How are Attitudes Influenced?
Consider for a moment that you are in a life threatening situation, and there are other people involved, whose lives are also in jeopardy. The specific situation doesn’t matter for the point of this discussion. Maybe you’re in a severe weather storm? Maybe you’re confronted by a wild animal? Maybe you’re lost on a mountain? Maybe your life threatening situation involves a hypothetical example of a plane, a robbery, a health issue, or something else? Here’s the question: if there are percentages of people in any of these or other life threatening situations who live or die, and if you were in this situation yourself, what do you believe will be your fate? What is your gut reaction? Whatever your honest answer may be, can provide some insight into your attitude.
Research done by Hugh Montgomery, cardiovascular genetics consultant at the University College London, identified nine factors that make a difference to the chance of survival for individuals in life-threatening situations. At the top of the list was genetics, which is considered somewhat outside of one’s control. However, with the other eight factors that are under our control, at the top of the list is attitude, the strength of one’s intent to survive. The definition of intent can be described here as the choice to act in a certain way to influence an outcome with our behaviours.
In a life threatening situation, we can have negative or positive judgements about our current situation and the probable outcome, and we can also have negative or positive choices about our response to the current situation and hopeful outcome. For the survivors in Hugh Montgomery’s research, they had every right to be negative about their life threatening situation; however, their choice of a positive attitude contributed to their survival. In the great words of Zig Ziglar, “Positive thinking won’t let you do anything, but it will let you do everything better than negative thinking will do. You need to consider your attitude as seriously as you would consider the largest purchase of your life.”
We are Ultimately Responsible for Choosing Our Attitudes!
If our attitudes are a form of currency for what we manifest in our lives, we need to consider – “What are we buying?” We can define attitudes as a choice, with our characteristics and mindsets. The choice can range on a spectrum from complete positivity to complete negativity. For example, choosing a ‘Can Do’ attitudinal mindset, would be considered a positive choice by most people. Attitudinal characteristics of a ‘Can Do’ mindset may include hope, optimism, and gratitude, or being open-minded, nonjudgmental, considerate, inclusive, fair, patient, supportive, approachable, and happy. With attitudes being a choice, we are each the biggest influencers over our own attitudes.
What are Other Attitude Influencers!
Beyond ourselves and our choice being the biggest influencer of the attitudes that we have, there can be three primary other influencers to the attitudes that we choose about someone, something, and ourselves – BUT, we still have a choice:
- People – Attitudes can be contagious. Life partners and spouses can be the greatest influencers on our attitudes in addition to colleagues, friends, and family members who we trust, particularly if we don’t already have our own knowledge or experience about someone or something. A great example of this is to think about your negative and positive attitudes towards your spouse or partners work. If they are positive about their organization, we will likely catch that attitude and also be positive about their organization. If they are negative about something at work, like a member on their team, we will likely catch that attitude and also be negative about those same team members. We can greatly dislike people that we’ve never met that our spouse or partner has a negative attitude towards. And what happens if we have a chance to meet that person at a work function or party? Well that would depend on how well we can act and hide our negative attitude. Even though our attitudes can be influenced by people, we can still choose through our own characteristics and mindset whether or not we ‘catch’ the permanent negative and positive attitudes of other people.
- Experience – Attitudes can be developed. When we go to a restaurant for the first time, if we have wonderful service which includes delicious food, we will likely develop a positive attitude about the restaurant. When we go to a movie, if we don’t enjoy the story, or the actors, we will likely develop a negative attitude about the movie. What’s interesting for many of us, when we talk about multiple experiences with the same someone or something, we can have this subconscious ability to keep score. And guess what? The scoring isn’t fair! I heard a trusted advisor say once that the ratio can be as high as 37 to 1, in negatives favour. This means that for every one negative experience that we have, we would need 37 positive experiences to flip the scale from a negative attitude to a positive attitude. So if we have a negative experience with anything, a person, a service provider, a city, a television show, a retailer, a sport, a brand, a book, a blog, a computer program, a ‘whatever we can think of’, we would need an average of 37 positive experiences to counter the one negative experience. This is why so many people can have negative attitudes about change. Many of us have had at least one negative experience with change in our lives, where the change has been uncomfortable, stressful, and involved loss. Even though we may have also had many changes in our lives that were positive and lead to something better, that negative experience keeps us fearful, worried, and doubtful about change, and might dominate our negative attitudes about change. Even though attitudes can be influenced by experiences, we can still choose through our own characteristics and mindset what permanent positive or negative attitude any experience develops.
- Communication – Attitudes can be triggered. To name just a few communication sources, this includes water cooler, social circle, social media, pop culture, and news. We can be talked into a negative or positive attitude. Apparently there are approximately 558 words in the English language to describe emotion, and 62% are negative. That’s okay, we still have 38% or 212 positive emotional descriptive words to use. There have been many studies on high performers, and one of the common findings is that top performers surround themselves with communication about what they want to have happen and/or winning, which includes there own self-talk, and low performers tend to surround themselves with communication about what they don’t want to have happen and/or losing, which again, includes their own self-talk. Words are tools. They can be used to build or destroy. What is communication building or destroying in your life? What about your own communication? When we talk to ourselves do we say, “I’m not judgmental” (talking about what we don’t want to have happen), or do we say, “I’m open minded” (talking about what we do want to have happen)? When we talk to someone else, do we say, “Please don’t be late” (talking about what we don’t want to have happen), or do we say, “Please be on time” (talking about what we do want to have happen)? Communication and words can be so powerful in triggering our positive and negative attitudes. Even though attitudes can be influenced by communication, we can still choose through our own characteristics and mindset what permanent positive or negative attitudes that communication triggers.
