In a previous post, I shared four goal-setting and recognition ideas you can use to encourage your team to have positive, engaged attitudes. As I said in that post, the issue is rather complex and the suggestions in that post are not the end of the discussion.
Sometimes you can do everything in your power to create a positive and engaging work environment, and people still have negative attitudes. What do you do then? Do you talk with them about it? Do you ignore it?
Generally, I would say talk with them about it, and consider these five questions before you have the conversation…
Is it really negative?
Leaders often label questions and challenges as either resistance or a negative attitude. The first question to ask is: “Is it really negative?”
Maybe what you call “negative” is just an unanswered question or concern. Maybe it’s simply a disconnect between the person’s personal desires and what they believe to be organizational objectives. Maybe it’s a feeling of hopelessness, powerlessness, or a sense of not being heard.
The list of what might be the cause of questions and challenges includes a long list of “maybe” scenarios. Your job, as a leader, is to listen closely to what your team member is saying to identify the real source of the problem.
In most cases, the person is not really negative, they are misunderstood.
Before you talk with them about their attitude, make sure you have taken the time to consider and, if possible address, the sources of their frustration.
Is it affecting the business in some other way?
Is what you see in your team member’s attitude affecting business results or is it just frustrating you?
I have had many conversations with leaders who express their frustration with an employee’s attitude without being able to connect their perception of the employee’s attitude to any measurable or anticipated business impact. The leader is simply frustrated with the employee and they label the employee with the phrase “bad attitude.”
Before you talk with your team member about their attitude, take the time to identify the business impact you see as a result of what you are calling their attitude.
What negative behavior/result/impact do you observe?
Once you connect what you see as their attitude to a business impact, you can identify the specific behavior they are exhibiting or impact they are creating. If you are unable to identify a specific behavior or impact of their actions other than your personal frustration, you probably have not identified the real business impact of what you are calling their “bad attitude.”
Before you talk with your team member about their attitude, make sure you can identify a specific behavior (or set of behaviors) that are causing an observable impact on business results.
At this point, you probably see that you’re not going to talk with them about their attitude at all. Instead, you are going to speak with them about their workplace behaviors and results.
Are they meeting performance expectations?
Once you have identified the specific behaviors that are causing your concern, you have to assess their performance against an objective measure of some kind. You need to know where you are willing to “draw the line” on performance.
Where they are performing relative to the minimum acceptable performance line has a huge impact on how you frame your conversation with them about the issue.
If they are above the minimum acceptable line and still not quite to the level of performance you would like to see, you will want to frame the conversation in a positive way. You will want to rely heavily on positive feedforward techniques rather than negative feedback techniques. For example, you want to use “In the future, you will get better results if you respond this way” rather than “You ask too many questions.” The latter statement can be useful to set context. It doesn’t really do much to help them improve.
Before you speak with your employee about the behaviors that you want them to improve, evaluate the behaviors against an objective standard rather than against your behaviors and personal desires.
What behavior/result/impact would I expect to observe if they had a positive attitude?
After you have identified where their performance lies compared to a performance standard, you can frame the conversation around achieving better results rather than around improving their attitude.
When you speak with your employee about the specific behaviors or results you expect to see in the future, you improve the odds that the conversation goes in a positive and helpful direction that encourages and supports your team member rather than increasing any sense of hopelessness, helplessness, or feelings of misunderstanding that might be the cause for what you have identified as a “bad attitude.”
Ultimately, you want to avoid the temptation to talk with your employee about their attitude at all. You want to talk about specific behaviors, actions, words, tones, and approaches that will create better personal and organizational results. Take the time to consider these five questions, and you can prepare yourself well for that conversation.