03.27.09 Issue #368 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague
Nancy Haller
Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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How To Fix A Bad Attitude

Ever told an employee s/he needed to “improve their attitude,” only to see nothing change?

The former CEO of the news-headliner company American Insurance Group (AIG) reportedly said that there are only three ways to make a fundamental change in a person's attitude: deep psychotherapy, deep religious conversion and brain surgery. Since it’s unlikely that you’re qualified to apply these methods, how do you fix an attitudinally deficient employee?

First, what exactly is a “bad attitude”?

Most of us know what is meant by the term… kind of, sort of. It’s plastered on motivational posters. Athletes and stage performers are advised to create “positive attitudes.” We use it to describe people who are egotistical and attention-seeking. Perhaps you think it when your assistant is repeatedly late. Then there’s the hygienist who sits and reads People when her patient doesn’t show up. Let’s not forget about the front desk employee who socializes too much with co-workers when the office is extremely busy. All of these behaviors are different but you’re likely to slap the same label of “bad attitude” on each of them.

In truth, “attitude” is a catch-all description of characteristics, behaviors and actions that meet with our disapproval. Unfortunately, although it is a convenient short-hand in communication, the term is judgmental and generally creates defensiveness in the other person.

If you want to have any hope of modifying a person’s behavior, the secret is to focus on objective facts. For example, you really don’t know for sure what kind of attitude Suzie took with Mr. Smith, who has a large account balance. All you truly know is that Mr. Smith complained that he was treated rudely. And even if you witnessed the interaction and agree that Suzie was rude, stick with the actual behavior. What did you actually see her do or hear her say? Perhaps it was her loud tone of voice or negative head shakes. Maybe it was the fact that she continued to interrupt and talk over him.

You’ll increase accountability and improve employees’ performance by sticking to observable actions. In fact, take the word “attitude” out of your vocabulary. It’s futile to use the term. Next, narrow the issue to the exact behavior that reduces patient service or efficient practice productivity. Then describe the impact of the behavior on you.

Here is a revised “change your attitude” conversation you could have with your tardy Assistant.

  1. Describe the situation: “Our office policy is that employees need to arrive 15 minutes before the first appointment of the day and attend the morning huddle.”
  2. Describe the behavior: “Over the last week you have been at least 10 minutes late on three occasions. This meant you missed much of what was discussed in the huddle and you didn’t have time to set up your trays.”
  3. Describe the impact on you: “I felt stressed because it meant I had to wait for you before I could start procedures with several patients. As a result I fell behind in the schedule.”
And instead of telling your hygienist that she’s “lazy,” you might try this:

  1. Situation: “There are times when patients don’t show up or there’s a hole in the schedule.”
  2. Behavior: “I noticed when that happened yesterday at two o’clock, you sat in the staff lounge and read a magazine.”
  3. Impact: “I felt disappointed because there are many things that need to be done in the office. I wish you would help out and find other work when you have an open hour.”

If this type of feedback feels odd, help yourself learn to get comfortable by writing down your thoughts in advance. Rehearse your delivery so it is brief, clear and respectful. The goal is to explain not only what the person is doing that causes concern, but why the situation must be changed.

Being prepared will boost your confidence when you do sit down with the employee. Conduct the conversation in private. Discuss the situation and explain that her/his behaviornot attitude—is causing a problem. Of course it is always wise to listen to the employee’s response, and to ask how you can help to resolve the issue together. Granted, you have no control over another person’s behavior, but, by providing objective feedback to those “bad attitude” employees, you give them a fair chance, and you give yourself the opportunity to lead a stronger team.

Dr. Haller is the Leadership Coach at McKenzie Management. She can be reached at coach@mckenziemgmt.com.

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