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Last Updated on March 11, 2020

How to Turn a Bad Attitude into a Positive One

How to Turn a Bad Attitude into a Positive One

These days, the phrase “bad attitude” gets thrown around quite often. You use it regularly and barely stop to think what it actually means. It’s just the nail technician has some bad attitude when you asked her to redo your toes. Your younger sister has a bad attitude when you offered her to put her phone down while you are having a conversation. Your boss has a bad attitude because the deal did not go through.

With the ease that the label “bad attitude” gets applied these days, it is unlikely that you catch yourself saying “I have a bad attitude today.” Though having it is something that you rarely consciously admit to yourself, your own bad attitude is more impactful on you than the attitude of anybody else around.

Staying in a company of people with a bad attitude is something you can choose. It’s similar to an elevator that stinks when you walk in. You suffer for a couple of floors but then you walk out. And soon enough, you manage to erase the unpleasant encounter out of your mind.

Having a bad attitude is different. You don’t notice or pay much attention to a stink, because it’s yours. And, until you are able to identify and manage your bad attitude, you are a prisoner of it, unknowingly to yourself.

So it is not a semantics exercise when you try to put a finger on what exactly you call a bad attitude. It is, rather, the training of your mindfulness to notice when you are in your own stinking cloud and not letting it become your permanent company.

1. What If You Think You Know More Than Anybody Else?

Coming to a project, a team, a conversation with a sense that you are always right and that you know everything is a sign of a bad attitude. You can be indeed the most prepared and have the deepest expertise – that is not the point. In fact, being the smartest person in the room is often one of the coping mechanisms we often resort to.[1]

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The problem with thinking that you know more than everybody else is that, in this mindset, you are not open to feedback or any new information that can be constructive to what you are trying to achieve. Your focus is on proving others wrong, without giving a chance to a possibility that others may actually have a point.

Come back to that nail technician who messed up your toes. She will be adamant pointing that your feet are crooked rather than admitting that she, a professional in this setting, did something wrong. With the huffing and puffing, she will redo your nails. But she may never see where exactly she made a mistake. You can be the same when you think you know more than anybody else.

Catch your bad attitude when you dismiss a piece of feedback, when you defend familiar ways, and when you discredit (even only to yourself) others’ experiences as invalid. At that moment, not only you are impossible to cooperate with. In this mindset, you block any opportunities for your own growth. With the need to maintain your status of know-it-all, you become stiff and blinded to things that can oftentimes benefit you.

From Know-It-All to Knowing Nothing

Once you’ve diagnosed that you are in your usual “know more than anybody else” mode, coming out of the stinky attitude starts with recognizing that sometimes, you might be actually wrong. And it may have nothing to do with the facts, figures, and dates. If anything, you are always spot on with your prep. It is about admitting that others may experience the same situations differently than you and therefore have their own truth, also different from yours.

Preparing to be wrong means understanding that all you know is actually a reflection of your experiences only, and not anybody else’s. Whether it is about personal relationships or business, you can be both right about your own vision of things and wrong about others’ at the same time. Realizing it makes you so much more open-minded, cooperative, and tolerant. And that’s quite a bit of an attitude change!

2. What If You Think It Will Fail Before It Begins?

Imagine that you perform your best version of an eye-roll and frustratingly ask yourself, “Why do I even have to go through it?” You are about to start something that, in your book, has already failed. Placing a verdict of failure on things, people, or events before they even had a chance is bad attitude!

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Here are some examples. You think a meeting with your colleagues will be a waste of time before heading to it. So you mentally write it off and deliberate a way you can pretend participating while going through your own plans. You suspect that your partner will forget your birthday, and you decide to spare yourself from a potential disappointment. You book a restaurant in advance so there are no unpleasant surprises.

Anticipating a failure is a natural defense. Something uncertain is about to happen, and preparing for the worst is a way to control it. However, having a backup plan for the worst-case scenario is different than filing something as a failure in your mind before it starts. The former gives some room for things to turn out fine, with a plan B in the back burner. The latter already has placed the whole enterprise in a grave. No matter what destiny it could have had, you’ve already decided that it’s going to be grim.

When you decide to book a restaurant to prevent your partner from forgetting your birthday, you rip him of the agency he has in this situation. More so, you literally incentivize him to disappoint you next time. You do not believe in him from the start – so why convince you otherwise? And, as your know-it-all mode might kick in here too (see point above), you will inadvertently lead a situation into failure just to prove you are right. Double strike for bad attitude!

