Attitude Adjustment: Start with Yourself
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6 Ways to Optimize Performance Through Openness & Accountability

By: Ethan Schutz

In our last installment, we discussed the role of the Behavior Police and the fact that their presence can hinder productivity and have a negative effect on your company culture. Moving forward efficiently requires an alternate approach. Returning to our example of the healthcare organization in the process of launching a new facility, we find the leadership team hiring more and more people. Despite their efforts to bring people together to form real teams, some people didn’t do what was asked and would react negatively when people spoke to them.

Some of the managers began to realize that when they listened to people, they were listening to hear how the other people were wrong and they were right. They wondered how this could be any different. After all, we all have a point of view. Yet it became clear to some of them that it wasn’t working and they began to try other ways to interact. For a while they tried simply listening and saying nothing instead of responding.

This improved the situation somewhat. Complaining went down but problems still weren’t getting sorted out as quickly as wanted. People still shut down or tried to hide things. People’s attitudes were still leaking through even when they said nothing.

Making the Shift from Managing to Inspiring

Managing behavior is the same thing as trying to change other people—a futile task. Consider for yourself, what is your reaction when somebody tries to “change you”? Do you welcome it? Do you like their attitude toward you? Most of us do not.

What is actually true is that we do not motivate people or change their behavior. Rather, we can inspire people. When we are inspired, we do things well because we want to. Our motivation comes from within. To inspire people, we need two things: first, a picture of a future that we like, that is energizing, and that we want to create; second, a situation where we are not fearful and feel that we can cope and demonstrate our competence—in other words, where we can be masterful. With these two, we generally step up and do our very best. We are able to handle problems, challenges, and the unexpected. Because we want to make the vision real, we bring our full energies, creativity, and talent to what we do, rather than having to be “managed.”

Creating a situation where we are not fearful and feel that we can cope and demonstrate our competence, is where attitude becomes crucial. When things are going well, working with others feels easy. Teams are efficient and fun to work in. But the real challenge is when things are difficult or stressful. In those circumstances, negative attitudes create enormous challenges and we tend to revert to what we already know. So, if our past experience is one of fear and viewing other people as incapable, we revert to that attitude very quickly.

With a positive attitude, even challenging situations become much easier. Stress simply becomes additional energy and excitement to be directed toward success, rather than something debilitating. With a positive attitude we are able to deal with each other more effectively. We take responsibility and expect others to take responsibility; we don’t take criticism personally; we listen in order to understand, rather than to refute; we step up and use our skills; we make and keep clear agreements; and we talk directly to one another, rather than creating gossip. With a positive attitude, dealing with people who have negative attitudes also becomes easier.

Attitude is the secret sauce.

What Happens Next?

Returning to our health care company example, the leadership team was making progress and moving toward launch, but not making enough change with the people as they wanted. When people first change their behavior, others are mistrustful. While listening without responding was better than listening and correcting, trust still takes time to build. People could still feel negative attitudes behind people’s behavior and their silence. They wondered if people really wanted to listen to them. When was the other shoe going to drop? Would people really change their attitudes?

In the next installment, we’ll examine the impact of an attitude change over the course of time. Central to this discussion – an understanding of responsibility and blame, two concepts that impact team productivity and company culture.