Dealing With Attitudes Professionally

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Dealing with Attitudes Professionally By Dr. Ben S. Graham, Jr. Chairman The Ben Graham Corporation © Copyright 2005, The Ben Graham Corporation. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to post, print and distribute this document in its original PDF format. This session addresses a variety of attitudes that plague efforts at process improvement including resistance to change, credit and blame, underestimating and overestimating abilities based on status, etc. It explains, in understandable t
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  Dealing with Attitudes Professionally   By Dr. Ben S. Graham, Jr. Chairman The Ben Graham Corporation© Copyright 2005, The Ben Graham Corporation. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to post, print and distribute this document in its srcinal PDF format.  This session addresses a variety of attitudes that plague efforts at processimprovement including resistance to change, credit and blame, underestimatingand overestimating abilities based on status, etc. It explains, in understandableterms, how to channel the energy tied up in ineffective attitudes into cooperation. The strength of this session is in the explanation of why attitudes get the way theydo and how to change the work situation to promote functional attitudes.Specifically, it describes common attitude patterns, dos and don’ts for dealing withattitudes, and strategies for building cooperation. Common Attitude Patterns Attitudes are complex. There are many subtle variations and apparentcontradictions. There is so much variation that no two people are alike. In fact, ascircumstances change, no one person remains the same. However, there arefundamental consistencies that underlie attitudes. These consistencies can beunderstood. They help us to see the purposes that attitudes serve, to understandhow they develop and most importantly, they give us an idea of what we can do toimprove attitudes and get people cooperating effectively. There are three basic types of attitudes found within every person and dispersedthroughout every organization. Organizations are most effective when one of these attitudes predominates. Then people are on the same wavelength,cooperating naturally and needing little encouragement to embrace constructivechange. The three sets of attitudes have three different foci, self, others and reality. Theattitudes that produce greatness in individuals and magnificent accomplishmentsin organizations focus on reality.   Each set of attitudes is appropriate for addressing a different situation. Thesesituations are fundamental and create different sets of needs. The needs generatevalues, which, in turn, generate the attitudes and govern the behaviors thataddress those needs. Self-Focused Attitudes Every person begins life helpless and dominated by basic self-needs associatedwith security, comfort, food, sleep, warmth, etc. They cannot survive without helpand the fact that mankind survives attests to the loving care that infants receive. The behaviors and attitudes of the infants focus on self. While these attitudes canbe thought of as selfish, they serve useful, in fact vital purposes beginning withsurvival. Then as children grow up it is natural for them to learn how to take careof basic self-needs for themselves. They become increasingly self-reliant. The  more easily they are able to tend to these needs the less they have to payattention to them. However, throughout life, self-needs never go away.Even in the healthiest adults self-needs lie close beneath the surface ready toreassert themselves when a situation demands. When they are discomforted orthreatened, healthy adults respond with values, behaviors and attitudes thatattend to those needs. Other-Focused Attitudes (Social) Normal, healthy children also develop attitudes and behaviors that reflect caringfor others. This begins at home with important others such as their parents,siblings, playmates, grandparents, etc. Some of this grows in response to thecaring that is lavished on them. Some of it is taught, “Share with your brother!” –“Be nice!” The social values of children deal with caring, sharing, fair play, etc. Of course,some children develop these values far more than others. Then with pubertysocial values come on with a rush. Bursting sexuality combines with anoverwhelming need for acceptance as a grown up. The family has difficulty fillingthese needs because their caring and support keep the teen-agers feeling likedependent children. On the other hand, the support of teen-age peers fills thisneed for acceptance beautifully.Friends of their own age are very important. They share simplistic understandingswhile repeatedly seeking reassurance and confirmation. This shows up in speechpatterns such as, “You Know?” interspersed sometimes several times in onesentence. And, although their knowledge is superficial they convince themselvesthat it is profound, much wiser than the worn out thinking of those stuffy oldpeople.With adolescence the social-needs are dominated by the need to be accepted asadults. The flip side of acceptance is rejection and anguish. Acceptance requiresthat they satisfy standards of older people. But those standards are much moredifficult than those of their peers so young people generally give much moreattention to the standards and acceptance of their peers (even though thosestandards are riddled with superficial fantasies and the acceptance is clearly notthat of adult society.)However, for most healthy young adults, while the acceptance of their peer groupwill provide a camaraderie that will always seem special, time rolls on and theyfind themselves moving into truly adult activities including full time paidemployment. As they seek employment they face the realistic challenge of beinghired. This requires meeting standards not of their peers but of the hiringorganization, standards set by older people, their predecessors.While these standards are reasonable and easy to meet in the eyes of those whoset them, they are often seen as noxious and unfair by the younger entrants. And,rather than appreciating that they have a lot to learn, there is a tendency for themto convince themselves that they know better.Self-righteousness plays a major role. They tend towards impatience and findingfault with authority figures in general. They reinforce their faultfinding with highideals, always at least a little higher than the performances of the elders they are  criticizing. There is a good deal of “tit for tat” in these ideals. Frustrated by thestandards that they are required