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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Understand the role of attitudes in the workplace, December 8, 2006, 2E.

When people hear someone described as having an “attitude” they might think of that person as being standoffish, snobby, or uncaring.  Having an attitude is not usually a compliment.  In reality, everyone has attitudes about all types of things and they influence peoples’ thoughts, feelings, and actions.

An attitude is an evaluative feeling or belief about something in particular.  People have attitudes about their jobs, food, animals, furniture, music, politicians, television shows, automobiles, and countless other things that they encounter in their lives.  Attitudes can be positive, negative, or neutral and they have three components—cognitive, affective, and behavioral. 

The cognitive component involves knowledge and understanding.  To have an attitude about something, a person must have some type of experience or knowledge of the thing.  When forming an evaluation of something in particular, people reach into their memories to retrieve knowledge and information about the subject or topic.  The knowledge stored away in a person’s mind comes from direct personal experiences and from experiences passed along from other people (e.g., from personal stories, news reports, writings, etc.) and other things that they have learned and filed away in their minds about the subject or topic.

The affective component is the emotional and feelings dimension of the attitude.  Attitudes about family members, favorite foods, cherished items, and former schools and organizations carry with them emotional aspects that extend beyond basic knowledge and information.  Negative emotions can similarly arise when negative attitudes are evoked.

When peoples’ thoughts and emotions are stimulated, they combine to influence behaviors.  The sight of a charging pit bull might cause one to jump into a tree or bend down to welcome the dog depending on the cognitive and emotional responses to the event.  Likewise, a person’s thoughts and feelings about work might result in excessive absenteeism and sloppy work or extra effort and involvement depending on his or her attitude.

It is important to understand the role that attitudes play in the workplace.  Thoughts and feelings about a wide variety of things and subjects combine to influence peoples’ behaviors.  A supervisor who is perceived as unapproachable and overbearing can bring about feelings of fear and apprehension in workers and discourage proper and necessary interaction between workers and the supervisor.  Perceptions of low pay can bring about feelings of resentment or being unappreciated and undervalued and result in undesirable work behaviors.  Coworkers who are perceived as lazy or looking out for themselves can promote feelings of distrust or hostility and encourage unproductive worker behaviors.

Managers and organizational leaders who seek to change employee behaviors must recognize that behaviors arise from a complex interaction with thoughts and feelings about particular things, subjects, and concepts.  Trying to change worker behaviors without also addressing their thoughts and feelings could prove to be a futile effort.  Feelings of trust and support and a knowledge and understanding of the subject of change are required for true and lasting behavioral changes to occur.   

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved