Should I Be Worried About Attitude Complaint?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about attitude:

I work for a copying company, making copies and doing other clerical tasks for a law firm for the past 5 years. The firm is very pleased with my work, as I have gotten good raises over the years and enjoy positives reviews. One minor issue has raised its head again and again, and that is my attitude (I am not as pleasant as they would like me to be and not as social as I should be). It has not affected my raises or is even mentioned in my reviews. I have been asked to work on this issue, and I have. I heard nothing for 5 months, and thought the issue was settled. Seems it was not, as my supervisor at the copy company told me that is was again brought up in a meeting with the law firm client. My supervisor at the copy company wants me to meet with the law firm client every month, so I can know if there is any behavior he needs me to work on. At this point, I am wondering two things: Why the client has not asked for my removal as this has been such a problem for them over the past 5 years, and if it is better for all concerned that I find another job?

Signed, Wondering

Dear Wondering:

Well over half the letters we receive involve frustration over the perceived attitudes of co-workers, bosses or employees. Those perceived attitudes are based on behaviors. So, an important element for you is: What is the behavior you are exhibiting that is a cause of irritation or frustration? If you can identify that specifically, you can choose to change it or not. “Working on it” is rarely good enough. And, most problem behaviors at work can be changed immediately if the employee truly wants to do it–assuming they have the mental and emotional capacity required.

Based on the messages we receive and my experiences in working with people in workplaces, the behaviors that seem to cause the most problems are these: Insensitivity to the results of one’s actions on the feelings of others, being argumentative, acting surly or overly curt, sarcasm, belittling facial expressions and comments, anger and harsh words, failure to cooperate or comply when either is appropriate, a dismissive attitude as though the other person’s thoughts aren’t important, failure to respond appropriately to courtesy or expressions of friendliness, quirkiness that creates interpersonal barriers, and mockery of others in obvious or subtle ways.

You’ll notice every behavior on that list involves people feeling that the other person thinks negatively of them. We can forgive someone for being syrupy sweet, painfully shy, lacking in confidence, ignorant, or socially inept. But when someone acts as though they do not value us or our opinions, or our existence–THAT we can’t forgive easily and our hostility grows.Sadly, as perhaps is your case, some employees who are otherwise skillful, are lacking in the behaviors that we think of as showing a “good attitude.” That is, they aren’t sensitive, caring of others, cooperative, good team members, cheerful and courteous, good workplace citizens, positive about work and the organization, and easy to work with and be around.

Dr. Gorden would use the term WEGO to describe that kind of behavior. It is, in part, taking personal responsibility for having a positive, effective, workplace environment for everyone.Having said all that, I can perhaps answer your questions! First, you ask why the client has not asked for your removal if your behavior has been a problem for the last five years. The truth is, there are some horrid acting people who keep their jobs, because employers hate the hassle of dealing with them! It is also true that sometimes, if someone is a productive employee otherwise, there is a hope that their behaviors will improve if they are told about problems. That apparently happened in your case.

However, at some point even good employees become more trouble than they are worth. Just this week a man I know lost his job of ten years as a graphic designer. He was shocked when they fired him, even though they had warned him, hinted and joked, and suggested repeatedly, for 9.9 years. Finally they decided no one was good enough to offset the negative aspects he brought to work every day.

The complete picture of good work is more than productivity and efficiency. It includes all the things described above that help keep a workplace running smoothly and with the least unpleasantness for everyone. It may be that you have done very good work in one area, and that has been enough to make other things seem tolerable. But like every relationship, after awhile even little irritants become too much to tolerate. That may be happening in your case.You also ask if it is better for all concerned for you to find another job. No, I don’t think it is–but that is my outsider’s opinion. You have a chance here to show what you are made of as a person. Assuming you are a mature person who is able to use your strengths and find solutions for your areas of need at work, you can use this situation to show that, however you have behaved, what others may perceive is not the essential you.

I don’t know how you are perceived by others, but if you are mentally and emotionally strong, you can be someone others are happy to see and work with, and glad to have as part of the team. That doesn’t mean you have to be saintly, gregarious or the workplace cheerleader all the time. The other people you work with likely aren’t perfect either! But it may mean you will have to act in ways that are not habitual or comfortable for you right now, or that require you to censor some behaviors and show some others.If you can do that, you not only will keep this job and be more appreciated in it, you will build a better foundation for future jobs–and likely will be better to get along with in other settings too! You can bet the traits that have created friction at work are present in other things you do, just as your good qualities transfer from one setting to another. I often remind people of the old adage: No one owns your attitude, but your paycheck rents your behavior. That is all that is being asked of you–to do the job you were hired to do, behaving as you know your employers prefers. If you don’t know it already, you should ask your supervisor, or your contact in the client’s organization, for the following:What about my work and behavior do you want to see stay the same? What would you like me to do less of? What would you like me to do more of? What would you like me to never do again? What would you like to me to always do, starting now?That will take some humility, because you might be talking to someone you don’t necessarily feel very good about for one reason or another. But at least you will be showing a good faith effort to conform. (A nasty word to some people, but a fact of life about work expectations!)Then, you can decide if it is worth doing those things to keep your job. If you simply feel you cannot make the changes, you can move on and hope to find a job where your style is a better fit. But, if you think the changes seem reasonable and you can make them, you will have gained far more than job security–you’ll have shown the character and personal resolution you likely want others to see in you.I hope these thoughts have been helpful. Best wishes as you decide how you want to respond to this challenge.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.