There is an interesting conversation taking place on HRLinkedIn in which the following question was posted:
“Can changing a behavior really change an attitude? It’s often said that changing a workplace behavior can be “easily” done through strong and immediately enforced incentives/disincentives. But does changing a behavior also result is a changed attitude? What do you do with an employee who’s behavior has changed for the better but they still have a very “bad attitude” towards such things as racism, sexism, ageism, etc? Will this person change over time or will their continued attitude negatively infect others around them?” (Dr. Eli Sopow)
The feedback on the discussion seems to be wavering between whether behaviours change attitudes, or attitudes change behaviours. I think that attitudes are formed by one’s beliefs and these ultimately affect behaviours.
As an example, if you believe that your supervisor has no clue what you do on a day-to- day basis, you probably don’t have the best attitude toward him or her. Your poor attitude probably affects your behaviours and the way in which you do your work. You may speak poorly of your supervisor to peers; you may neglect certain tasks you have been asked to perform as you don’t personally see value in doing them.
However, I think that if your supervisor were able to provide some background into what his/her experience is as it relates to your position (as an example) you may change your beliefs. This knowledge may very well change your attitude toward your supervisor. Maybe you will see that in fact, your supervisor has more of an awareness that you thought; and there is a ‘method to his madness’ so to speak.
Now, the bigger question is changing “attitudes” one has around racism, sexism, ageism, etc. Again, this is a belief system of some sort. You will never change everyone’s mindset; nor should that be your goal. At best, you may only be able to change the behaviour based on incentives/disincentives…and the attitude will remain.
I think that it is incumbent upon the leadership in an organization to clearly identify acceptable and non-acceptable behaviours. With the right environment and proper education around some of the mis-guided beliefs that are out there; you may be able to adjust some attitudes.
As Karin Wills (one of the participants) stated: “If the behavior has changed then whether or not the person will influence others with their negative attitude likely depends on critical mass. If the person is alone in their attitude, others will ignore or challenge (most likely ignore) him; if there are others with the same attitude, he will be part of maintaining the culture that attitude reflects. The persons ability to influence will depend on what the culture allows.”