The University Record, May 8, 2000

A good attitude is an asset in personal, professional life

By Jane R. Elgass

If you’ve got a good one, chances are you brighten other people’s day. If you’ve got a bad one, you may be alienating colleagues at work and even your friends. And a bad one may be costing you a promotion or appointment to a new position. It’s all about attitudes.

“Studies have shown that people want to be with those who have a good attitude,” Pam Wyess told participants in her Human Resource Development (HRD) class May 27. “In fact, for some employers, a good attitude is sometimes a more important consideration than skills. You can train for skills, but it’s difficult to work a bad attitude.”

Wyess, who learned a lot about attitudes and how they can affect one’s life during 11 years with the Ann Arbor Police Department, now shares that background with others through the HRD course, “The Choice Is Yours: An Introduction to Attitudes in the Workplace.”

“Attitude has a lot to do with interpersonal communications, self-esteem and your perceptions of others and theirs of you. Yes, you’re going to have bad days, but you should give thought to your attitude and try to focus on the positive,” Wyess said. “A good attitude makes you feel better. Others see this and judge you by that. People want to work in an upbeat environment, and attitudes play an important role in shaping the work environment.”

Your attitude is communicated to others in three ways, Wyess explained—7 percent by words, 38 percent by tone of voice and 55 percent in non-verbal ways, such as posture.

All of us, at one time or another, express the three different types of attitudes: positive, negative and neutral. “Those with a neutral attitude are sometimes the most challenging to deal with,” Wyess noted, defining those individuals as “spectators in the game of life.” We often try to avoid contact with those carrying a negative attitude, “the critics of the game of life.” And we are drawn to those with a positive attitude, “the players of the game of life.”

A positive attitude doesn’t just happen, Wyess noted. “It’s something you have to work at all the time.”

So how do you adjust your attitude toward the positive and maintain that attitude?

“Listen to yourself talk and listen to the voice within,” Wyess said. “You have to pursue happiness. It won’t come knocking. You have to find the good things in each day, and you have to stop shooting yourself, stop berating yourself for something that didn’t work quite right.”

Thomas Edison, once asked what it took to discover the light bulb, said it was a thousand-step process. But he didn’t look at that as a negative, Wyess noted. Something new was learned at each step. Insanity, she added, comes from doing the same thing over and over again, expecting new results but getting the same results.

“Evaluate your ‘should dos’ and translate them to ‘to dos,’” Wyess advised.

To maintain that sunny disposition, try starting each day with a pep talk to yourself; make it a habit to enjoy the good moments; express, rather than suppress, your feelings; and surround yourself with a positive environment, by decorating your home or office with things that give you pleasure.

“You control your attitudes,” Wyess said, citing the familiar, “He makes me so mad!” “No one can make you ‘anything.’ You make the choices.” When a situation arises that prompts this kind of reaction, consider the source and put it in perspective, Wyess advised, adding that you should not “give power to the person who frustrates you. Regardless of what happens to you, it’s what you do that is the issue.”

Dealing with attitudes

OK. You’ve mastered maintaining a sunny disposition most of the time. But how do you deal with those around you with negative or neutral attitudes?

“It’s really a matter of determining how much it bothers you,” said Pam Wyess, outlining a five-step process for those attending Human Resource Development’s course on “The Choice Is Yours: An Introduction to Attitudes in the Workplace.”

  • Determine your involvement. Is this person important to you? Has this attitude been demonstrated before? Does it bother you? Are you willing to invest time to try for a change? “If you answer ‘no’ to any of these questions, remove yourself from the situation,” Wyess said. “If you answer ‘yes,’ go on to step two.”

  • Seek to understand the other person. Try to determine what caused the behavior. Seek that person’s thoughts on the matter and confirm your understanding of them by restating them. Then determine if you want a change in that person’s attitude and behavior. If ‘yes,’ go on to the next step.

  • Try to influence the individual’s attitude by acknowledging the behavior that bothers you and discussing it with the person.

  • Resolve the problem through mutually defined solutions. “The more the other person contributes to the solutions, the more the likelihood of success,” Wyess noted.

  • Recover from the experience. Regain your positive attitude, follow through with commitments you’ve made to the other person, and then be sure to acknowledge changes in that person.