to meet, they come up with standards that showhow poorly their predecessors are doing. And, they can set them as high as theywant because they are not the ones measuring up. These ideals are standards forthe older people who are currently responsible. Assisting them with this faultfinding are many well meaning groups supporting various social causes, aided bymedia exposing political chicanery, the sins of industry, the rape of theenvironment, abuse of minorities, etc., etc..While these self-righteous and fault finding attitudes and behaviors are sometimesexasperating to parents, teachers, employers and many other adults, they doserve useful purposes. They help to bind strong friendships among the youngpeople and the high ideals occasionally survive as motivation for outstandingperformances as some of these young people become reality-focused adults. Reality-Focused Attitudes With the inevitability of time itself, adolescence ends and with it most youngadults find themselves performing in adult society. They complete their schooling,get jobs, move out of their parent’s homes, open bank accounts, buy cars, marry,have children and find themselves in the position of the adults they were recentlycriticizing. But it is different now.Some of the criticism that they recently directed at adults, particularly theirparents, fades. In fact, they are often surprised at how their parents haveimproved. This is typical of the transition. Most young people continue to feel thatthe self-righteous, idealistic attitudes they held during adolescence were justified. Their social attitudes tend to persist. But, they also develop new values based onthe needs of adult life.Whereas their first needs were met by their parents and their adolescent needswere met by their peers, they must meet these new needs themselves. Thechallenges of adult life push people in the direction of accepting responsibility forthemselves. The more completely they accept responsibility for themselves, themore they find themselves interested in facts. They find themselves learning inorder to get things done. This is quite different from much of the learning done inschool for the social purpose of satisfying parents and teachers.And, this is the key to reality – the key to mastery – that they put themselves incharge. They acquire skills and knowledge to deal with life’s challenges. Theyacquire skills and knowledge to be able to visualize possibilities and to accomplishthem. They acquire skills and knowledge for the pure exhilaration of doing it. They come to appreciate the fathomless depths of knowledge itself. They come tomarvel at the wonder of it all. This is not to please parents but it certainly does. Nor is it to satisfy requirementsof teachers or professors who, if they learn of it, will be more than pleased. Nor isit to satisfy certification boards or licensing requirements, or any other form of social acceptance. It is to master.As people dig into the facts, the more effectively they master those facts the moreattractive the digging becomes. This healthy, self-reinforcing process steadilyreduces their self-needs as they become increasingly confident of their abilities. It  reduces their social-needs as acceptance ceases to be an issue, replaced byrecognition and earned respect.About this time, these masters find themselves in the position of evaluatingnewcomers. They are likely to remember how frustrated they were when theywere in the same boat and how fed up they got with the people they had tosatisfy. So they carefully avoid the kinds of things that irritated them. They applystandards that they feel are reasonable and easy to meet. Meanwhile, thenewcomers react to these standards with frustration and anger. The difference isin the enormous change that the masters have gone through, while scarcelyrealizing it. Day by day their knowledge about the work has grown andimperceptibly their attitudes have changed. They have become masters –realists.What seems very simple to them now was beyond their understanding when theywere entrants.It is interesting to note how needs for social acceptance change as people passthrough these stages of behavioral growth. At first the acceptance of family isvital. With adolescence, family remains important but is not sufficient.Acceptance of teenage peers becomes critical. With mastery, family and thefriends of youth are still important but the most important source of acceptancebecomes ones self and a few others who are masters of the same or similar work. The greater the mastery, the less other people can understand it. The less youknow about something, the easier it is to tell all you know. The more you know,the more impossible telling all becomes. With time, masters become aware of privacy, even loneliness. There is also a sense of fulfillment – with well-earnedintrinsic self-satisfaction. The opinions of those who don’t understand losesignificance whether they offer praise or criticism. The people whose praise orcriticism matters are limited to those few who are close enough and experiencedenough to really know. A Fourth Pattern (which is a variation of self-focused) Some people are brought into an organization and never master the work. Fromthe start, they do as little as they can to get by. Once they have demonstratedthis a few times, the chance that they will be invited to take on more importantchallenges declines and disappears. With time they tend to feign disinterest andbecome cynical of anything that sounds like genuine accomplishment. They lookupon people as suckers if they take pride in their accomplishments. They becomelocked into the first pattern of behaviors, driven predominantly by self-needs.Unfortunately, this can also happen to people who did master - who accomplishedgood work and experienced the pride and enthusiasm of accomplishment. As theyaccumulated accomplishments and self-confidence, the challenge and excitementof repeating the same accomplishments declined. If new challenges had becomeavailable, the excitement would likely have returned. Or they might have left thework to find new challenges on another job but mortgages, living expenses, status,etc. can trap people in jobs with no apparent alternatives. When the challengesdisappear, the attitudes and behaviors of mastery gradually fade into boredom.Locked into positions that cease to be stimulating, they tend to regress into self-focused attitudes. Security and comfort once again dominate their thinking.People who recently attacked problems with vigor find themselves using moreenergy to prove that nothing can be done than it would have taken to fix the
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