So what and why care about what influences our choice of positive and negative attitudes? The point is to have the awareness that no matter what the negative experience is, no matter what negative attitudes other people may have, no matter what negative communication we may hear or say to ourselves, we can choose to stick with the negative, or choose to go with a positive. At the start of our day, if we sleep through our alarm (potentially creating a negative attitude by experience), run out of time to stop for coffee (also potentially creating a negative attitude by experience), think about our good friend who said that ‘any day without coffee in the morning is a recipe for a disaster’ (a potentially caught negative attitude from a person), bump into our boss as we arrive at work, who says ‘don’t be late again’ (a potentially triggered negative attitude through communication), as we also say to ourselves ‘I am such an idiot for not waking-up on time’ (also a potentially triggered negative attitude through communication), we have a choice at that moment to have a negative attitude for the whole day ahead, or a choice at that moment, of a positive attitude, despite the ‘less than desirable’ start to the day. There may be all kinds of research about the weight of the negative, including the estimate of 37 positives to counter one negative, but there is something that can supersede that stat. If you look for external positive experiences, people, or communications, to change your attitude, then yes, maybe 37 is the magic number. However, if you exercise your power of choice, then one is the golden number, because one choice is all that is needed! Are you going let attitude happen to you, or are you going to happen to attitude through choice?
Our Attitudes in the Workplace
There is a great post written by John Maxwell which discusses two types of workers in our organizations: polluters and purifiers. Both terms are metaphors for those individuals with either negative or positive attitudes in the workplace. Outlined below are three attitudes that impact our performance at work – attitudes that employees and leaders of all levels, make at work everyday. Where do you find yourself on the positive and negative attitude spectrum? Are you polluting or purifying?
- Attitudes towards Excellence: Steve Jobs was quoted as saying repeatedly, “There has got to be a better way.” Depending on our own attitude, we may consider this statement a negative judgement towards Apple’s current products and operations, or we may consider it a positive choice towards how Apple can be better, with future products and operations. When considering Steve Jobs comment further, what if we find truth in Aristotle’s statement “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Is excellence what we’ve done, or what we continue to do? Is the best way, what we’ve done, or just the best way that we’ve done so far, and maybe there’s a better way to be done in the future? For a purifier, the attitude towards excellence is really about the best days being ahead, and creating those best days. For a polluter, the attitude towards excellence is really about good enough, and maintaining or coasting.
- Attitudes towards Responsibility: Locus of control is a theory in psychology referring to the tendency for people to place the primary responsibility for one’s success or failures with either oneself (internally), or an outside force (externally). A person’s locus, which is Latin for ‘location’, can also refer to our positive or negative attitude judgments and choices on who has control with our circumstances and lives. When we consider successes and failures at work, do we own them? Are we accountable? Are we responsible for our decisions and behaviours? If we do, these are all examples of positive attitudes towards responsibility, where an individual takes internal control. For individuals who have an attitude towards responsibility where the control is based on an external force, they can rationalize, make excuses, finger point, counter attack, justify, defend, and blame. For a purifier, the attitude towards responsibility is focused on personal power and what can be controlled or influenced. For a polluter, the attitude towards responsibility is focused on the power that everyone and everything else has, and what can’t be controlled or influenced.
- Attitudes towards our Job and our Organization: Employee satisfaction is our attitude towards our jobs and the work that we do. Highly satisfied employees have a positive attitude towards total pay and benefits, advancement opportunities, their bosses, their team members, recognition, training and personal growth, working conditions, and liking the work they do . Highly satisfied purifiers feel that their overall needs are met. Dissatisfied polluters are concerned with the needs that aren’t met (even if there are just a few). Employee engagement is more about our attitudes towards our organization. Highly engaged employees have a positive attitude towards their organization, typically involving a deep emotional connection with the purpose, importance, and meaningfulness of the work that they do. Highly engaged purifiers want to be more involved and contribute more effort and time to their organization. Highly disengaged polluters are checked-out, sleep walking, and want to only be involved and contribute at the minimal level required.
No matter what attitudes we may bring to the workplace today, we can always choose different tomorrow. We can stop polluting, if we are, and purify instead. (And sometimes we may need to get a new job, if we’re challenged with choosing differently in our current work situation.) Our attitudes become our character. Our character can determine the quality of our life, work, and relationships. When you choose your attitude, you are ultimately choosing your character.
Attitude Problems versus Attitude Advantages
When we have negative attitude – negative talking, thinking, feeling, and behaviours – that can become a habit that limits our lives and our potential. This is when we have a classic “Attitude Problem”. The good news – Every negative attitude has a positive opposite. Like the relationship of good and evil, there is positive and negative. Through choice, we can balance the scale, and tip the scale, from negative limiting habits, to positive creative forces. Our attitudes are ultimately our choice. There is an old Cherokee tale that even if you’ve read or heard about before, it serves as a great reminder for our attitudes. It tells of a grandfather teaching life principles to his grandson.
The wise old Cherokee said, “Son, on the inside of every person the battle is raging between two wolves. One wolf is evil. It’s angry, jealous, unforgiving, proud and lazy (negative). The other wolf is good. It is filled with love, kindness, humility, and encouragement (positive). These two wolves are constantly fighting.”
The little boy thought about it and said “Grandfather, which wolf is going to win?
The grandfather smiled and said, “Whichever one you feed.”
Feed the positive. It’s the worthwhile choice!