down this personality trait and determine whether or not they possess it. In 2002, authenticity research pioneers Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman began studying the individual differences of sincere personalities, and defined authenticity as "the unimpeded operation of one's true or core self in daily enterprise." In order to assess whether a person is guided by his or her genuine sense of self, one must look past the profiles created and into the collection of thoughts, interactions and behaviors that fill each day.
Authentic people not only take the time to ponder their perspective on life and the experiences that led them there, but they easily share this "true self" with others around them.
When it comes to expressing gratitude to others, genuine people follow a similar path of not overthinking it.


Genuine people find it easier to let go of distractions and focus intently in a conversation simply because they are truly interested in what the other person has to say. According to a 2013 study conducted by psychological scientist Erin Heerey at Bangor University in Wales, others can tell when you are being genuine.
One of the key components of authenticity is simply (or not so simply) knowing who you are and being comfortable with yourself. People who have really looked within to understand why they think and act the way they do are clearer about the principles -- and purposes -- that drive their lives, Winch adds. Firstly, we assume that the behaviour of participants in a research setting (which is often very artificial and only a small sample) will be typical of their behaviour in other contexts (which is clearly not supported by the evidence).
Perhaps the most common of these is to develop what might be a whole range of defensive behaviors that act to protect the person (or prevent currently relatively low levels of self-esteem falling even lower).
Once again, only one or two of these may be shown at any one time but it may nonetheless signal that an alternative approach may be called for. However, it does aim to raise awareness in leaders at all levels that they are managing individuals who may be struggling to deal with a range of issues, with low self-esteem often being at the core of the challenges they face.
Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. The question I’d like to ask, is this kind of behavior restricted to defensive employees, or is it present in the best of us?
Though I was hoping to read more on actually dealing with defensive behaviors, as the article’s title suggests.
In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page. Sometimes the best way to deal with disappointment in one arena is to accomplish something in another. They spend significant amounts of time curating the most share-worthy photos on Instagram, creating a summarized snapshot of their lives on Facebook, and posting descriptions of themselves on online dating websites. And while science has yet to map a single path to sincerity, there are some shared traits among people who are genuine and authentic.
They found that people who expressed a high sense of authenticity also maintained higher levels of self-esteem.
Many cultures place great importance on maintaining defensive walls that hide or minimize personal weaknesses and imperfections, as a means of protecting oneself from harmful or unpleasant experiences.
This outward expression is consistently characterized as an extroverted behavior in authenticity research. When it comes to the latter, Winch explains in his book Emotional First Aid that people with low self-esteem can sometimes struggle with accepting compliments. They aren't constantly checking their smartphone for text messages or letting their mind wander off to the day's to-do list.
The observational study paired strangers getting to know one another and monitored their reactions to any smile that was exchanged -- both genuine and polite.
It requires taking the time to develop informed ideas about the things you care about, and not blindly adopting them from others around you.
Secondly, we focus on asking questions about the opinions and beliefs of participants, believing they can predict behaviour.
If our self-esteem is too low or too negative, we will not develop in positive ways or learn to get on with people as we should (often failing to become effective enough at communicating with others, working in teams or helping to manage change for example). As in the physical signs of defensiveness there are four categories or clusters of behavior to look out for. By at least understanding or basically appreciating that defenses such as those described above are a coping mechanism, leaders can therefore perhaps adjust their approach or style (even in subtle ways) and help a given individual in more emotionally intelligent ways not to feel quite as marginalized and to feel that they are part of a supportive workplace climate in which that can learn to deal with any issues more readily, and perhaps develop a greater level of overall personal resilience. Put another way, are we all defensive from time to time and could learn something from this? However, some people are a lot more defensive than others and it shows, it a manager, in an employee, in our own families etc. Management creates these problems and others by not knowing what to do to create a highly motivated, highly committed and fully engaged workforce.


Kernis’s co-authors are Chad Lakey and Whitney Heppner, both doctoral students in the UGA social psychology program.Amid the complexity of perspectives on the human psyche, a slow but relentless change is occurring in how psychologists view self-esteem, said Kernis.
And as "real" as those shared moments may be, there is a selectivity involved in designing one's ideal self, rather than exposing all there is to bare. Science, on the other hand, supports using flexible coping mechanisms to face moments of discomfort -- opening oneself up to fears and failures in an attempt to learn and grow from them, rather than shut them out altogether. However, in a 2010 study published in the Journal of Personality, Wake Forest University psychologist William Fleeson established that both genuine introverts and extroverts alike feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, opinions and beliefs with the outside world. That's because they believe those compliments come attached to higher expectations from others, which results in feelings of stress. It found that the subjects responded much more quickly to genuine smiles than polite smiles, and viewed the genuine smiles a social reward to be valued.
It is with this foundation that you are able to live those values -- stand behind them, represent them and feel strongly about them. The simple idea here is that we can’t readily like others and manage relationships with them well until we can learn how to like and manage ourselves well. It was once thought that more self-esteem necessarily is better self-esteem.In recent years, however, high self-esteem per se has come under attack on several fronts, especially in areas such as aggressive behavior. And it takes an authentic person with a solid foundation of self-esteem to be able to accomplish the latter.
Those who are authentic and maintain a solid sense of self-esteem, on the other hand, don't view compliments with strings attached.
Creating disengaged workforces is very common these days so employees exhibiting defensive, save myself first, behavior are the rule not the exception.
Also, individuals with high self-esteem sometimes become very unlikable when others or events threaten their egos. Adapting to a situation can make you more true to yourself in some circumstances." His research also revealed that being genuine consistently goes hand-in-hand with being emotionally stable and intellectual.
While high self-esteem is still generally valued as a good quality that is important to a happy and productive life, more researchers are breaking it down into finer gradations and starting to understand when high self-esteem turns from good to bad. In fact, it is now thought that there are multiple forms of high self-esteem, only some of which consistently relate to positive psychological functioning.One of the ways in which high self-esteem can turn bad is when it is accompanied by verbal defensiveness—lashing out at others when a person’s opinions, beliefs, statements or values are threatened. So Kernis and his colleagues designed a study, reported in the current article, to see if respondents whose self-esteem is “fragile” were more verbally defensive than those whose self-esteem was “secure.”Using 100 undergraduates, they set up a study in three phases. In the first part, students completed a basic demographic questionnaire and other measures to evaluate their levels and other aspects of self-esteem. In phase 2, the team assessed the students’ stability of self-esteem because the more unstable or variable one’s self-esteem, the more fragile it is. And finally, in the last phase, the researchers conducted a structured “life experiences interview” to measure what they call “defensive verbalization.”“Our findings offer strong support for a multi-component model of self-esteem that highlights the distinction between its fragile and secure forms,” said Kernis. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.



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