What do we mean when we say “that guy’s got attitude!” Or “don’t give me attitude!” We don’t exactly know why and how, right? But we do know it’s a convenient term to use when we reprimand someone for poor performance.

He may be lazy, unmotivated, distracted, disheartened or simply running around like a headless chicken but the most common description is “poor attitude”.

Thus far, you still can’t put your finger onto what attitude means, right?

Well, for one, it is a term so loosely used to describe work performance that it has evolved and infused into describing personality and character.

If we talk about laziness it is a byproduct of a careless attitude, an attitude formed as a result of multiple influences. These influences are from environment (a non-conducive working environment where most just watch the clock) and circumstances (lack of tool/equipment or leader to provide direction). Then, the attitude of couldn’t care less at work is formed. There is of course the possibility, that his attitude is a part of his upbringing as well.

If we want to define attitude academically it would be an expression or opinion towards an event, a person or a task, be it favourable or unfavourably depending on how it relates to the person’s interest.

For instance, if an employer who has had a few bad experiences with his young staff such as no-show for work, reluctant to do long hours and lack focus, he is likely to view young employees rather unfavourably.

He might become so stern and close-minded to them that may border on being irrational or is reluctant to hire any more young workers. And, because the experience had caused him inconvenience and frustration his attitude formed is stronger as opposed to if he had heard about this from his friends.

It is important to know how attitudes are formed before we can begin to rebuild them. Often attitudes are born out of experiences that will dictate the behaviour and eventually may even influence a person’s cognitive self.

If the employer, from his encounter with the young employees, is disappointed, he would not cut them any slack, he would not listen and respect their opinion and would end up believing that all young employees are unreliable.

There are also instances where attitudes are formed as a defensive mechanism to preserve self. Whether it is to manage one’s expectation from the bosses or to avoid feeling as an odd man out, you adapt so that you are accepted by the group.

In this instance, the behaviour coming from this person will not be able to give an accurate assessment of his personality. He may be an open and accepting person but because his colleagues show resentment towards foreign workers he may display the same behaviour. So his attitude here may not be reflective of who he really is.

Another common example of defensive attitude is to hear supervisors complain about workers’ negative attitude; that the workers always run down an idea or project without even trying. This behaviour is typical of a person who has not experienced success either owing to lack of skill or direction.

In every company there are bound to be some lackadaisical staff who feel that “anything I do wouldn’t make a difference anyway” and display an attitude that spells lack of ownership in their job. Failing to address this can hamper team building efforts.

A person’s attitude serves to reconcile his inner feelings or emotions with the world around him, whether it’s at home or with his social environment. Training alone cannot help this. He needs counselling to help this reconciliation effort.

To begin changing this attitude, it would require looking at his verbal and non-verbal expressions (such as what’s written on his T shirt, his tattoos if any, the books he reads and his hobby). This can precede efforts to change his mindset with an experience that can help rebuild the attitude.

Also, we have found that the best way to change a person’s’ mindset is through collective positive reinforcement. A consistent and agreed upon set of work values and behaviour across the organisation helps to clarify mindsets. Rewarding such behaviour then forms the foundation towards encouraging positive behaviour as part of the culture.

And finally, leaders play an important role. Most are usually quick to point out faults but hardly ever review their own behaviour towards subordinates or peers that creates laziness or lackadaisical behaviours. Constant nagging, being dismissive about ideas or being disdainful are all great catalysts of bad behaviours.

All these vary according to circumstances and environment. Share with us your experiences in creating a positive mindset in the comment space below and we can discuss about it.