What is Self Serving Bias?

Definition: A self-serving basis is a psychological tendency to take credit for positive accomplishments and deviate the responsibility for negative outcomes. It is a behavior that blames other external factors for underperformance situations but recognizes successes exclusively as the result of self-efforts.

What Does Self Serving Bias Mean in Business?

This psychological theory was discussed in the mid-1900s and it has been identified as a pathological condition that many individuals face. It has many repercussions in different spheres of the person’s life like work relationships, family and career development. The condition can be described basically as an individual with self-esteem issues who tries to obtain value through accomplishment recognition. His fear of failure leads him to deviate any negative outcome from himself, guiding him to pin everything else as the main cause for the adverse situation at hand.

This scenario is very unproductive for work environments, since it will cause frictions and recurrent discussions and conflicts between co-workers. Also, this type of individuals block any opportunity to grow and learn since they are unable to recognize their need to do so, they are perceived as arrogant characters that do not posses adequate interpersonal skills to solve problems maturely enough. Cognitive behavioral therapy has proved effective to deal with such behavior to enhance the individual’s ability to be aware of his own actions.


John is an engineer working for a consulting firm. He is a very capable person that managed to obtain high scores during all his academic life. Since he has proved to be very efficient at work he was promoted to Project Manager quickly. He has a team of 10 individuals from different career paths and academic backgrounds and he has to manage them effectively to get the best results possible for the task at hand.

Nevertheless, John has an attitude issue. The team is constantly complaining about how he blames team members for all failures instead of taking responsibility when he has committed obvious mistakes. This has caused situations where John “trash talks” about his team which caused many frictions among them. The Human Resources Department is very concerned about this situation and had asked a professional psychologist to evaluate John’s condition.

He concluded John had a self serving bias and needed cognitive therapy in order to overcome this disorder and work more effectively with his team members.