From Expecting Failure to Giving the Agency

Bad attitude coming from not believing in people is rooted in past disappointing experiences. Yet writing things off because others have let you down before is just bitter. You literally allow your past to dictate your future. You condition others that there is no way for them to please you, because you’ve already decided it’s going to be a failure. You also condition yourself to only notice disappointments, because that’s all you remember.

Turning this around requires letting others own their mistakes when they make them instead of trying to preempt them. Giving the agency to people you deal with and taking them in good faith means believing that they are doing their best. With that belief, you will be present to see that, instead of tending to the graveyard of failures that never happened.

3. What If You Criticize to Invalidate?

Let’s say, your team sends a presentation, and you see every bullet point that is not aligned well. Or maybe your friend tells you about her mysterious new boyfriend, and you find every inconsistency in his behavior. Attentive to details and analytical, one thing you do extremely well is finding holes in anything. Nothing that does not sit well skips your eye.

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While your forensics skills came handy on more than one occasion, they’ve probably brought you into one particular trap: you can criticize something to completely destroy it. At first, it may seem like fun. Because look at you not letting any imperfection pass through! But then you just cannot stop. The more you discover, the more your inner detective gets both enraged but also aroused by an idea of finding more. It goes on until you stand in the middle of ruins, aggravated. “Couldn’t others see what I had to deal with just now?”

Bad attitude! You’ve just destroyed something into pieces without building anything in return.

How come is it a bad attitude when you just pointed at everything that is wrong with an idea? Well, your role in the whole undertaking is destructive, not constructive.

For someone you’ve provided feedback to – all you’ve done is invalidated that person’s vision (even for a good reason), which, without an alternative vision, leaves that person directionless.

For yourself, you have just spent time finding negative. Without rebalancing it with positive and offering ways how it might work, the net result of your effort is another confirmation that people do sloppy work, do not pay attention, let alone care.

From Destructive to Constructive

The only way to remedy this bad attitude caused by a detective syndrome is to take it for a rule that whenever you criticize – you offer an alternative. Literally! Do not like a sentence in a presentation – offer a rewrite! Do not like a proposed strategy, instead of stopping at finding problems, – find how the problems can be resolved.

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A good attitude is whenever you are a critic, you are also a creator. This way, instead of being a party pooper to be avoided, you will be someone to come to for solutions.

You being constructive is not only important for people around. It is most important for you. So, between things that you’ve criticized to death and things that you helped to progress forward, the balance would always remain on the latter. Even after all the sadist pleasure you’ve derived marking up your teammate’s draft into a bloodbath, at the end of the day, you are the one who moves this draft to a next level, not throws it in the garbage.

4. What If Everybody Around You is a Problem?

There is a saying that:

“If everybody around you is a problem, you are a problem.”

Finding the culprits is a common strategy for masking a bad attitude. Yet this is the exact time you should turn to yourself.

If others have no clue what they are doing, perhaps it’s a good moment for you to examine your conviction that you know more than anybody else. If you feel like things are bound to fail before they even commence, probably it’s your desire to control everything taking the best of you. And, if you encounter more issues than solutions, it can be the case that the real issue begins with you.

Identify your bad attitude before pointing at anybody else’s, and you are halfway turning it around. Then, prepare to be wrong, give people ownership of their mistakes, and offer alternatives when you criticize, and that’s a much better attitude!

More Tips for Building the Right Attitude

Featured photo credit: Allie Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

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Oxana Kunets

Explorer of all things meaningful living, confidence, and courage

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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Which Is More Effective?

Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Which Is More Effective?

It has been said that rarely am I short of words, and yet I’ve rewritten this article on positive and negative reinforcement five times. Why?

It’s not as if I have a lack of thoughts on this subject. It’s not as if I don’t spend my days enabling people to communicate powerfully and get what they want in life. So why the rewrites?

I’ve found myself thinking about the diversity of people I’ve coached and how different we all can be. Usually when I write for Lifehack, I’m able to see instant commonality in the subject that means I could share some ideas that would resonate wherever you are in life, whoever you are, regardless of what you were looking to achieve or what adversity you may be facing.

However, with this, it’s a “How long’s a piece of string?” answer, i.e. I could probably write a whole book’s worth of words and still have ideas to share.

Let’s look at some key points:

  • You will have times in your life where you need to get someone to do something.
  • You will have times when someone needs you to do something.

Let’s look at how positive and negative reinforcement would work. In both of these situations, you can face some big obstacles:

  • Someone may resist your desire for them to change.
  • Someone may challenge your authority or leadership.
  • Someone may be at risk of getting hurt.

