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Organizational Behavior: Role Of Attribution Theory

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Discuss about the Organizational Behavior for Role of Attribution Theory.




In an organization, attribution theory is intended to assist an individual in understanding the causes of human behavior. Generally this theory is related to perception of a person at work. The purpose of this essay is to discuss about the attribution theory of organizational behavior. It describes the role of this theory in explaining behavior at work with the use of examples and evidences. This essay includes various aspects related to organizational behavior, concept and implication of attribution theory. Furthermore, it will discuss the use and role of this theory in understanding the behavior or perception of people in the organization.

To understand the organizational behavior theory, it is essential to know about the organizational behavior. Organization cannot be framed just by using the machinery or buildings, but it also requires people who interact with each other to achieve collective objective of organization. According to Robbins, Millett & Marsh (2004), organizational behavior helps in understanding what people at work think and do in organization. It investigates the effect which the groups, individuals and organizational structure have on the behavior within the organizations for applying the knowledge for enhancing the effectiveness of the organization (French, 2011). There are various reasons why the organizations should use the theories of organizational behavior. The major reason is major challenges, which the organization facing is adjusting in diverse work environments. The companies are becoming more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and gender. Every theory of organizational behavior is created for understanding a key aspect of people and organization (Bakkar & Schaufeli, 2008). The attribution theory of OB is created to understand the perception and to use in the decision making process in organization.

Attribution theory of organizational behavior was introduced to explain how we assess the individuals in different way depending on the meaning we attribute to a given behavior (Youseff & Luthans, 2007). Generally, this theory recommends that when we perceive the behavior of an individual. This is an important theory for the organizations, because it can assist the top management in understanding the reasons behind the employees’ behavior. It can also help the employees in understanding the thoughts about their own behaviors (Folkes, & Graham, 2014). According to a study, if you can understand that why you are behaving in a certain way and why other people around you are doing so, it means you have a better understanding of others, yourself and overall organization. The perception of the reasons of behavior can impact the actions and judgment of both the employees and managers. It can play an important role in motivation process. Aswathappa (2005) defined the attribution theory as the method, which is about how the people make unplanned explanations. This explains the causes of behavior. These causes may be internal or external (Aswathappa, 2005).

The attribution theory is a three step process, it includes;

  • First, observe the behavior, whether it is your own behavior or other person’s behavior.
  • After that, determine that whether the observed behavior is intentional.
  • Last, attribute the observed behavior.

When the behavior is attributed, there is a need to consider some of the factors; like external causes and internal causes.

According to the study conducted by Mirsadeghi (2013), external causes are attributed to the outside factors of the person, which are being observed. These factors cannot be controlled, like; luck and these factors forced the person into the behavior by the circumstances. For example, any of the employees receives the promotion, but his/her co-workers believe that he/she received the promotion because his/her father is the owner of company. Thus, the co-workers attributed an external factor as the reason of promotion.

Internal causes are those behaviors, which are believed to be under the control of individuals. These factors are those, which are attributed to the individual being observed. Internal factors can be controlled usually. For example, in any organization, if any person is promoted and his co-workers believe that the reason behind the promotion is dedication, hard work and skills. It shows that the co-workers attributed the internal causes of his promotion (Memari, Valikhani, Aghababaee & Daveli, 2013). When there is need of making determination between external and internal reasons of behavior, the person, who perceives, must examine the aspects of consistency, consensus and distinctiveness.

Consistent behavior can be defined whether a person, who is being observed is behaving in same way same situations. If that person acts in the same way in the same type of circumstances, then consistency of behavior is high. If that person acts in different manner each time, then it shows that consistency is low (Mirsadeeghi, 2013). Distinctiveness of the behavior can be defined as whether the person, who is being observed in the same way in different situations. It shows that behavior is distinctive. If any individual behaves the same in different situations, it means distinctiveness is low, whereas that person reacts different in different situations, it means the distinctiveness is high.
Furthermore, consensus is the extent to which other individuals, if in the same circumstances, will behave similarly to the person who is being observed (Miner, 2011). If the person, who is observing watches others behaving the same way, which the individual being perceived acts, then consensus is high. Though, if others act different way in the situation, then the degree of consensus is low.

According to Millet, Robbins & Marsh (2004), consistency, consensus and distinctiveness are assessed at the time of observing the behavior and after that a decision about internal and external causes of behavior is made. When all these three aspects are high, the observer determines that there are some external causes of behavior. If consistency is high, consensus is low and distinctiveness is high, then the perceiver will attribute the internal causes of behavior.

For example, there is case of Mr. Anderson, who is an employee of Mr. Smith. Anderson came late to attend the meeting. In this situation, Mr. Smith may attribute his lateness because of late night out on the previous day and falling asleep over the ringing of the alarm clock. In this case, Anderson is considered as the internal attribution. However, if the Mr. Smith attributes this lateness due to roadway traffic or collision, then Mr. Smith will believe that there is an external cause. According to Millet, Robbins & Marsh (2004), if the same employee, who arrived late for the meeting is also the reason behind some delayed deliveries. If this is so, then Mr. Smith needs to ask himself whether this behavior is rare.


