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When an employee starts seeming like someone with a bad attitude, you need to start talking about that in your regular one-on-one dialogue with that person. Zero in on the negative behaviors, one at a time:
1. Describe the specific words, format, tone, and gestures.
2. Connect the behavior with tangible work outcomes.
3. Make reference to the performance requirement or best practice from which the negative behavior deviates.
4. Define the replacement behavior that you will use as a specific performance expectation against which to measure the individual’s improvement. Discuss some possible replacement behaviors and then decide on one.
5. Continue to follow up in your ongoing one-on-ones. Pay attention. Monitor, measure and document as best you can. Ask the individual to self-monitor and report to you on progress on a regular basis. Reward success. Do not accept failure.
It is no doubt true that every case is different, especially if one were to really try to understand the inner feelings at the source. The good news is that the inner feelings of each employee are none of your business. Using the outside lens of “communication practices,” we’ve identified in our research the six most common types of individual attitude problems — aberrant communication habits — that have a negative impact in the workplace.
Porcupines want to be left alone with a special vengeance. Their words, tone and gestures all say, “Get away from me!” Your entreaties will be greeted, at best, with a cold, curt response meant to be uninviting of further interaction. Or you might well be received with a stinging word, tone or gesture. After a few times, you are meant to learn to keep your distance.
The opposite of the porcupine is what I call an entangler. Entanglers want everybody else to be involved in their issues, no matter how mundane or idiosyncratic those issues may be. As much as porcupines do not want attention, entanglers want to be noticed, observed, listened to and engaged. Whatever it is that’s going on for the entangler at any given point, the entangler just wants you to share in (or be the audience for) that experience.
If entanglers are into communication that goes nowhere in particular, debaters always speak as if they have an agenda. Sometimes debaters have a very specific interest or constituency whose perspective they seek to represent, seemingly in every conversation at virtually every turn. In other cases, it might be a different issue every day. But it’s always something. The debater always has an argument to make.
Complainers & Blamers
I treat complainers and blamers together because they are such close cousins. The most important thing these characters have in common is that each points responsibility for problems away from himself. Often they work as a sort of tag team: The complainer points out something negative and the blamer jumps in and points a finger at somebody — internal or external.
Some people go as far as making sarcastic (or worse) remarks, cursing under their breath (or aloud), or even making a loud gesture such as slamming a door (or their hands down on a table). This sort of “communication” is basically just a tantrum.