The important thing to remember is that, in life, we all have to be influenced and influence those around us, and some ways will help us get the result we want, and others won’t. However, that may differ on where you are, who you are talking to, and what you want to see happen!

So, how do we know when positive reinforcement is effective[1], and can there ever be a time when negative reinforcement is good?

Worryingly, if you get positive and negative reinforcement wrong, you can risk your career, your business, your relationships, your reputation, and your brand.

Positive and negative reinforcement each have their merits, so it’s imperative to know when to employ them. Interestingly, despite a ton of evidence to the contrary, we still rely on the wrongs ones in society, business, and even in parenting.

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The 4 examples below showcase the use of positive and negative reinforcement, and whether they personally apply to you right now or not, they will resonate and be very useful to you personally in every area of your life.

For each we will look at:

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. What have you tried?
  3. Now what?
  4. The results!

The Boss

Okay, you may not be a boss, but everyone will have times in their life where they need to get people organized and working together to get the best result. Often, leaders say things like this to me:

  • “I’ve told them until I’m blue in the face not to do that!”
  • “They constantly refuse to use the new system.”
  • “They just don’t listen.”
  • “They don’t respect me.”

What Did the Boss Try?

Often, I hear “We’ve tried everything!” No matter who is reading this, trust me, you’ve not tried everything. (That’s the first thing to accept.) When you accept that, you then need to look at what you have tried to move forward.

The boss has tried:

  • Giving the person training.
  • Spending time with them and showing them how to do it.
  • Telling them it wasn’t good enough.
  • Telling them we aren’t doing that any more.

Now What?

The above situations create tension between the two as you constantly battle to maintain your position on the situation. If you are looking to get someone to do something, and they constantly resist, you need to stop and ask yourself some questions:

  1. What have we tried? This helps you to understand what they are good at, so you can utilize that in the conversation.
  2. From their viewpoint, what could prevent them from doing what I’ve asked? What could they fear, and how will we allay those fears?
  3. What do they want? Seeing their viewpoint enables you to use their terminology and language so they feel listened to.
  4. What do they believe? Do their beliefs prevent them from seeing the benefits? Beliefs can be changed but not by force—coaching is very powerful for this.
  5. How do these answers differ from my beliefs and views? Bridging the gap helps you to see both views and communicate more powerfully.

In my experience, rarely does a boss or leader need to say the word “No.” If someone is not doing what you want them to, the quickest way to see results is to ask questions and listen. Often, when you really listen, you discover a big gap between what you think you are saying and what the other person is hearing.

The reasons why someone is not doing what you want can include:

  • They don’t know how to do what you’ve asked them to do.
  • They are scared to get it wrong.
  • They fear what people will think of them.
  • They don’t have the confidence to come and tell you they need help.
  • They are scared that someone will tell them off.
  • They don’t understand where the boundaries are.

People tell me, “But I said that to them!” If you are too close to the situation, then how likely are they to take notice from you? Here’s what you can do:

  • Get out of your usual environment – Neutral environments make difficult conversations easier. They can take you both off your guard, which can be good.
  • Start by making that person feel safe to say anything. Start with ground rules like “This is a confidential conversation” and “I won’t make any judgement on what you say, I just want to understand.”
  • Be prepared to say “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t realize.” When you do this, positive and negative reinforcement can be used.

Learning how to coach people instead of tell people is key. Enabling the other person to see the benefits of what you want for them (and not you) is quicker than trying to dictate action.

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  • Lay out expected outcomes.
  • Create boundaries.
  • Explain what support and help you will provide.

The Results

This style of reinforcement is about utilizing both positive and negative reinforcement. It enables someone to feel safe to explain why they’ve not been taking action and helps them to overcome the limitations they feel while safe in the knowledge that they will get the support to change with the positive results explained in a way that matters to them.

The Young Child

If you’ve ever found yourself on the wrong end of a relentless tantrum of a small child, you will know it can feel impossible to get through to them. While many elements of The Boss scenario could work, there are times where you may need some negative reinforcement.

What’s the Problem?

My children are now 15 and 18. I can honestly say that, while we have had some challenging behaviors, our parenting means I have two children I’m very proud of–great communicators, great work ethic, kind, funny, considerate. The point is that, for my children, this stuff works. And, to be honest, when I’m with other people’s children, they often say “How did you get them to do that!”

Young children are amazing. It’s like they’ve just woken up in a new body and have been told to go touch, feel, experience everything–every emotion, every taste, smell, experience, texture, the lot! They are curious and keen to know more. They sap up everything, and a lot of that we don’t want them sapping up!

