What’s your opinion about people who are always late versus early for work? How do you value a college diploma versus a university degree? Why do you so dislike carrots versus broccoli as a favourite food? And why did you go ahead and purchase a white coloured Nissan car versus blue coloured car from a competitor? Believe it or not, your answers will be influenced by attitude. In fact, all of your beliefs and your behavior reflects your attitude. Yet, most of us don’t think very much about what exactly attitude is and how we acquire it. Nor do we think about how our attitude influences how we think, believe and act. But attitude does indeed influence us and it is visible for all to see.
So, what exactly is attitude? Attitude is all about how we evaluate people, issues, objects, and events in our life. It determines how we act towards any of these elements. Attitude incorporates emotional, cognitive and behavourial components that lead us to hold a positive, negative, uncertain or neutral view of something. As well, our attitude can also be conscious or unconscious. When we are conscious of our attitude, we absolutely know how it impacts our beliefs and behavior. On the other hand, some people are not consciously aware of their attitude nor are they aware of how their attitude impacts their beliefs and behavior nor how others perceive them. Unfortunately, this lack of self-awareness can lead to behavioural issues in the workplace which in turn will impact on personal destiny, educational and career success.
Yet, just how do we develop our attitude? Psychologists will tell you that attitude is not genetic, but rather it’s “learned”. And this learning starts within the family environment, followed by the influence of our schools and then the society in which we live. It’s learned by copying people who are important to us be it parents, siblings, teachers, religious leaders, bosses or coworkers. In other situations, especially with social issues such as smoking, an individual might try out a behavior and if it was rewarded rather than punished, the behavior might continue. Attitude can also be influenced by powerful and persuasive communication and/or some sort of dramatic demonstration.
Just as we strive to assist students to overcome a negative attitude in the school system, managers can also assist individuals to overcome negative attitudes in the workplace. The following strategies for change are deemed to be effective.
A Learning approach
Changing a negative attitude and adopting a new attitude can be successfully achieved through learning. The strategy is to help the individual identify the “disconnect” between his/her behavior and a stated attitude. A good example is an individual who speaks highly about environmentalism yet drives a gas guzzler car. When the discrepancy is pointed out, the individual will feel uncomfortable and will strive to reduce the discomfort, hopefully by changing their behavior.
1. Communicate persuasively. With this approach, someone can present new information that helps an individual to agree with the observations and/or the conclusions. Following this, point out the contradictions with the observed behavior and the new information to which they have agreed. When the individual recognizes the “disconnect”, they will be motivated to change their attitude and their behavior. Be sure to be strategic in choosing the right time and right place and offer brief, factual information to convince the listener.
2. Reward and reinforce. As with young students, adults can be encouraged to adopt new attitudes through reward and reinforcement. Take time to identify a concrete reinforcement that would specifically support the desired attitude. For instance, send an employee to a conference for a learning experience and have them prepare a presentation to colleagues upon return.
3. Take a social approach to change. Invite speakers into the workplace to provide background and information that support the new desired attitude. Actively engage participants so that learning is experiential. Since people will adapt in order to belong, arrange to have the individual engage with a different social group in order to understand different values, beliefs and attitudes and to test out how to gain belonging to this group.
4. Select a role model. Role modeling is a powerful social process to changing attitude and behavior because individuals will want to emulate the behavior of the role model. Select a leading figure with status and reputation in the community and who exemplifies the behavior you are seeking.
5. Build consensus. Changing attitudes through group process is also effective. Arrange for group of individuals to help them understand the behavioural issues and then create a vision and a goal to change behavior and attitude. Allow everyone time to express their opinion, bring all areas of resentment and reservation to light and discuss at length. Finally, get consensus on a broad statement and begin to move forward.
While managers need to play a key role in helping employees change negative attitudes and behaviours, the bigger responsibility lays with the individual. The following are some suggestions for taking personal responsibility and being accountable for your own behavior.
6. Act and speak with purpose. Before you make any comment and/or take any action, determine how this behavior will serve your greater goal as well as how it will be perceived by others. Take time to look back on your behavior and actions, take responsibility for failure or rejection and always be open on adapting ways to improve.
7. Choose the right company. In a global world such as today, choosing the right company means being comfortable in as many different group settings as possible. Reach out and befriend new people as a means to explore, understand and accept different cultures, beliefs and values. Be open minded. Take a learning approach.
8. Question yourself. Each of us has cognitive blind spots that make it hard to self-evaluate. However, be introspective and ask how your behavior or attitude has contributed to a situation you are concerned about. As yourself where your attitude came from and what purpose it serves you today. Is this attitude working for you? If not, ask what attitude is more effective and how can you adopt this new way of thinking?
9. Take ownership for your mistakes. Denying a mistake is nothing other than unproductive behavior. Acknowledge your mistakes; analyze and learn from the mistakes instead of making excuses. Be confident in stepping up and rectifying your mistake in the best interests of all involved.
There is no doubt that our attitude influences how we think, believe and act and it impacts in the perception others have of us. In fact, as John N. Mitchell said, “Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.”
Source: Shaping Beliefs and Attitudes, J. Howard Johnson, Ph.D., University of Florida, nd.