“Annoying worker with rotten attitude seeking overly-tolerant employer.
Expert complainer; will argue about everything. Need full-time salary for part-time effort.”
You’ve never read that on a resume, yet every organization manages to hire employees who sneak through the hiring process with a Bad Attitude. Frustration, feeling like a victim, lack of courtesy or understanding, and weak self-confidence are often mislabeled by observers as simply a poor attitude and that label is a real career-killer. It’s important for you to make sure that your own attitude IS positive. APPEARS positive, and FEELS positive. When dealing with others who come across as having a bad attitude, you have three responsibilities:
1. Be a role model for a positive attitude.
2. Keep opening the door to negative people, offering a chance to try on a positive attitude for a while.
3. Consistently re-cast the impact of a bad attitude in the most positive light for the organization – don’t let negativity drag your team down.
Managers are exhorted to “Hire for Attitude and Train for Skill.” It’s a smart theory, yet a bitter chorus of moaning and groaning attests that something goes constantly awry. We expected a positive attitude because, well, the new hire promised they had one. Their resume looked impressive and they had good references, so we figured they could do the job. How bad could their attitude be? Then the ‘honeymoon’ ends and old negativity re-emerges:
- Promises turn into excuses – your brilliant problem solver can’t even solve morning traffic.
- Deadline after deadline is missed – yet in a remarkable coincidence, it’s always somebody else’s fault!
- Complaining becomes an Olympic sport – and guess who’s going for the gold medal?
An employee with a rotten attitude can cause more damage than an employee who doesn’t know how to do the job. It would be interesting to know how and where bad attitudes are created, but even if we understand the source of a bad attitude, it doesn’t solve the problem. There have been almost as many failed strategies for dealing with a bad attitude as there have been people with a bad attitude, such as:
- Complain about them.
- Discipline them.
- Ignore them.
- Keep telling them what’s wrong with them.
- Assign them a mentor.
- Promote them out of your department.
- Leave them behind as everybody else tries to escape.
- Give up and allow them to set the attitude standard.
Complaints, discipline, or shoving them off on another supervisor won’t resolve a bad attitude. To the contrary, those solutions peel away the camoflage hiding another bad attitude and that just contributes to overall negativity. Without saying a word, new employees, customers, even other people with bad attitudes can tell that there’s a problem that is killing the organization.
Discipline doesn’t improve attitude
Attitude building is a training challenge, not a disciplinary function. The best strategy for an employee with poor behavior skills is only a slight variation on the strategy for correcting poor job skills: a training program with defined skill objectives – and even more positive reinforcement.
When a job skill is practiced until the employee is deemed ‘competent,’ we call that a successful training. Good Attitude is also a job skill to be consciously practiced until competence is achieved. Think of it this way: a parent’s goal is to teach their child to become competent in manners, respect, and taking out the garbage. The workplace manager is a substitute ‘parent’ of a grown-up child, with the same lessons to teach – using adult learning techniques.
To teach a skill, we show examples of the desired result. We set a standard and describe rewards when the job is done right and consequences when the standard isn’t met. In training for attitude, we often overlook the standard-setting conversation, with a mistaken assumption that our standards are known and accepted by all. For a person operating in negativity, however, the apparent standards really aren’t seen the same. And people can’t start learning something they don’t even see.
Defective attitude isn’t a defective person
Some skill trainers argue that attitude isn’t even an appropriate target for training, and complain when managers send employees with a ‘broken’ attitude to be ‘fixed.’ To repair a gap in a technical skill, we train. But instead of going to work on a gap in attitude, some would rather avoid responsibility by seeing it as a character defect. Complaining about an employee’s Bad Attitude is responding to the problem with exactly the attitude we’re complaining about!
A Positive Attitude thrives on trust, opportunity, commitment, and team involvement. Those same ingredients encourage and nurture a negative person. But if we can’t see past their negativity to offer our help, we never get the reward of an improved attitude.
How can you trust a negative person?
An essential element for establishing trust is consistent positive reinforcement. If the first few trusting efforts aren’t immediately rewarded by a satisfying change in behavior, it doesn’t justify a surrender to mistrust. By choosing to continue to value every employee, we demonstrate the power of positivity. Failing to extend an opportunity to a person with a Bad Attitude just reinforces their negativity. We know how much it costs to replace an employee, so we commit to job skill training; the same commitment will pay dividends with attitude building. A Bad Attitude alone doesn’t cause the damage – it’s the response of others that turns a Bad Attitude into a permanent deficit.
One good attitude finds another
Smart trainers anchor skills by having the employee teach the skill even as they learn it, knowing that teaching the most effective learning tool. When an employee consciously sets an example, demonstrating what a Positive Attitude really looks like, that attitude spreads – not only to other people, but to the demonstrator’s other behaviors.
A trainer’s role is to elevate each employee to competence. If hiring for attitude is a good idea, then training for attitude is a great one! For people who didn’t learn their behavior patterns from a positive example, operating with a Good Attitude is no more automatic than operating a new piece of equipment. It’s a skill that can be learned.
Dealing with a Bad Attitude is no fun, while learning is fun. Learning leaders take pride in creativity, and training for attitude is an exercise in creativity. It is creative to create a space where a negative person may explore the rewards of showing his or her positive side.
Create a strategic training plan for every employee that includes building and supporting their Positive Attitude!
Practice positive attitude skill-builders
A dozen skill practices to teach, mentor, reinforce, and apply to build proficiency in showing Positive Attitude:
- Say a cheerful “Good Morning” to everybody.
- Tell colleagues that we appreciate their help.
- Ask a colleague what they need and help them get it.
- Smile while listening and talking.
- Speak well of your employer.
- Take a proposed solution to the boss with every problem.
- Tell the boss about something good a colleague has done.
- Choose not to gossip – or listen to gossip.
- Accept assignments with a smile, saying “I’ll be happy to.”
- Make somebody feel better daily.
- Volunteer for a job that needs doing.
- Offer sincere congratulations when others have a success.
Article by Gregory Lay, Editor, Accidental Career. For permission to reprint in organizational publications, contact Editor@AccidentalCareer.com.