Lead with Behavior


Bad Attitude on Phone

What happens when you try to change an employee’s attitude?

Often, the attitude just gets bigger. In the process, the employee is left feeling smaller and their behavior doesn’t change. ¬†Before you begin your next performance-related conversation, consider this critical mind-set: Lead with Behavior.

Describing the employee’s attitude won’t help him or her understand what they are expected to do differently. For example, if you say, “John, you need to focus more so you can improve your performance,” John will likely say that he is focused. At that point the conflict is about whether or not he is focused, which is really not the issue. Instead, if you describe the behavior, such as, “John, I’ve noticed that your tracking forms were not completed for our last three one-on-one meetings,” he is more likely to engage in the conversation.

Leading a conversation with a description of the employee’s attitude does not leave room for a productive change. If you say the employee is lazy, rude, distracted, or slow, the dialogue is more general in nature, and he or she won’t really know what to do differently. When you give a specific example about what he/she did or didn’t do that had an impact on the job, there is room in the conversation to explore options. This might sound like, “John, during our last three meetings when you did not bring your completed tracking forms, we were unable to review the progress you’ve made.”

When the conversation focuses on the employee’s attitude, you will most likely get a defensive reaction. If the employee feels attacked, whether emotionally or personally, the reaction will be to withdraw or fight back. In turn, the employee will stop listening and become more concerned about his or her next response rather than a solution.
In your next performance conversation, define the behaviors you would like the employee to change and lead with those. It will take the pain out of the conversation for you and for the employee.

Read more about the four critical mind-sets of a painless performance conversations in our blog: Conversations Drive Performance.

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