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Set the latitude for someone with bad attitude

Posted in Careers, Mentor Minute

Set the latitude for someone with bad attitude

Globe and Mail Careers Section, C2, Wednesday June 11, 2008

THE SCENARIO

I’m a human resources manager and have to have a difficult conversation with somebody over their attitude. How can I make this as gracious as possible while still getting the company’s concerns across clearly?

Attitude is everything, isn’t it? There is nothing worse than working with people, or receiving service from someone who has a bad attitude. And, unfortunately, bad attitudes seem to abound in businesses.

No matter what kind of business you are in, having employees with a positive attitude is fundamental to your company’s success. This is critical to remember as you craft a strategy to have the conversation.

CONTROL YOUR OWN ATTITUDE

If you go into a meeting girding for a battle, chances are you will get one. This expectation for a fight will be reflected in how you show up: Your stomach will tighten, your shoulders may get tense, your voice will rise, and your face may look stern. And your audience will sense the tension and will match it involuntarily. Then, a battle ensues.

But you can control it so it doesn’t get confrontational. You have to make the choice before you go in. If you approach things expecting the conversation to be easy and calm, this will change your physiology. Your shoulders would be more relaxed, your tone of voice would be normal, and your face would show concern and compassion. In turn, the person sitting across from you will be more inclined to match your energy.

If and when the person responds with anger or attitude, it is up to you not to go there. Remove the emotion from it. Control your reaction (take a deep breath, count to five slowly, hold your tongue) and you can maintain that higher vision of creating a smooth and gracious process.

BE CLEAR ABOUT THE IMPACT

Let the person know that his or her attitude is not working, and the impact it is having on fellow employees. Is the person bringing others down? Creating mutiny within the team? Hindering his or her own advancement because of a bad attitude?

Then let the person know what the expected attitude is and perhaps even the adjectives that describe it in your organization – it may be energetic, fun and outgoing in one organization, and calm, trustworthy, and thoughtful in another.

MOVING AHEAD

This may be an opportunity to look at your HR practices to make sure you are hiring the right people in the first place.

There is also an opportunity to figure out in advance how you will handle the inevitable difficult or potentially confrontational conversations that are a part of doing business. Have a strategy in place beforehand to make these conversations easier.

You also could consider creating a mentoring relationship with someone who has a fantastic attitude to help the person learn what is expected.

No business can afford to keep employees who have a bad attitude. Decide what your policy is if they can’t or are unwilling to change.

Katie Bennett is head coach of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.

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