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July 16, 2007


Employees with "bad attitudes" are sometimes expressing something on behalf of the wider system - I'm always wary of pointing the finger at one person who seems to be out of touch. If the "bad attitude" stems from what's happening in the workplace then I tend to view it as a systemic issue that can only be looked at as an organisational context, not one to be split off with the 3Cs (Coach, Counsellor or Consultant)

Accuse someone of having a bad attitude and they are going to defensive. Its all about the behaviours!
Point out someone's behaviours and their consequences and they have nowhere to hide.
For example:
'When you interrupt people in meetings, roll your eyes and avoid making eye contact; people think that you are rude and not much of a team player. They lose patience with you and think that you are not interested in getting the team working well. Some people think that your attitude is poor. What could you do differently?'


Very true words. A new person has been added to our group recently who has been adjusting some behaviors in another team member. I didn't think it could be done! It's making a big difference in the chemistry of the group.

Love the picture,


Agreed, for many people saying someone has a bad attitude is a way to protect themselves for behavior they do not agree with or do not understand. It gives you an excuse for not engaging with this person.

As a manager you have no excuse you have to engage with everybody on your team, simply because you need everybody.

I have come to recognize that the people I find the most difficult to work with, usually have to most to offer. Provided you invest in the relationship. Leadership requires you to take the first step in leaving your assumptions and start open questioning with this person.

Well, I must admit that I forced myself to read beyond the first paragraph, only to discover that by the end of the post, I agreed with one thing:

To say someone has a bad attitude is an EASY way to categorize them and add them to your "have no desire to deal with" problem list.

I can think of situations where I assigned someone to the "bad attitude" honor roll, only to have them turn around at the direction of one of my managers (who actually took a personal interest in them).

This is a great post to tape on my wall so that it will remind me that I can quickly judge, sentence and imprison.

Interesting comments! This is a common and complex issue. I think the bottom line is that we need to focus on specific behaviors and expectations and have the courage to hold people accountable for what matters most.

A basic principle of my supervisory skills training is that you manage the things you can observe, behavior and performance. You do not manage things that are invisible, like attitude or motivation. When you are tempted to say, "That person has a bad attitude," the thing to do, as Lisa has suggested, is ask yourself: "What does he or she do that makes me say they have a bad attitude." Then use your behavior to influence their behavior.

Usually when a supervisor says their employee has a bad attitude, it is usually because they know they did something to cause the employee's attitude. Most people want to get along with their co-workers and supervisors. If your employee is expressing attitude to you, that probably means you mistreated them, or did something unfair. Nothing kills employee morale faster than a toxic supervisor.

This has been very helpful for me in dealing with my current situation. I am a young supervisor for a small office in which most of my subordinates are at least a few years older than me.

I have one employee whom I was previously inclined to label with a "bad attitude," but with some help from my own supervisor and the comments here, I have come to see that there is an unacceptable behavior that provokes me to frustration every time. I realize that these outward behaviors are expressing an inward attitude and I can only work to correct the former, after which I should hope to see an improvement in the latter. Thanks!

I agree to a point. Sure, there are those employees who will respond to a proactive approach regarding their behaviors, and make a change for the better. There are others for whom no amount of discussion, performance improvement ideas, and personal interest will make an iotas worth of difference.

I also think it's a cop-out to assume it's the problem of management (that the person with bad attitude is secondary to "toxic managers"). After all, plenty of employees feel that their showing up to work, punching a timecard, and standing around constitutes a great work ethic. They are in fact the ones who are "toxic" as their lackadaisical attitude can spread like poison throughout the system, and furthermore it will disenchant and frustrate those employees who do take pride in their jobs and work hard. I've had enough of these lazy, rumor-spreading, rude employees. I say to get rid of them, and improve the overall morale of the organization.

What about those on the receiving end of employees with bad attitudes? I guess the answer is to speak to your manager about it. What, then, if the manager has a bad attitude too and is drinking buddies with the troublemaker?

I ask this from experience of working in a poorly managed SME.

Regarding the above, when I spoke to my manager about it, he discussed it with the troublemaker down the pub after work.

I was then bullied and called a grass for several months, until the said employee was dismissed for fraud.

How crazy!

I too am experiencing a poor behavior with an employee. The issue I am having is not with the other employees or customers, but with myself. Any time I give this employee direction, I get that "attitude" from her. She gets very short with me and I can hear in her voice she is not listening to my direction.

The problem is that this employee is a wonderful employee. Customers adore her and she is GREAT with them. I couldn't ask for a better employee when it comes to her work and customer service. The attitude lies with me. I have only recently (within the last few months) noticed the behavior. She has taken to another employee in the building whom I do not manage (her manager is at another location). That other person is constantly yelling at me for one reason or another and I am afraid she has had an affect on my employee. I have spoken to my supervisor about the other person, but nothing has been done about her, so I am trying to deal with keeping the non-subordinate happy so my employees remain happy. It seems to be a vicious cycle.

What, if any, pointers could you give?

Andrew - I have known many managers who have the immaturity you describe. That's what it is, a lack of understanding and ownership of what management is and the professional lines managers ought not cross. These managers teach us that the best approach is to not say anything to them that they could use against us - which is very unfortunate!

Darcy: Yours is an interesting situation and I applaud you for being, on balance, open about the strengths of the employee. Have you tried having an open conversation with her? You might say that you have seen that she communicates with a very positive tone to customers and other team members and have also observed that her tone seems to change when talking with you. Ask her if she is upset with you or if you have said anything that has caused this change.

There are at least two possible reasons for her treatment of you. First, you might be right that this other person is impacting her perceptions. Second, you might be managing in a way that she does not like.

A broader issue, though, is that I wonder why it is OK for people to yell at each other where you work. This type of work environment is bound to create stress and friction.

I am as well a young manager in a small medical clinic, I have one employee up under me. She has only been employeed for about two months. I am new at managing i havent been a manager just short of a year, i have had two othr employees that did not work out from unproductivity and unmotivated issues. My new employee has a "bad attitude" problem after reading this i have made the mistake this afternoon by explaining to her that her attitude was unexceptable. That it comes across very dissrepectful for instance when I asked her a question she ran off with haughtyness slaming chairs up front. A customer of our noticed the behavior (so to say) and picked up on it. Which was bad in our profession. Everything I do is wrong to her i feel, If i read something and make corrections or get an opinion from my supervisor about somehting she ahd worked on (not necessaraly an opinion of my employees work) but advice on a protocol were working on or a project and I had a question. She goes on the defense and tell me she doesnt appreciate when i try to so say "take over" but i do not feel as if im taking over and there are other instances i am documentiong everything that i can or rember to bc i am working as well as what ive heard called a "player manager" please help if ou can im reading up on this bc it has become a problem. I need to handle this effectivly to prove i cna do this and for harmony in my work place. thanks for advice!!

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