Attitude or behaviour?

‘He’s got a bad attitude,’ sighed my client – let’s call him Mark – when we met recently.

‘How do you know?’ I asked.

‘What do you mean? He’s just got a bad attitude.’

‘How does it manifest itself? What does he does to make you think he has a bad attitude?’

Mark and I went on to discuss the details of the behaviour this team member was demonstrating. Why does this matter? Well, imagine someone tells you to ‘be creative’ or ‘be strategic’ or ‘be funny’ or ‘be romantic’. How do you do that? As a coach, I’d find it really difficult to help you explore how you could ‘be’ those things. If we were to look at the ways in which people behave when they are being strategic or creative or romantic or funny, we’d be able to explore how you could incorporate something similar into your behaviour.

Talking to someone about their attitude can be a really tricky conversation. She may not agree that she has a bad attitude. He may acknowledge there’s a problem but not know what to do about it. Assessing someone’s attitude can be seen as a very subjective area: the specifics of behaviour are more objective.


Mark and I went through the following process he could use with his team member:

 Identify the behaviour

What is the person doing that leads you to feel he has a bad attitude? Is he always late? Does he seem unprepared for meetings? Is she dismissive of constructive feedback? Does she speak badly of her colleagues?

Describe the behaviour

It’s never easy to have a conversation like this with a colleague but it helps if you can give specific examples. Stick to the facts of what you have observed rather than emotional judgments.

Discuss the impact of the behaviour

The bad attitude must be having an impact otherwise it wouldn’t be an issue. How does your colleague’s behaviour affect his own progress, relationships and work? How does it affect others? This will help your colleague understand the benefits of changing behaviour.

Agree changes in behaviour

We can’t impose behavioural change on someone: it’s an individual’s choice. Help her identify what she would like to change and find out what you can do to help.

Review behaviour

Arrange to get together again to review the situation, offering your continued support and encouragement.

Of course, attitude and behaviour apply to every one of us. It’s useful to review our own behaviour and how others will perceive our attitude.

Today’s pebble for you to consider: do you consider yourself to have a good attitude? How does your behaviour support that?

What do you think?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?


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