Attitudes, Can They Change

In safety, a big part of our profession involves behavior modification activities. Whether it is from a behavior observation process or from one-on-one conversations, we spend a lot of time reviewing statistical results and/or visually observing behaviors.

I’ll never forget the story my daughter recounted one day. She heard it from a speaker in elementary school. Although the story was most likely not true, it nevertheless painted a picture of what “attitude” is and the impact it can have upon a person.

“ A man finds himself accidently locked in a refrigerated boxcar. Unable to get out, he uses a knife to etch words and phrases onto the wooden floor, such as….”It’s so cold, my body is getting numb” and “I don’t have much longer…” As the hours go by, the man slowly succumbs to death. The next day, the man’s body is discovered. His written records indicate death due to hypothermia, but the physical evidence shows that the temperature never dropped below 50 degrees. If it wasn’t hypothermia that caused his death, then what was it?

If it wasn’t hypothermia that caused his death, then what was it? The answer of course, is his ATTITUDE, plain and simple. He had determined he was going to die and in his mind, there were no other options. This story demonstrates how powerful our attitude can be and how it dramatically alters the outcome of any situation. So what happens when a person’s attitude interferes and affects their behavior? Can a person’s attitude be changed? I think it can. Allow me to explain.

I have always taught that behaviors can be changed and modified through training, accountability, etc. However, the individual controls their attitude. It’s a choice. An individual will bring their own thoughts and feelings to the workplace, as well as their personal viewpoints with them. In fact, Webster dictionary defines attitude as “A feeling or a way of thinking that affects a person’s behavior.” If we take this definition and dissect it, we discover that a person’s attitude is their “way of thinking.” Therefore, if I change their “way of thinking,” I can change their attitude and ultimately their behavior. If we change their behavior, then we can reduce risk and potential injuries.

Attitude is more important than anything else. It is esteemed more than money, your circumstances, your failures or your successes. It is more valuable than your appearance, your talent, or your skill. Your attitude will make or break you. It will determine your ability to succeed in everything you do.

At my company, we hire based on attitude, not necessarily knowledge or ability (although that is very important). I spend a lot of my time teaching our leaders how to identify candidates that possess the right attitude. You see, if a person has the right attitude, then we can teach and train them for almost any position.

I am totally convinced in the phrase that states life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it! Winston Churchill once said, ”Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference.” There is a direct correlation between attitude and behaviors. A person’s behavior is affected by their attitude. An employee will likely do what is required when the supervisor or safety professional is around. But what about the moments when no one is around? A person’s behavior doesn’t dictate their attitude, but their attitude can dictate their behavior.

Can you positively affect a person’s attitude? Absolutely! Here are several things that can make a positive impact on a person’s attitude.

Attitude Awareness– Recognize a person’s attitude (their state of mind). It will determine the approach you take when interacting with them. Using the wrong approach could result in confrontation, rather than a solution. Bad attitudes catch on much quicker than good ones. A person with a bad attitude can affect many people very quickly. Think about it, they are in the work area all the time, interacting with those in their shop, location, etc. Remind employees that attitudes (both positive and negative) are contagious. When addressing the individual’s attitude, place the focus on the behavior instead of their personality traits. ROTTEN ATTITUDES WILL RUIN EVERYTHING! They must be addressed.

Take Responsibility for Your Attitude– Surround yourself with those who are optimistic. You’ve heard the saying, “Bad company corrupts good character.” There is definite truth to this statement. It’s easy to get swept into a mentality that brings about gossip, complaints, and inefficiency. If you make a conscious effort to begin each day with a positive frame of mind, you will be more equipped to handle unforeseen tasks and events. Remember this…a lot goes into an attitude, but a lot more comes out of it! As a leader, this can create success or failure. You own your attitude, be careful.

Be Consistent – Consistency in our decisions, approaches, applications and interactions formulate our credibility. Employees must understand that we are who we are regardless of the situation. You can demonstrate consistency when your yes is a yes and your no is no. Being a consistent leader will help you gain respect and credibility, both of which are essential to changing the attitudes of employees. If your employees consistently chose to not like you, at least there is consistency.

Be Persistent – Persistence creates expectation. If you continue to be persistent in a cause, then I believe you will succeed in that cause. In fact, I believe if you are consistent in your desires, instructions, applications and requirements, you will establish a persistent expectation. Your employees will embrace that expectation. It may take a while, but eventually they will grow weary of fighting and will comply.

As I close, I ask the question again. Can a person’s attitude change? I truly believe it can. There must be willingness and a desire to change, but I believe everyone has that. The key is to figure what triggers the change. When we are aware of an employee’s attitude, we can take necessary steps to accommodate and approach the attitude. I believe we can successfully engage the employee through conversation and achieve desired results. We can also alter a person’s attitudes by taking responsibility for our own. Our positive attitude in the workplace is contagious. In addition, we must be consistent in our approach, thoughts and direction to all employees. Remember, let your yes be a yes, and your no be a no. Lastly, be persistent in your efforts and expectations. Do not waver. As the leader, pursue consistency and establish your expectations.

Attitudes can change. In fact, employees with the right attitudes will exhibit desired behaviors. Those desired behaviors reduce risk and ultimately injuries. The result? A workplace free of injuries, something of which that we all desire.

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