‘I have just had it with Fred’, said the Manager, ‘He has a terrible attitude to time keeping, he is always late, and I told him so!  The problem is we have now fallen out.  He claimed he has a good attitude to his work and time keeping, I told him that he hadn’t and it degenerated into an argument, what the heck do I do now?’

This scenario is all too familiar.  Managers ‘know’ that a member of staff has a bad attitude towards some aspect of their work.  They then decide to sit down with the individual either formally (as part of a performance management or appraisal process) or informally and tell it like it is.

The problem with this approach is that a Manager cannot prove whether someone has a bad (or even good attitude) towards something, any more than the individual can prove their own attitude towards it.  The consequence of this is that people become offended (because their attitudes have been criticised), and they immediately defend themselves.  The issue therefore doesn’t get resolved and the individual continues with their ‘poor attitude’.

To avoid performance management discussions degenerating into a farce, focus on behaviour, results or approach and not on an individual’s attitude.  You might not be able to prove someone’s attitude; but you can prove their behaviour, their approach and the results they achieve.

Do not therefore use phrases such as ‘you have a poor attitude to time keeping or towards meetings.’  Translate your views into specific examples of their behaviour.  For example, say, ‘You turned up 20 minutes late to meeting xyz on Thursday, and then 30 minutes late to meeting abc, on the following Tuesday.  The consequence of this was that both meetings finished late which impacted on all the other attendees, and the work they had to do that day.  It is important that we start our meetings on time – is there anything that might prevent you from attending meetings on time in the future?’

If you think that someone you manage has a ‘bad attitude’ towards an aspect of their work, stop and think before you confront them.  Ask yourself, ‘what did they do that caused me to believe their attitude was poor?  When and where was it? How can I be specific?  What were the consequences?  Following these simple guidelines will hopefully prevent your discussions from degenerating into a ‘tit for tat’ argument, and secure a change in the individual’s behaviour.