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Application of Attribution Theory to Workplace Communication Issue

2756 words (11 pages) Essay in Management

08/02/20 Management Reference this

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Research paper on the communication issue between a manager and an engineer: applying attribution theory to workplace

This research paper discusses the issues between a manager and an intern engineer at a workplace. The issue discussed in the research paper is that; due to personal negative bias, the manager is not communicating the tasks properly to the intern, is giving him unachievable tasks and deadlines without proper orientation and is not giving enough time to complete them. The paper will apply attribution theory to explain the conflicting relationship between the manager and the intern engineer and sheds light on how solutions could have been devised by applying communication strategies. The paper first describes the organisation I am looking at. Secondly, the paper will discuss the relevant theory which could be linked with the paper I am writing, and finally will find and apply relevant communication strategies to overcome the problem.

This research paper focuses on an established Healthcare Informatics company; named Insight Technologies. The organization consists of more than 200 employees. The organization consists of number of different departments and each department has a specific role.

Different issues emerge whilst working in an organisation. One of the issue is, meanings get lost in interpretation and translation. Where there is a conflict situation, some employees are able to deal with it or can express easily, whereas others may see this situation as difficult to manage (Becker, Conroy, Djurdjevic & Gross, 2017). Another issue which was seen in the organisation was, absence of project hierarchy where there was no clear roles and responsibilities of employee and no single person was in-charge of the project. In this case, some work used to be done by two people resulting to same work. The third issue was emotional barriers where there were co-workers who had strong positive or negative emotion. Feelings like this was affecting effective communication. Supervisors should be influential towards their supervisees, but this should not lead to one-way communication. Two-way conversations are the only form of an effective communication and supervisors should provide a better environment to make the employee feel comfortable to speak (Ariani, 2015). Good leaders always make sure that they listen to the employee’s concern and this was the major issue which the intern engineer (an employee) faced in this organization amongst the rest (Ariani, 2015). In this situation, I found that the analysis of how attribution theory is used by a manager to justify his individual behaviour and unfair judgement of the intern which resulted in serious conflict between the manager and the intern.

An attribution is an unplanned clarification for a behaviour or an event. An example to explain attribution can be taken as, a nurse spots a co-worker executing a process wrongly on a patient, the nurse is most likely to try to develop an attributional clarification for this behaviour. This could result to the co-worker being poorly trained which means that the observer is attributing the behaviour to insufficient skills (Shaver, 2016). Research shows that implementation of unplanned attributions is important for the adaptation of the changing environments and to overcome the encounters we are challenged with in our everyday lives (Shaver, 2016). When we deal with necessary results, attributions help us to comprehend what began those events, so we can deal with them again. When we deal with hostile results, attributions help us to know and evade the behaviours and other aspects that began them to happen. Attribution theory is proposed to help a person understand the root cause of the human behaviour. This behaviour could be their own or someone else’s. The research shows that both intern and the supervisor possess certain behaviour towards one another. The ground of attribution theory is that, people want to know the whys and wherefores for the actions that they and others take (Heider, 1982). They want to attribute causes to behaviours they see rather than presuming that these behaviours are arbitrary. This consents people to presume some sensation of control over their own activities and over circumstances.

Attributions are serious to manage and for the management of an organization because concerned reasons of behaviour may impact managers’ and employees’ decision and actions. Being a manager, it is his/her responsibility to perceive the performance of the employee and derive a conclusion and judgements based on the performance (Borkowski, 2016). If the poor performance of an employee is being attributed by the manager because of the lack of effort of the employee, then the result is obvious to be undesirable for that employee. S/he may obtain a poor performance appraisal evaluation or even be fired from the workplace (Borkowski, 2016). This relates to what has happened to the intern engineer (an employee) whilst working for Insight Telecommunication. Right from the onset of the intern’s job, the manager has had a pre-conceived notion that the intern is not good enough. Due to this negative biasness, he tried to find ways to attribute the low performance of the intern to him not working hard and delivering, whereas the actual fact was the manager was not giving enough attention, guidance and orientation to the intern to perform his work. He was harsh, nasty and used all means to make life difficult for the intern, which then helped create fear in the intern’s mind and made him lose confidence in himself (Mulder, Bos, Pouwelse & van Dam, 2016). It was natural for the intern to react when the manager provided negative comments directly to the intern saying that he was good for nothing-without evidence and without having a proper conversation on why he could not perform. Additionally, other interns who were new to the company were already getting hired and promoted by the manager despite knowing that others worked less and knew comparatively less than what they were supposed to. All the deliverables were being delivered by the intern who is facing a hard time dealing with the manager.

