How do you engage in conversation about someone’s attitude? (spoiler: don’t do it)

Sometimes two words are like a soppy couple. You always see them together and you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

Like with the words attitude and behaviour.

This closeness is a problem. Because attitude and behaviour are two different things that should not be confused.

What is the difference?

Behaviour is about what someone does:

spending money, making improvement proposals, seeking alignment, keeping their distance, asking questions, asking for feedback, eating vegetarian, raising a problem.

Attitude – nowadays also called mindset – is about what someone is:

cost-conscious, proactive, responsible, result-oriented, customer-oriented, agile, awake, entrepreneurial, professional, lazy, reflective, improvement-oriented, empathetic, social, sincere, independent.

Attitude is about our inner world, behaviour about the outer world.

And the conversation about attitude causes by far the most trouble.

Why is that?

Wanting to change someone’s attitude is a self-defeating prophecy. The other person will never say about himself that he is not solution-oriented, reflective or professional. And nobody will let anyone tell them that.

As long as you put your attitude goal on the table in a general sense (“what we need is a mindset of improvement”) the reaction is: “that is not about me, because I am already that”. You don’t strike a chord with the other person. What you get is resignation.

Until he discovers that your message is indeed about him. He feels that you see him as someone who is not improvement-minded. Then you do strike a chord, but it is the wrong one. What you get is resistance.

What then?

Both the outside world and the inner world of the other person should be the subject of conversation. But the conversation about his inner world should not be about what you think the other person is. What you call his attitude is nothing more than your projection of his inner world.

The conversation should be about what he thinks, what he feels and what he wants. So that it can become clear why he does what he does.

Annemarie Mars, November 2021

Photocredits: “Proud Bird” by Larry Smith2010 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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