Importance and Role of this Theory and How it Affects other People in Organization

Decision making is an important function of management. It involves choosing a course of action from various alternatives, which are available in the situation of decision making. Attribution theory is very important in decision making process of organization (Malle, 2011). The organizations can use a rational decision model, which describes that how the people should behave for maximizing the organizational outcome. The following steps should be considered;

  • Defining the problem
  • Recognize the criteria of decision
  • Weight that criteria
  • Generate the alternatives
  • Give ratings to alternatives
  • Compute the best decision

This theory occupies the manner, which the people understand the foundation of behavior and it emphasizes on the perception regarding the behavior. (Forsterling, 2013) described that every organization should recognize the reason behind the actions of employees. It should not make a sudden decision on the perception of employees. Organization should use this attribution theory and find out the factors which affected that action. After finding out the factor, whether sit is internal or external, the organization can recognize to deal with that behavior (Gleitman, Fridlund & Reisberg, 1999).

This theory assumes that people in the organization try to observe why the people do and what they do. It manages the information, which one uses in making inferences and the way, an individual deals with that information to give answer to a random question. Brown (1986) explained that how can this account to the role of this theory. After understanding the causes for different behaviors, people can predict the behavior in the future and then safeguard themselves from unkind surprises. Searching for the reason of behavior allows the organization to attribute the causes to behavior (Brown, 1986). This focuses on the circumstances, which generally includes 2 people. One person, who is making the judgment about someone’s behavior and another one, is someone else, whose behavior is being observed. According to Gleitman (1999), when the people make efforts and find the explanations for other’s behavior, then this is considered that they are engaged in the attribution process.

Forsterling, 2013 stated that this attribution process assists the individuals to understand and act to their social environments. It is essential to know because attributions have consequences on behavior. There may be three types of the attribution theories, which can be applied in the organization (Nelson & Quick, 2011). First theory, which is based on the assumption that the people have preferences about causality directing to the bias in attribution and second one focuses on backgrounds of individual’s perception of the reason of behavior in social surroundings and last one, the theories, which focus on the impact of attributions.

The managers can motivate the employees by using the attribution theory. Attribution may impact the employee motivation. Individuals who perceive the reason of their success to be external of their control may be unwilling to perform new tasks and can lose the motivation to act well in the workplace (Forsterling, 2013). Thus, understanding the attributions, which the people make, can help in the managerial effectiveness and employee performance. If a manager wishes his employees to continue at the official tasks, then he should help them in developing a genuine belief that the employees are capable and these imperfections are the result of some other factors, like; bad luck, which need not to be there in the future. When the employees fail to perform the tasks, then they are more likely to continue and ultimately succeed if they attribute this failure to lack of sufficient effort (Marsh, Millett, & Robbins, 2004). So, it is very important that when the employees believe that they are unsuccessful, then managers can help them in developing the belief that still they can succeed if they give their best efforts.


Thus, it is very important to apply the attribution theory in an organization for understanding the behavior of the people at work. It can help the individuals in understanding their won and someone else’s behavior. There are some factors, which can help the people in this process. Managers can use these attributions in motivating the people for the success of organization. This theory can be seen relevant to the study of the perception, attitude, which can lead to people affecting their own self-respect. Thus, the report concludes that attribution theory manages that how the perceiver utilizes the information to understand the casual explanation for any specific events. This examines what data is collected and how it is used to make a judgment.



Aswathappa, K. (2005). Organizational Behavior, Himalaya Publications.

Bakkar, A.B. & Schaufeli, W.B. (2008). Positive organizational behavior: Engaged employees in flourishing organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29, 147-154.

Brown, R. (1986). Social Psychology, the Second Edition. Free Press.

French, R. (2011). Organizational Behavior. John Wiley & Sons.

Forsterling, F. (2013). Attribution: An Introduction to Theories, Research and Applications. Psychology Press.

Folkes, V.S. & Graham, S. (2014). Attribution Theory: Applications to Achievement, Mental Health, and Interpersonal Conflict. Psychology Press.

Gleitman, H., Fridlund, A. & Reisberg, D. (1999). Psychology WebBook: Psychology Fifth Edition/ Basic Psychology Fifth Edition. W.W. Norton and Company.

Marsh, T.W., Millett, B. & Robbins, S.P. (2004). Organizational Behavior. Pearson Education Australia.

Memari, H., Valikhani, M., Aghababaee, Z. & Daveli, M.M. (2013).  The Effect of Positive Organizational Behavior of the Staff on Organizational Performance, Based on the Luthans Model in Public Organizations of Behbahan. Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, Vol. 4, No 9.

Miner, J.B. (2011). Organizational Behavior 6: Integrated Theory Development and the Role of the Unconscious. M.E. Sharpe Publications.

Malle, B.F. (2011). Attribution Theories: How People Make Sense of Bahavior. Retrieved from

Mirsadeeghi, S. (2013). A Review on the Attribution Theory in the Social Psychology. Journal of Humanities And Social Science, Vol. 8, 6, pp. 74-76.

Nelson, D.L., & Quick, J.C. (2011). Organizational behavior 7th ed. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Youseff, C.M. & Luthans, F. (2007). Positive Organizational Behavior in the Workplace: The Impact of Hope, Optimism, and Resilience. Journal of Management, 33. Pp. 774-800. 

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