When they go to put a pencil in an electric socket, or let go of your hand as you cross the road, it’s imperative they get the learning and knowledge they need fast. I once was talking to a parent that said I was wrong to say no to my children. I asked, “At what age would you like me to introduce them to that word?” to which they had no answer.

While I agree that there are usually a lot more words than just no for children, “no” is a word that kept you and I safe when we were small.

What Have You Tried?

While young children are incredibly intelligent, explaining the merits of your preferred course of action is not going to keep them safe. Tying them to your waist isn’t working. Punishing them and telling them there’s no more park time until you walk next to me doesn’t work either. So how do you say no and keep them safe?

Now What?

Sometimes negative reinforcement is essential[2]. For instance, my son (who adored Bob the Builder when he was little) was playing with his plastic tool kit and discovered an electric socket…I didn’t stop to explain the merits of how that could be dangerous. I said calmly, “No, that’s dangerous!”

Here’s the important point: It’s not just about your words. With young children, it’s important that your body language clearly says the same.

The Results

I did feel like the luckiest parent on the planet to have two children sleeping through the night, but that didn’t tell the full story. I can remember spending a few weeks calmly picking my daughter up with no eye contact, no overly big hug, no conversation, just saying, “Sorry darling but now’s bedtime, so back we go.” And yes, being the strong-willed girl that she is, there was sometimes a good hour of that until she got the message that Mum really isn’t going to play, turn into a dinosaur, sing, or read a story.

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The thing with positive and negative reinforcement is that you need to have faith it will work, and you are doing the right thing.

Of course, when I went in to get her from her cot the next morning, I had a big grin on my face that said, “Wow, what a grown up girl you are staying in your bed all night!” I used positive reinforcement to get the day started.

The Teenager

What’s the Problem?

If I’m honest, I don’t have problems with my teenagers. However, I think that is in no small part to my style of communication. Having respect for them is key, and appreciating how much change is happening in their lives really helps–as someone who helps large teams of people deal with change, I know how hard it can be.

However, when I wrote the article How to Enjoy Parenting Teens and Help Your Kids Thrive, I was inundated with stories of hellish behavior from other parent’s teenagers, tales of staying out all night and not phoning home, abusive behavior towards parents and teens–I really felt for all involved.

What Have You Tried?

The problem with teens is they know exactly how to wind you up like a little clock-work toy. And if you’ve had a tough day, the last thing you want is to have to deal with someone who can’t even communicate with words, let alone put their dishes in the dishwasher.

Losing it is never the option, but it can easily happen. Shouting, bribery, and doing it yourself because it’s just easier really don’t work in the long run.

Now What?

If you consider everything we’ve covered, you can see that you need to communicate using positive and negative reinforcement. In life, there are consequences to all actions, and teens have a ton of stuff to learn to become effective, successful, happy adults.

Before you embark on any course of action, consider how the other person perceives the world. What are they going through?

You may have loved being a teen, but that doesn’t ensure your children will. Likewise, in life, there are things you love that others will loathe–seeing the world through other people’s eyes really helps you to understand the best way to communicate.

The only big difference for teenagers is to use emotion with caution. I personally let my children see all emotions–I’ve not hidden my tears when I’ve lost a loved one as it’s a perfectly normal thing to do. However, if a teenager in a foul mood can spot a weakness, they may just take advantage of it.

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The Results

My kids love to tell everyone I’m a scary mom. I’m not, I just have high standards, and I’m not prepared to drop them.

We shy away from telling people what we expect and then wonder why we are getting as stressed as the other party because no one knows where they stand.

I’m happy for my children to take over the TV room and eat far too much sweet stuff and binge on a box set. Just don’t put cups on the carpet, we have places for drinks. It’s having the confidence to say this is the rule.

People think negative reinforcement is a bad thing. However, how can someone change if they don’t know what they are doing wrong? And that’s the issue: so many of us are fearful of saying “Stop doing that!” If you lack confidence, find your voice because people aren’t mind-readers.

Final Thoughts

Before you start considering whether positive or negative reinforcement is best for others, ask yourself what you respond better to.

Personally, I respond far better to negative reinforcement–I can improve and be more successful and happier if I know what I’m doing wrong. Furthermore, I know that sometimes negative reinforcement works better with some clients who really don’t want to look at the issue–but it’s always done with respect and love.

Coaching people is also a great representation of when positive and negative reinforcement is best. We are looking to find ways to increase the positive action with positive reinforcement and ways to reduce the negative results with negative reinforcement–and usually my clients keep those changes for the rest of their lives.

More on Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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