Understanding people

There are individual differences in person perception when we first see people. There are two aspects to this: expectations that we have when we meet new people and the attributions that we assign to them.

Our person perception is guided by various factors such as our past experiences, our cognitive abilities and what we give more importance to in our lives. Since we use our own expectations in judgment, each of us forms different impressions of the same person performing the same behaviour.

I would like to share my personal experience at an INGO.

I was a member of a hiring team that interviewed 15 people selected through a competitive writing assessment. We had to choose five. We had to make our team more diverse in terms of gender and social inclusion as our organisational policy. One of the candidates who was rather weak was also selected to encourage diversity. My expectations for this candidate were guided by the view that personalities change over time and I, therefore, was making situational attributions for the performance of the candidate.

According to the social psychologist Stangor, this is the view of “incremental theorist” as opposed to “entity theorist” who tends to believe that people’s traits are fundamentally stable and incapable of change. I was hopeful that the candidate can learn and grow. This was my expectation and I ended up attributing that the person “is capable of change and growth and will be an asset”.

Later I had to work with the same individual. I was the supervisor. It turns out that the person had a strange attitude which did not come across to me or others in the panel. We focused on the positive side that skills can be learned. We took the attitude for granted and it was also difficult to access the attitude in short interview.

We did not pay much attention to it. Maybe it was because of our (panel members’) own attribution about us, where we coloured our perception – the view that people change over time. I think these attributions about the person were not completely true. And so it turned out that it was difficult for me and others to work in the team with the individual.

Reflecting on this experience in the light of the theories about attribution and person perceptions made me more conscious about my own attribution and think about my own biases or attributions including whether I am an “entity theorist” or an “incremental theorist”.