What’s responsibility bias all about?

Hey there!

It’s been 13 weeks since I’ve started my newsletter and I’ve felt it was unfair that only a few people get to read some super interesting stuff (well, I do hope so)! So, I thought, I would start give a few sneak peaks into what people who’ve subscribes get to read each week!

Enough foreshadowing, let me get into what you clicked that title for!

I’ve read “Give and Take” by Adam Grant and came across the concept of Responsibility bias which plagues all of us.

If you have ever worked in a team, or have heard someone say, “Damn it! It is me who always has to do all the work!” or have yourself said it (in some cases it is true! But, I’m going to talk about the rest of the times), you are not alone . This is an aspect that is most common in collaborations, relationships, team works and in most cases- a cause of friction between people.

Put simply, responsibility bias is the natural tendency of exaggerating our own contributions relative to others’ inputs. To understand it better, let us assume a couple and ask each of them separately about their contribution to the relationship. If one of them says 60%, in a perfect relationship the other should feel they contribute 40% and make the sum a complete 100%.

But, that seldom happens. People have a tendency to overvalue their contribution and undervalue others’, even well-intentioned people do. According to the book, there are two major reasons:

  1. People are driven to present themselves positively to boost up our image and self-worth.
  2. People succumb to information discrepancy. In short, we have more information about our own contributions than those of others. We see all of our efforts but witness only a fraction of what others’ do.

It is fairly common most of us have overvalued ourselves or have felt underappreciated in a team when our efforts were not recognised. We feel bitter. Responsibility bias can be a major source of failed collaborations, misunderstandings, disharmony in teams or personal relationships. This also makes individuals feel overburdened as they begin to believe they take up more load that they are supposed to.

It is impossible to completely escape this bias but we surely can reduce the gap amongst ourselves in teams/ relationships. Here are a few things that can be done:

  1. Work on the culture in your team and relationships where communication and transparency are prioritised.
  2. In teams, keeping everyone informed about their primary roles and responsibilities.
  3. Working on a culture of gratitude and sharing credit wherever due. Recognising this automatically primes us to be more observant about others’ contributions.
  4. Build a culture of psychological safety where one feels they can take a risk without being penalised or punished.
  5. Developing a culture of giving and receiving constructive feedback which makes people open and more welcome of others.

Well, these are all things that one can do on a larger scale. But what is it that you can do now? All you have to do is understand that the key to balancing judgements of responsibility is to be aware of others’ contributions.

Two Minute Thoughts
Anytime you are in a position where you are either a victim of this bias or the one who is talking about your contribution in a relationship/team just list down the contributions of your partner/others before you list your own.

By following this two-minute actionable, studies have shown that the net sum of peoples’ contributions in a team reduced from net 140% to net 123% by just listing other’s contributions before ours.

I hope this post would help you recognise “responsibility bias” when you see it and have the simple tools to work around it!

With that,
More Power to you!


Have you had any similar experiences? Do drop in a comment!

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Cover Pic Credit: Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

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