Relationships – Positive Attitude is a Job Skill

Does communication on Earth seem as distant as galaxies colliding in outer space? This event happened over 300 million light years ago – and both galaxies were certain that they were right! Is that about how long it takes to get results from communications here on Earth?

Study and practice correct techniques for attitude-building


“Annoying worker with terrible attitude seeks foolish or overly-tolerant employer. Expert  complainer; likes to argue. Prefer full-time salary for part-time effort.”

You’ve never read that on a resume, yet every organization manages to hire employees who come with a Bad Attitude.

Managers are advised to “Hire for Attitude and Train for Skill.” It’s a smart theory, yet a bitter chorus of moaning and groaning attests that something’s gone awry. We expected a positive attitude because 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’ ended, and old negativity re-emerged:

  • Promises turn into excuses – your brilliant problem solver can’t even figure out how to deal with morning traffic.
  • Deadline after deadline is missed – but in a remarkable coincidence, it’s always somebody else’s fault.
  • Outside troubles become work problems, and are shared with everybody.

An employee with a Bad Attitude can cause more damage than one who just doesn’t understand 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.

  • Complain about them.
  • Compete to demonstrate who’s more annoying.
  • Ignore them.
  • Promote them somewhere out of sight.
  • Let them set the mood.
  • Tell them the standard of behavior.
  • Discipline them.
  • Assign them a mentor.
  • Escape to another job.

Complaints, discipline, or shoving them off on another supervisor won’t resolve a bad attitude. To the contrary, those solutions emphasize the bad attitude and contribute to organizational negativity.

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 can encourage and nurture a negative person, but if we can’t or won’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 these positive attitude skill-builders

A dozen skill practices to teach, mentor, reinforce, and apply to build proficiency in showing a Positive Attitude:

  1. Say a cheerful “Good Morning” to everybody – especially those who don’t appear to be having one!
  2. Tell colleagues often how much we appreciate their help.
  3. Ask a colleague what they need and help them get it.
  4. Smile while listening and talking.
  5. Speak well of our employer.
  6. Take a proposed solution to the boss with every problem.
  7. Tell the boss about something good a colleague has done.
  8. Choose not to gossip – or listen to gossip.
  9. Accept assignments with a smile, saying “I’ll be happy to.”
  10. Make somebody feel better daily.
  11. Volunteer for a job that needs doing.
  12. Offer sincere congratulations when others have a success.


Article by Gregory Lay, Editor, Accidental Career. For permission to reprint in organizational publications, contact