Wang & Jiang (2015) state that the manager-employee relationship could be associated with abusive supervision-influence and this could be seen in the example I have used. This situation shows an approach to an attribution psychological theory which could be used for organizational communication. Attribution theory explains how an individual understand events, relation to the way they think and behave (Heider, 1958) and the determination of -why people do what they do; which could be associated with the intern’s manager of the Insight Technologies. Drawing from past research by Bradley & Campbell (2016) and Mahmoodi Shahrebabaki (2015), I use emotional behaviour and external environmental factor to explore the causes of the issues and formulate solutions accordingly. Based on the attribution theory, the paper will also analyse single or multiple causes of individual’s behaviour in the situation, looking at both Internal attribution (a person’s behaviour because of something about the person) and external attribution (situational behaviour of the person). This Internality and externality of an attribution can also be considered as the dimension of locus of causality (Wang, Hall & Rahimi, 2015). If a manager incorrectly assumes the employee intern’s performance error to his own carelessness (i.e. ignored that he has never given proper supervision to the intern employee), he is making an internal attribution. The locus of causality dimension is specifically applicable to emotional reactions. Internal attributions for unwanted events or behaviours are more engaged with self-focused adverse emotions like shame (Wang, Hall & Rahimi, 2015). Similarly, External attributions for the same behaviours and results are normally linked with externally driven negative emotions, such as anger and hatred (Wang, Hall & Rahimi, 2015). Avoiding individual accusations and blaming other people is a very tangible self-serving attribution. The intern engineer has been assumed to have a poor performance by the manager. When a result such as very poor performance is attributed to a constant basis, such as low aptitude, it is reasonable to believe that the intern’s performance is not going to change in the future (Korn, Rosenblau, Rodriguez Buritica & Heekeren, 2016). Whereas, if the same poor performance is attributed to a minimal constant reason like ‘not enough effort’, it could be said that the intern may improve his performance by working harder in the future. In the case of the intern in this research paper, intern engineer is assumed that he is worthless for the company from the beginning of the internship. Hence, no supervision is being given to the intern.


Figure 1: FIgure showing the attribution structure

 This research paper focuses on the emotional and motivational drives of the manager because attribution is significantly dependent on this factor (Weiner, 2018). Motivational states could be distinguished into four parts. Which are learned helplessness, aggression, empowerment and resilience. The intern could be associated with learned helplessness as he feels helpless and fails to complete the tasks given as he is never appreciated by the manager regardless of what he does. The intern lost confidence and experienced learned helplessness (Weiner, 2018). On the other hand, a manager could be associated with empowerment where the manager tends to favour other employee than the intern as he has already assumed that the intern is of no use to the company.

Manager may use attribution theory to rather motivate the intern and his employee. Giving enough training and supervision could make both the intern as well as the manager in good terms. This would enhance the intern’s self-esteem and motivate the intern (Heckhausen & Heckhausen, 2018). Inspiring the employee would help to distinguish each employee’s uniqueness and make them appreciated regardless of what they know, and what they do not. This would make the intern feel that he is also a part of the company and the company’s future. Attribution theory can be used by supervisors, higher level managers and Human resource managers to solve the conflict between employees (Sanders & Yang, 2015). This is due to the fact that this theory helps the manager to understand their behaviour and, they will be able to solve their variances without hurting the feelings of the employee (Furst & Cable, 2018). Attribution theory can be applied by managers to treat every employee with fairness, giving unbiased performance review evaluation (Sanders & Yang, 2015). Every organization is diverse and has individuals from different background. Moreover, managers should also know that some individuals take less time to catch up on some tasks and some take more to complete and achieve the tasks. Proper supervision would lead everyone to success and less communication conflict. Attribution theory may help a manger to treat their employees well and with fairness (Furst & Cable, 2018). For instance, if the manager finds a work done by employee is not so perfect, they should rather try to understand the reason behind the problem without judging and assuming the employee.

Employees should also use the attribution theory in understanding the managers and fellow employee’s behaviour. For example, some maybe good in programming whereas others maybe good in database development (Alony, Hasan & Paris, 2014). All employees should respect each other with regards to what field they are strong in. This would help in a smooth operation of the company. As an intern employee I would ensure that training scheme for each and every intern should be promoted in the company I previously worked in (Alony, Hasan & Paris, 2014). This will give employees an extensive knowledge about the company and its deliverables to its clients and the expectations from the employees. The company should give proper training to the interns about how to use certain software for the management of the work (Vatankhah & Raoofi, 2018). If interns are part of the training to other employees., it will also help the intern to bond with their supervisors and other interns. Hence, this will also make sure that there is no biasness at the workplace and everyone will be treated equally(Vatankhah & Raoofi, 2018). Team building workshops could also be introduced in the company in order to have a good communication in the organization. Even though the training may or may not completely change what individual believes, it will change the way how they think and believe. It will also help them to understand one another and break some cultural barriers between the employees (Stephan & Stephan, 2017). The engineer could be more patient and tolerant whereas manager could explain and clarify in order to solve the issue.

The concept of having a knowledge of psychological theory like attribution theory and how it affects workplace situation and daily life has been useful. But still there are things which still remains unanswered regarding the situation between manager and the employee. For example, why, when and how negative thinking style is learned? What comes first, the feelings or the thinking of an individual? Are these situations recognised as external? Additionally, one major issue which remains unanswered is that, most attributional research engages in hypothetical results than considering the real-life experiences. An evidence to this is, the intern is being judged from the first day at work rather than grooming him through clear communication, motivation and by providing an opportunity for him to grow and show his strength which should have been capitalised for contributing to the company’s results.


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