As usual this is not a lecture on attitude(s). This post is almost entirely about personal observations and my own thinking about the topic. There is a mindmap constructed after reading many sound references. In no way is this post a complete exploration of the topic. I can imagine I have missed some important issues. If there is any value in this post, it should be about stimulating others to direct themselves to learn more – as nobody gets a spoon feeding here! I had earlier thoughts on attitudes in 2013.
Attitude is not easy to define. It is better described. People often refer to other people’s attitudes in the following terms:
- He’s got an attitude problem.
- Something is wrong with her attitude.
- I don’t like your attitude.
- You’re being difficult.
- That’s a racist (or sexist) attitude.
- Your attitude is anti-authority.
- You’re a conformist.
- You’re just weak.
- You need to change your attitude.
- That’s a positive mental attitude.
These sort of phrases describe some sort of perceived misbehaviour or demeanour. Amusingly, people often say that ‘one should not judge other people‘ – but that’s exactly what people do i.e. judge other people. I don’t want to get started on hypocrisy again.
Attitude is noticed through utterances, choice of words, the way things are said, and body language. There is usually emotional content of some sort with expression of an attitude. But where no emotion is expressed, the form of thinking or expression says something. Attitude is also about patterns of behaviour observable by other people. Individuals are sometimes aware of their attitudes, though attitude can be unconscious – not observable to the individual.
Group attitudes can form into cultures and by extension may influence individual attitudes (for good or bad).
As this is not a lecture, I’m not going to give a list of 100 functions. Attitudes can promote or limit interaction and change. They can motivate or demotivate people. They can blind people to change of mindset or exposure to opportunity. Some people display self-defeating attitudes. Others are movers and shakers – they inspire change and bring people to new heights.
Depending on the set of attitudes, people can be self-driven, driven by others, resist change, or go in circles.
Have you ever heard a person say, “I know I need to get my shit together!” – but after many years they’re saying the same thing, with no real sign of change? These are the people who also say, “Well, it’s taking some time but I’m getting there – next year it’s gonna be different.” These people are self-defeating, blame social circumstances, money problems and loads of other things. They’re not gonna get there but their so-called friends provide sympathy or empathy. I shouldn’t get started on ‘friends’ – only to say that those sort of friends are pretty useless.
In the best case scenarios the positive facilitatory attitudes of a good leader will motivate people in groups and bring about major achievements in business environments. Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla) is probably one such example.
As the topic is quite vast, I thought the best way to condense it was in a mindmap. The following is a cut-down of a full mindmap. Expandable text notes are not viewable (click for larger view).
People usually change their attitudes if driven to do so, by some internal or external discomfort. But cold calculating self-directed change of attitude is not easy. Social circumstances may reinforce self-defeating attitudes. People often read self-help books and inspirational biographies but find that there is no tangible change of their performance. The ‘Boomerang effect‘ is rather common.
Understanding one’s attitudes is also pretty useless from my long experience. There are commonly held beliefs that education, understanding, abject self-analysis or even psychoanalysis will help. Sure – every little may help but at what rate of change? Years?
You could study everything on attitudes and still not be able to change them. Personal and organisational change management is a vast topic. I don’t go there. This is not a PhD thesis!
Deeply ingrained and culturally supported attitudes are the most difficult to deal with. Racist and other discriminatory attitudes within certain cultures, are not seen by individuals as a problem. This is because it is so common place and reinforced by those cultures. In this particular area education is even slower to change people. Not uncommonly, some of the most highly educated people harbour these sort of attitudes. What does that say?
My role on this blog is not to tell people what to do. From my experience the following have been the greatest changers of attitudes.
- Sweeping cultural change.
- Effective leadership (for organisations).
- Pain and suffering – physical or emotional.
- Force e.g. COVID-19.
- Promise of great rewards.
Less effective and slow changers:
- Repeated application of new principles.
- Attitudes may promote or limit change in the personal and group domains.
- Self-directed change of attitude is very difficult for most people.
- Emotion is an inhibitor and driver of change.
- Personal motivation on its own may not be a great driver of change.
- Suffering of various types may drive people to change attitudes.
- Education is not expected to be a rapid change agent.
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