Friday, June 08, 2012

Overcoming Bad Attitudes At Work

Here’s a short, snappy, quirky YouTube video on overcoming bad attitudes at work. It’s a sensible approach given it’s less than a minute.

You’ll often hear people in the workplace comment about others, “Oh, they’ve got a good / bad attitude.” A mental model I see used a lot in leadership and supervisor training is that of the iceberg. The tip of the iceberg, the only part visible above the waterline is a tiny proportion of the mass of the iceberg as a whole. (Just watch the movie ‘Titanic.’  Spoiler Alert! – It’s really loooong. The movie and the iceberg.)

The tip of the iceberg is behaviour – what people say and do. That is observable. That’s all you can see or hear. You can’t see ‘Attitude.’ You can only see behaviour. Underlying that behaviour is attitude, underlying that are feelings and underlying those are beliefs. Each subsequent layer takes up a greater proportion of the iceberg but gets decreasingly visible.

As a leader in the workplace, it’d be great if you had the time and ability to influence beliefs and feelings for the better with a view to generate better behaviours over the long-term but the further down the iceberg you go, the greater the challenge. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, although with beliefs there are some times when it’s inappropriate. You do need to stop first and work out if it’s worth the effort. As a baseline, you ultimately should be primarily concerned over observable behaviour in the workplace.

A case I came across in one workplace was that of an fifty-something man supervised by a barely-twenty-something woman. The situation was coloured (pun intentional) by racial / cultural issues too. Long-story-short, he was generally perfectly capable at his job but acted in a hostile manner towards her. Her supervisory performance was more than competent.  You can try to change the sexist beliefs of one person in a particular workplace. Good luck. You should definitely try but it probably aint gonna happen. Beliefs like that are at the foundation level of the iceberg. You’re a team leader or manager, you’re not a shrink. But you absolutely must target and manage the observable behaviours that reflect any sexist attitude.

If you do ever succeed in genuinely changing someone’s truly bad attitude, you are allowed to stand at the pointy end of your workplace and shout, “I’m the king of the world!” (Just be wary of what happened to the last guy who did that…)

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