The New Johari Window #3: Interpersonal Relationships and the Locus of Control

The New Johari Window #3: Interpersonal Relationships and the Locus of Control

As in the case of an internal locus of control, there are multiple perspectives regarding external locus. One of these perspectives is offered by the behaviorists. From a thoroughly behavioral perspective, one would conclude that our actions are primarily determined by the settings in which we find ourselves and the events in which we participate. Reward systems (state) rather than enduring personality characteristics (trait) predict behavior. Variations among individuals in similar settings are minimal (error-variance). Show me what is being rewarded and I’ll show you what people are going to do.

In his widely read book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2002, p. 160) moves this statement further, by pointing out that many of us are vulnerable to the Fundamental Attribution Error that I mentioned above:

. . . a fancy way of saying that when it comes to interpreting other people’s behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context. We will always reach for a “dispositional” explanation for events, as opposed to a contextual explanation.

While Gladwell’s observations are well-taken, I would like to note that he fails to mention the other half of the Fundamental Attribution Error. The second half of the error concerns our tendency to attribute our own personal behavior not to character or disposition, but rather to context. I assume that I act like I do not because of some enduring personality trait, but because of the specific setting in which I am operating and specific role I am asked to play or have chosen to play. In other words, we are inclined to external locus of control when observing and analyzing our own behavior and to internal locus of control when observing and analyzing the behavior of other people.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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