Winner, Loser, or Also-ran? How Attitude Defines You

Attitudes reveal us—what we value, how we think, and what we’re after. They’re the stuff of statements like:

  • “With an attitude like that he’ll be an obstacle on our project?”
  • “We don’t need a supervisor with an attitude like hers?”
  • “I can’t give him a good rating with that attitude.”

People observe our attitudes and then define us through their own attitude-shaded lens. Like it or not, we’re locked in an inexorable cycle of labeling.

Attitudes revealed

Attitude is defined as either a positive or hostile disposition or state of mind. Our feelings, thoughts, and points of view form our attitudes.

No matter how we come by them, attitudes become features like traits and characteristics that can work for or against career success.

We live in a fast-and-loose labeling world. There are labels for everyone in every profession and walk of life.

Politicians will label you as a conservative, liberal, moderate, progressive, or independent even if your viewpoints don’t fit their label for every issue.

At work, you’re put into attitude boxes like team player, go-getter, troublemaker, or bullier even when your attitudes are situation based.

Attitude labels stick, so we need to understand how we’re attracting them and how to turn them around when they’re a liability.

Look at yourself

Your attitude is the one thing in life that you always control. So if you’re displaying attitudes that are causing you problems you don’t want, change!

Start with some self-appraisal:

  • Make a list of the positive and negative words being used by others to define your attitude.  (Reread your last two performance appraisals for insights. Listen closely to what your boss and peers are saying to or about you.)
  • Next to each word, write 3 situations where you remember doing or saying something that triggered it. (If you can’t remember, ask a trusted coworker or your boss for help.)
  • Talk to a family member or friend about how you come across in certain circumstances. Chances are your attitudes show up in you personal life too.

Commit to an attitude management plan:

  • Identify actions you will take to retain positive attitude labels and fix the negative ones.
  • Identify triggers that bring out your negative attitudes and how you will manage your actions and words when they appear.
  • Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your commitment to improving attitudes that need work.
  • Share your plan for change and solicit your boss’s support. Be as specific as practical.
  • Make good on your plan by sticking with it.

The harsh reality is that attitude is more important to career success than talent. No one wants to work with a gifted leader or technician with a bad attitude. Good results are more likely to come from those with average talent who are happy working together.

The consequences of inaction

Negative attitude labels that go uncorrected can crush a career. Winners showcase can-do attitudes, collaboration, courage, and trustworthiness, even in the heat of battle.

The also-rans (ah, yes, another label) are those who go unnoticed. Their attitudes are often unrevealed, other than their willingness to just go along with what’s asked. They don’t make waves and they don’t progress much either.

Employees with negative attitudes often resist direction, find fault with all decisions, bully co-workers, and/or obstruct progress. They perceive they’re winning when their careers are actually in free-fall.

When our attitudes are on display, observers reinforce the labels they’ve assigned to us, until one day their labels have replaced our names. We become known as the:

  • Obstructionist or Problem Child
  • Hard-ass or Power Monger
  • Team Player or Advocate

Negative labels can be dangerous. Just watch a political campaign and see how labels about what a candidate believes are turned into weaponry through name-calling and pigeonholing.

You need to protect yourself from unfair attitude labeling by renewing efforts to manage your attitudes effectively. If where you work doesn’t fit your nature, do the smart thing: Employ attitudes that serve you positively each day while you take steps to make a career change. You can do this!

Photo from Ayleen Gaspar via Flickr