What might account for the rather dramatic difference of opinion I had with the management of my former employer? This: the actor/observer bias, an asymmetry of belief proposed by Ned Jones and Richard Nisbett in 1971:
Actors tend to attribute the causes of their behavior to stimuli inherent in the situation, while observers tend to attribute behavior to stable dispositions of the actor.
In this situation, let’s cast me as the actor and the management as the observer. My behavior was to resign. I attribute the cause of my behavior to a very bad decision. I perceive it as inherent since it was made not in consultation with me and was final before I was made aware of it. But undoubtedly the management would attribute by reaction to the situation to “stable dispositions” within me, the actor. That is, something about my makeup–something about me–that has nothing to do with the situation. After all, they knew the situation just as well as I did, but were surprised by my response.
The actor/observer bias hypothesis likes to sit high above the actor and observer, presenting an exalted, unbiased view. Yet this somewhat naïve “scientific viewpoint,” replete with behavioralism, does offer some illumination nonetheless. For example, it illustrates a kind of distance between minds, where belief is fixed very differently based on the relative proximity or involvement to the situation. In this case, I think it’s useful because it frames the dispute. As the actor, I can see what it looks like to the observer. I can see what they don’t see: the causal origin. I recognize that it’s the situation, not me. Or to put a finer point on it: the situation caused a response based on my well-known (to all parties) stable dispositions. And was in turn shaped by their own dispositions.
At least, that’s what I the actor see. The fact that objectivity doesn’t enter into the picture is satisfying. There is no external party with an objective viewpoint, so it has no conceivable relevance. The hypothesis gives rigor and traction without requiring that. And it smoothes the path towards a potential game theoretical solution to the problem.