Managing Intangible Problems Like a Bad Attitude
February 02, 2009
Sometimes managers will say to me the most difficult problems they have with employees often are intangible problems, like a bad attitude. How do you manage an employee out of a bad attitude? Well, Step 1 is never tell a person with a bad attitude they have a bad attitude, because you will see that bad attitude get a whole lot worse, fast. But see, what you have to do is, you have to describe the behavior in the ordinary course of managing the person.
So, instead of saying “Yesterday you were in a terrible mood and that was uncomfortable for everyone” (that would be naming the behavior), you say something like, "Gee, yesterday at 9:13 a.m. you came through the front door, but you didn’t hold onto the door handle. I know that for sure because you flung the door out of your hand swiftly, and it made a crashing noise against the back wall.
And then after you came through the door, I know you pushed the door very hard again because it made a smashing noise when it closed. And then as you were walking to your desk, I think you must have been lifting your knees up very high and dropping your feet on the carpet very abruptly because it was making a loud thudding sound with each step you took all the way until you got to your desk. Then when you sat down at your desk, I think you must have raised your hands up very high and brought them down very abruptly because you made a loud slapping sound on the desk and I heard you say in a loud voice, ‘This place sucks!’
“Now you see, that’s not helpful to our workplace for the following reasons: It makes it uncomfortable for people to interact with you. In fact there were a lot of people yesterday who really needed to ask you questions and get your help with things but they didn’t want to approach you because all of that behavior made them feel uncomfortable. And so that’s bad. So here’s what I want you to do tomorrow. Remember, we start at 9 o’clock, so instead of coming in thirteen minutes late, I’d like you to come in at 8:59. And when you walk through the door, I want you to squeeze the door handle tightly so it doesn’t fly out of your hand. And as you walk through, I want you to switch your hand to the other side of the door and grab the door knob on the other side and squeeze it tight, and then push gently until the door makes a soft clicking sound.”
“Then, when you walk to your desk, I’d like you to walk heel-toe, heel-toe, without lifting your knees up high, so that your steps are very quiet and don’t make a loud thudding sound. When you get to your desk, put your hands down softly on your desk, and if you have a burning need to say something derogatory about this office, I want you to bite the back of your tongue on the right side and if that doesn’t help, try saying something like, ‘Pins and needles, needles and pins, a happy man is a man who grins.’ OK, that’s what I would like you to do tomorrow. Are you with me? Are you sure? Let’s write that down.”