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.
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 behavior—not 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
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