Friday 10 May 2024

Attitudes and Behaviour

Something that often arises in my discussions with leaders and managers is how to address a team member who has a bad or negative attitude.

And whilst I generally take a fairly low-intervention approach to my coaching (see my posts about the Thinking Environment, passim), I do tend to intervene at that point. 

And the point that I make is that we generally have far more success if we focus on behaviour rather than attitude.  There are several reasons for that.

One is that we can't see an attitude: it is always our interpretation of behaviours that we can see (whether that is shouting, or simply a curled lip...). 

Allied to that is the fact that if we start to talk about someone's negative attitude, we risk provoking a very defensive response. On the one hand, our interpretation may be inaccurate, so they feel unjustly criticised; and on the other hand, even if we are accurate, people may feel that what they think is not our business.

Moreover,  people often believe that they can't directly affect their attitude, anyway.

Whereas if we focus on behaviours, there are several advantages.

One is that it is tangible and observable: we can see the curled lip, or hear the shouting. That means we are also able to evaluate and give feedback on any improvement - or the lack thereof.

Secondly, it is much clearer to the individual precisely what we are talking about and also what they need to do to change it.

And further, if someone does consistently change their behaviour in a more positive direction (staying calm when upset, or asking curious questions rather than curling a lip when unsure of another's proposition...) then that also has an impact on their attitude.

And yet, and yet, and yet... what if it really is his attitude I want to change?  That question almost always recurs.  And I refer you to the above answer...

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