Crappy Attitudes Don’t Happen in a Vacuum

Crappy attitudes don’t happen in a vacuum. Now grated, some folks just seem to have a perpetually awful attitude, regardless of who or what is around them. They’re consistent curmudgeonly (yes, that’s a real word), and are content to be so.

But most of the time, if there’s a negative vibe, there’s a reason or twelve for it. Attitudes are driven by experiences and beliefs, so when we see or feel that our teams are down, depressed, mad, or whatever else, we have to ask ourselves (and them) why.

Now to clarify: I’m not saying it’s OK to have a horrible attitude every day at work. It’s not. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m a big proponent of folks having positive attitudes. But this isn’t some fantasy land filled with rainbows and unicorns. Things happen, and those things affect people. If that’s you, and there’s stuff bothering you, you need to proactively work through it. You’ve got to work on building legit trust and having healthy, albeit tough, conversations–even conflict–about what’s on your mind. Don’t let it build up to the point where you hate your job, your colleagues, and even your alarm clock for continuing to wake you up every morning to go that workplace you despise.

Further, I’m not at all saying that leaders should be passive when less than stellar attitudes manifest themselves in your employees. That crap spreads, so you need to compassionately but proactively deal with it.

What I am saying is that whether we feel like the attitude is justified or not, and whether we agree with an employee’s complaints or not, we need to think very carefully and humbly about why employees might have the attitude they do. Why do they seem so cynical and jaded? We’re not condoning the attitude here, but we are asking ourselves how the environment and team might be contributing to folks feeling the way they do. What have they experienced that’s led them to think and feel they’re thinking and feeling?

You see, people rarely just get mad for the heck of it. They usually don’t roll their eyes when someone’s talking just for kicks. There’s probably a history there. There’s likely a root issue that’s bubbling to the surface. It could be that they’ve had terrible leadership for years and years and it’s finally worn them out. It could be that they’ve just had a really bad day, and they lost it for a minute. It could be that they’ve had their trust broken over and over again, so now they protect themselves by erecting walls in the form of their attitude and conduct. It could be any number of things, really.

So as leaders, we need to care enough about the organization and our team that we’ll dig into why folks feel the way they do, and challenge ourselves to be humble enough to admit it if it we or the organization has contributed to it.


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