‘A’ Is For Attitude

What a good place to start

Paul Helsby HR


Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Some people like to talk about doing things. Others just do things. The difference between those two types of people may be nothing more than having the right’ attitude’. But what a powerful thing this can be.

To gain an incredible understanding of this point, I recommend that you read Debra Searle’s excellent book:

The Journey — How to achieve against the odds’.

Debra was not a rower, but her husband, Andrew, was. They decided it would be fun (I’m not honestly sure that is the word that I would have used) to take part in an event to row the Atlantic. While having trained for the ‘challenge’, most onlookers would have assumed that if Debra’s husband had become ill or unable to continue, for whatever reason, then that would have been the end of their joint attempt.

And that is what happened. Well, the part about Andrew being unable to continue, that is. Just over a week into the challenge, Debra had to call the support vessel because Andrew was too ill to continue.

Debra had to decide whether to abandon their attempt or for her to continue. She decided to continue…alone!

She describes in the book how we all have the opportunity — every day — to choose the attitude that we adopt, and what a difference that choice can make.

Debra lifts her stories from that fantastic experience of how she rowed single-handedly across the Atlantic. However, we can apply the process to everything that we do in our business and personal lives.

Personality is not the same as attitude

While undoubtedly linked, ‘personality’ and ‘attitude’ are not the same. Scientists believe that ‘personality’ is formed within your DNA.

You are quite literally born with it.

‘Attitude’, on the other hand, is formed more by your life experiences — such as inputs from family, friends, religion, your schooling.

Myers-Briggs identified and described the sixteen personality types shown in the table below — which were combinations of the degree to which a person preferred:

  • Extraversion or Introversion (E or T)
  • Sensing or Intuition (S or I)
  • Thinking or Feeling (T or F)
  • Judging or Perceiving (J or F)

For the record, my ‘personality’ profile tends to be ISTJ, although I don’t fit it precisely.

My attitude can vary tremendously depending upon the situation I’m in; or how others are reacting to me, or even what the weather’s like!

It, therefore, must be the case that if my attitude can be affected by how others react to me, then their attitude is likely to be affected by how I am with them.

Some individuals seem able to remain positive in even the most difficult circumstances, while others appear to find the negative in almost everything they encounter.

The above table shows examples of words associated with both positive and negative attitudes. They are not opposites. They are separate lists, and they are by no means exhaustive — just examples.

So, whatever your personality. Whether you are extrovert or introvert; thinking or feeling, there’s not a lot you can do to change it.

But imagine, for a moment, that you are in the following situation:

You are a business owner who has been trying to secure a large contract with a new customer for the last four months. Tomorrow you are due to give a final presentation. Winning the contract is essential, not only for the business, but for you personally, as you have had your offer on a new, much larger house accepted, and are due to exchange contracts in a few days. Without this new contract the long-term viability of your business may be in jeopardy.

If this were the case, no doubt you would work as hard as you could, prepare for the meeting in detail and ensure that you made the best possible impression with the prospective new customers.

But what if your closest competitors were able to change several factors concerning your presentation, that would have a significantly detrimental impact on your performance and which would almost certainly guarantee that you lost the contract.

What if your closest competitors could choose YOUR attitude?

Look back at the right hand — Negative Attitudes — column in the table above. If you were in your competitor’s shoes, which three attitudes would you choose?

How about ‘indifference’, ‘aggression’ and a dash of ‘pessimism’?

Could you still win the contract if these were your attitudes?

Probably not.

Therefore, if negative attitudes can be the difference between success and failure, is it not also true that ‘choosing’ (that is making a clear, conscious choice) positive attitudes could also be more likely to achieve success?

Few would disagree that being focused, responsive and sincere is far more positive than being indifferent, aggressive and pessimistic.

What people don’t often realise is we can ‘choose’. We are the only ones who can choose. Our competitors can’t. Our significant others can’t. Our children or parents can’t. But we can.

It’s just that generally, we don’t.

We wait to see what the day (sometimes even the weather) is going to be like, and then just react to that.

But the brain is so powerful and having — or instead deciding to have — a positive attitude can have far more significant effects on not only how well you perform in a given task, but also on your overall health.

In 1998, Barbara L Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, wrote a paper — ‘Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources’ — which stated:

“… positive emotions momentarily broaden people’s attention and thinking, enabling them to draw on higher-level connections and a wider-than-usual range of precepts or ideas.

In turn, these broadened outlooks often help people to discover and build consequential personal resources. These resources can be cognitive, like the ability to mindfully attend to the present moment; psychological, like the ability to maintain a sense of mastery over environmental challenges; social, like the ability to give and receive emotional support; or physical, like the ability to ward off the common cold.

People with these resources are more likely to effectively meet life’s challenges and take advantage of its opportunities, becoming successful, healthy, and happy in the months and years to come.”

Fredrickson refers to this as the “broaden and build” theory because positive emotions broaden your sense of possibilities and open your mind, which in turn allows you to create new skills and resources, which can provide value in other areas of your life.

While negative emotions have the opposite effect.

There have been plenty of other similar studies since.

So, it would appear that:

  • only you can choose your attitude
  • in choosing to have a positive outlook you are more likely to lead a healthier life, and
  • thanks to Debra Searle you don’t now have to row the Atlantic single-handedly to find this out!

But wait.

This series of posts isn’t just about you.

It’s supposed to be about the effective management of workplace grievances. And it is. But I would propose that the creation of a positive working environment may be the most effective management strategy of all, as it is likely to reduce the number of grievances occurring in the first place.

And, if you agree that it isn’t possible for others to ‘choose’ your attitude, then it also follows that you can’t ‘choose’ the attitude that your employees will have at any particular time.

Unless you recruit for attitude rather than for skills, or, put a different way, you hire people who are more likely to choose to have a positive attitude in any given situation.

Now, why would you do that? Well, some studies have shown that it makes perfect sense in some situations. For example, a 3-year study by Leadership IQ, a global leadership training and research company, looked at recruitment interviews involving over 5,000 hiring managers and the hiring of more than 20,000 employees during the study period.

Interestingly, 82% of the recruiting managers stated that in hindsight, there had been signs within the interview that there might be issues with the individuals they had recruited. But that, for many reasons — time, uncertainty, or focussing more on their jobs — they hadn’t acted on the warning signs.

The Leadership IQ study found that a staggering 46% of recruits failed within the first 18 months of joining the company. The infographic below highlights that only 11% of them failed because of their technical competence or ability, whereas 81% failed for a reason related to their attitude.

When you recruit, do you ask questions to test the applicant’s technical ability or their attitude, or neither?

It is worth taking time out to consider how your recent recruits were selected, and to what degree they have met your expectations of them at the interview. If you have been surprised by how they have performed then maybe a change of approach is needed.

Hopefully, this post has demonstrated the importance of attitude in the workplace.


  1. If you have a positive attitude, you are more likely to be successful, creative and healthy.
  2. Only you can ‘choose’ what attitude you will have.
  3. While you cannot ‘choose’ what attitudes your employees will have, you can choose employees with positive attitudes.
  4. Studies have shown that almost half of all new recruits fail within the first 18 months in a job, and over 80% of them failed for a reason related to their attitude.



Paul Helsby HR

HR Consultant @ PR-HR Solutions Ltd. Writing to share experiences — good and bad — gained from 25+ years in HR.