The Four Deadly Attitudes

You can’t afford the luxury of a negative attitude.

There’s a debate going on in the academic world. Some people say attitudes are “caught” while others say they’re “taught.” In reality, both camps are right. Attitudes can spread through a workplace like wildfire, but people can also learn to build and maintain a positive attitude. That’s what my upcoming book is all about.

Unfortunately, there are too many workplaces where bad attitudes prevail. And they often start with the bad attitude of the boss or another employee.

One of my clients, for example, has a team of seven people — the boss, five positive employees, and one negative employee. “Joe,” the negative employee is often absent from work or tardy to work. He complains a great deal and makes way too many mistakes with the customers. In fact, “Joe” is hurting their business, but the boss doesn’t seem to get it.

At least she didn’t seem to get it until I reported a conversation that went on between two of her other employees. One of them said, “I spent half the morning straightening out the mess Joe made on that computer program. I’m getting sick and tired of doing his work for him.” And the coworker responded, “Me too. I used to like working here, but I don’t think the boss even cares anymore. If she did, she would do something about Joe. And if the boss doesn’t care, I’m sure not going to knock myself out.”

Until I pointed this out, I’m not sure the boss understood the price she was paying for the bad attitude of one employee. The attitude was spreading, and the cost of that one attitude was showing up in lots of places.

Attitudes aren’t as “soft” as you might think. According to Sue Shellenbarger in the “Wall Street Journal,” good or bad attitudes definitely affect the bottom line. That’s why places such as Sears Roebuck base a portion of their executives’ long-term bonuses on employee attitudes. Their research showed that if employee attitudes improved by a mere 5% on ten factors, customer satisfaction jumped 1.3% and revenues rose by 0.5%.

That being the case, I would suggest there are 4 deadly attitudes you’ve got to avoid or eliminate. They’ll hurt you and your business big time. And if you see any of these 4 attitudes in your workplace, you’ve got some work to do.

Deadly Attitude #1: “I don’t have to do anything about the bad attitudes of my coworkers.”

No, you don’t have to do anything — if you don’t care about your productivity or profitability. You can ignore it. You can let a known negative situation fester until it affects more and more of your employees and customers. And it will.

You will lose the loyalty, respect, and best efforts of your coworkers. You will lose the good, word-of-mouth advertising of your customers. And you will learn that one bad apple truly does spoil the bushel.

David M. Fellman of David Fellman & Associates suggests a counteracting attitude. Tell yourself, “When problems arise, I’ll solve them.” And then go ahead and do it. He’s right.

Deadly Attitude #2: “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.”

Two very negative things happen as a result of this attitude. A few people end up doing most of the work, and the others simply let them.

It makes a lot more sense to pursue the attitude of “Teach, trust, and tap.” Teach them how to do it. Trust them to do it. And tap them on the shoulder. In other words, tap them on the shoulder once in a while, holding them accountable for the quality of their work.

Of course it will take more time in the short run, but you will save time in the long run. You won’t have to do it all yourself. Give them the authority and the training to do it. And as Admiral James B. Stockdale said, “Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away.”

Deadly Attitude #3: “You can’t find good help these days.”

If that’s what you believe, then that’s what you’ll get. You’ll start off with despondency, and you’ll end up with despondency.

On top of that, you’re spreading a terribly negative attitude around the workplace. If you’re saying you can’t find good help, does that mean your present help isn’t very good? It’s a clear message of disrespect.

The truth is you can find good help if you’re patient and careful in hiring — and if you’re willing to pay premium wages for premium people. Leo Rosten says, “First-rate people hire first-rate people; second-rate people hire third-rate people.”

And John Gardner, known for his writings on excellence, says, “When hiring key employees, there are only two qualities to look for.” Those qualities, he says, are, “judgment and taste. Almost everything else can be bought by the yard.”

A much better attitude would be, “I’ll do what it takes to hire the best, and I’ll train my coworkers to be their best.” Let everyone else work for your competitors.

Deadly Attitude #4: “Everyone wants something for nothing.”

The absolute worst thing that can happen in any business is to operate without respect for your customers. And if you hold attitude #4, you’ll begin to see your customers as the enemy.

And when you see your customers as the enemy, your comments will begin to sound that way. You may not even notice it, but your customers will. They’ll hear the negativity creeping into your comments.

To avoid this deadly mistake, use the “grandma test” recommended by Jeff Gitomer in the Houston Business Journal. Add “Grandma” to the end of some typical comments or answers to customer questions. For example, “What’s this about, Grandma?..This register is closed, Grandma…That’s our policy, Grandma…I can’t help you with that, Grandma…I’m off-duty, Grandma.”

Ask yourself if that’s something you would say to your grandmother or anyone’s grandmother. Is it something your grandmother would want to hear? If your answer is “yes,” it’s probably all right to say it. If not, you shouldn’t be saying it to your customers.

Get rid of your “everyone-wants-something-for-nothing” attitude. Replace it with a more positive attitude, that “Everyone wants more for their money, and I’m going to stand out among all of my competitors and give it to them.”

In the military, there’s a time-honored tradition called the “attitude adjustment.” Do you need one? Does your organization need one? It’s more than a “nice” thing to do. In today’s tough world, it may be a matter of life and death.

Which of the four deadly attitudes are most prevalent in your workplace? Make it a topic of discussion for your next team meeting.

Action:  Once you’ve identified it, decide by consensus on the three actions you’ll take to kill off that attitude. Decide on the new attitude you will adopt and how you will reinforce it.