The People Pro

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Location: Small town, Northern Wisconsin

Barbara is an author, speaker and psychotherapist in private practice. She provides keynote presentations and is a Certified Professional Speaker, a designation held by fewer than 8% of the speakers in the world. She has appeared on FOX, CNN, and CBS and is considered an expert in relationships.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hire For Attitude, Train For Skill

“I just don’t understand why everyone at work is complaining about me,” a woman in my office whined, “The same thing happened at my last job too.” Though she could not see the cause/effect of her actions, it was clear she was alienating people in the workplace. The most likely reason? Her attitude.

Attitude is everything to personal and professional success. It colors our vision of how we see the world and other people. Attitude affects our beliefs and our behavior. It impacts teamwork, customer relations, motivation and the ability to deal with change. Attitude makes the difference between a pleasant working environment and a place we dread to go.

We all know a “bad” attitude when we experience it, and perhaps, on occasion, we have one ourselves. But, successful people make a conscious effort for attitude adjustment when theirs is sub par. They also avoid “energy suckers,” people with pessimistic attitudes that suck the life out of a sunny day.

Unfortunately, I have never had any success “adjusting” someone else’s attitude. I learned early in my management experience that it was easier to teach new skills than it was to change attitudes. To find employees with great attitudes, the following guidelines for hiring and staff development are helpful:

  • The best you will ever see is the first 90 days. If you have problem with an employee while they are still on probation, you might as well cut bait. After all, this is the time that they presumably have their best foot forward. At best, they are poor performers, at worst; they have poor judgment (even harder to correct than attitude).
  • If they complain about the last boss, they will complain about you too. Exercise great caution in hiring someone who has nothing good to say about his or her last boss or last position. It may be more about them than their employment. In fact, it might always be someone else’s fault. People who blame are very hard to coach.
  • Are they an optimist or pessimist? Ascertain how they appear to see the world. Pessimistic people tend to be energy suckers in the workplace and can breed an institutional pathology that pulls others into their negative energy. Are they able to find the bright side of difficult situations?
  • Do they demonstrate personal insight and a commitment to their development? Those committed to an ongoing program of self-improvement are much more coachable and willing to learn new skills and behaviors. Ask in the interview what areas may need improvement. Inquire about the details of the candidate’s personal plan for development.
  • Are they coachable? How receptive to feedback do they seem to be? It’s easy to assess in an interview; offer them some suggestions regarding their resume. If they are quick to disagree, defend, or actually become huffy, they are not likely to welcome your input on more significant matters.
  • Do they listen? You can forget all of the above if the potential employee is not a good listener. They will have performance problems, people conflict and difficulty receiving feedback. Evaluate their ability to understand more than what they simply hear. Listening is an active process that blends patience with understanding.

    Attitude is a critical factor for success and the one we have the most control over. As Earl Nightingale once said, “Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.”