The Attitude Trap

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“What can I do about someone with a bad attitude?”

I don’t think I’ve ever had a supervisory skills class where someone didn’t ask that question. The answer is that you can’t do anything. At least not directly.

Here’s the deal. The only things you can address directly are behavior and performance. They’re observable or measureable or both.

You can’t observe attitude. You can’t measure it. That doesn’t make it less real, it just means you won’t get good results if you attack it directly. Addressing attitude directly is a trap.

Think about it. If you tell a team member that they’ve got a bad attitude, you won’t get change. You’ll get an argument, denial, or sullen withdrawal. That’s not good.

So, when you judge that a team member has a “bad attitude” ask yourself this question. “What does he or she do that makes me think they have a bad attitude?”

The answer to that question might be behavior. Perhaps that team member comes late to meetings. You can address that behavior.

The answer to that question might be performance. Perhaps that team member is giving you reports that are unsatisfactory. You can address that performance.

That’s good, but it’s not enough. Most bosses put all their attention on “bad attitude.” What about good attitude?

Define the observable or measureable things by asking the same question. “What does he or she do that makes me think they have a good attitude?”

The answer to that question might be behavior or performance. It’s also something that deserves some positive feedback. Recognize it, praise it, thank your team member.

Boss’s Bottom Line

Working on a “bad attitude” directly is a trap. It gets you argument, denial, or withdrawal. So identify the behavior or performance behind the attitude and work on that.

Don’t forget the people with a good attitude. Identify the behavior or performance behind it and make sure you’re giving some positive feedback.

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