Boy, it feels good to say that.

Unfortunately, whether you’re saying it to your surly, rebellious teenager or an employee who’s poisoning your work environment, you will get absolutely nowhere telling somebody they’ve got a bad attitude.

If the person in question is any good at verbal sparring (and a lot of unpleasant people are), they’ll simply come back with … more attitude:

“No, I don’t!”
“Yes you do.”
“Do not!”
“Do so.”

Somebody who’s really good will say, “You’re the one with the bad attitude, not me.” At that point, they’ve got you pinned to the floor. Sure you could fire them, but that’s hardly the win-win that effective managers are looking for.

You’ll never turn around an employee with an attitude problem this way, because “attitude” is something that goes on inside their head. And you don’t get to tell someone what’s in their own head.

What you do get to tell them is what you see: behavior. You’re on solid ground when you talk about what they do instead of how they think.

Example:

“John, in today’s meeting you were argumentative and disruptive.” (Those are behaviors.)
“No I wasn’t.” (Of course he’ll still push back.)
“John, four people came to my office and said that you completely derailed the discussion and wasted their time.” (Those are facts.)
“I don’t see why.” (He’s trying to change the subject. Don’t even respond to it.)
“John, two of them said they refuse to attend a meeting with you ever again.” (More facts.)
“Really?” (John’s out of diversions.)

You get the idea. Describe the behaviors in vivid but accurate detail. Arm yourself with facts that back up what you’re saying. Never even use the word “attitude.”

photo credit: Richard.Fisher

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