Posted: by HRNasty in Climbing Career Ladder, Job Interview Tips, What HR Really Thinks

Positive Attitude

Attempt to avoid the traditional HR “positivity quote” of the day

Positive attitude vs. Negative attitude

A positive attitude is an asset and anyone that tells you otherwise sucks. All kidding aside, a negative attitude is one of the personality traits that will keep an individual contributor out of management. It doesn’t matter how technically proficient we are at the job. Without a positive attitude, the career ladder will only reach so high. Most of us are reading this post and thinking “HRNasty, you state the obvious. I don’t have a negative attitude so I don’t need to continue reading.”

Au contraire mon ami.

90 percent of employees think they have a positive attitude. Mangers think 90% of their employees are neutral to negative. My Vegas odds say that most managers feel only 10% of their team verbalize a positive attitude. We may be positive thinkers but if the team or our manager “perceives” us to be negative, then that is how we will be branded. This brand will not help us climb the career ladder. 

The thing about a negative attitude is that most of us do not know we sound negative. We may think we have a positive attitude, but what is heard by others is often different. Below I will provide examples of common responses to request that most of us take for granted. 

It’s not what we say, it’s what people hear

HR observations

Three observations after years of seeing employees passed over for promotion and declined in interviews:

  1. Having a neutral tone in conversation is better than having a negative tone. A neutral tone won’t get you promoted.
  2. We may have a neutral tone. We may not sound negative, but if we don’t sound positive, we won’t be perceived as positive. Let me say that one more time. We may not sound negative, but if we don’t sound positive, we won’t be perceived as positive.
  3. We can be positive about our friends, our colleagues and our projects, but if we are negative on our selves, it will be tough to climb the ladder. 
Positive Attitude

In the immortal words of Rob Schneider from the movie Water Boy “You can do ittttt”

I used to be the guy that rolled his eyes when someone was talking about PMA. I wasn’t just THAT guy I was the guy that had eyes rolling like a giant Ferris wheel.  Over time I trained myself to see the “other side” of every situation and trust me, in my field, there is always the “other side”. 

Fast forward to the present. I roll my eyes when I hear anyone poo-poo an idea, tell me a project cannot be done, or comes into an interview and the answers end on a negative sound bite. In most cases, these party pooper’s don’t even know what they sound like. After all, who would come into an interview with negativity or present themselves as less than positive to their manager?

Why demonstrate a positive attitude?

For starters, no one wants to be around Negative Nelly. Gather any 5 people, ask them about the traits they want to see in their next hire or co-worker and “positive attitude”, “fun”, and “open minded” will be at the top of the list.

Requisite dating analogy

It doesn’t matter how easy on the eyes a potential plus one is, or how much we have in common with our future ex. We will grow bored and frustrated if they possess a negative attitude. We will put up with the potential +1 longer than normal, but the end-result will be the same. 

When it comes to management roles, having a positive attitude is key. Managers aren’t really needed when the times are good, deals are rolling in and everyone is making their bonuses. Any monkey can hand out a raise or a bonus. Managers are needed when times are tough, when deal flow is drying up and when the results are not there. Good managers are paid to solve problems and it is tough to follow or be inspired by a manager who is always thinking “we’ll never get it done” or “that’s impossible”. Managers figure it out. Great managers solve problems. The expectation is that managers produce results.  Most leadership teams believe they can teach technical skills and do NOT believe they can teach a positive attitude. F-U-L-L S-T-O-P.

Moon Shot

If you say any of the below on a regular basis, you probably aren’t getting into management any time soon.

  • “No”. Extra steps backwards in the ladder to management if you say “No” without a reason why it is a “no”.
  • “That can’t be done”. I have said it before and will say it again. If we put a man on the moon in the 60’s, we can do anything. It may cost more money and take more resources than what is initially available, but it CAN be done. The United States proved it. Our first rocket didn’t make it to the moon, we made baby steps, but we did it.
    • NASA shot a moon into space.
    • The United States put a monkey into space.
    • We orbited the moon.
    • THEN  we landed on the moon.
    • The United States put a man on the moon.
  • Any sentence implying an idea is stupid, dumb or useless. We don’t have to state the idea is stupid, dumb or useless, but if that is the impression we leave, we probably are not going to hear any further ideas.

Positive Examples

One of the most creative biz dev guys I know and admire taught me that the answer should never be “No”. The answer should always be “Yes” or “Yes, if”. As in “Yes, IF we can do X or Y”.  So, if someone asks if we can haul the piano up the stairs to the 4th floor, we don’t say “No, it can’t be done”. We try some version of “Yes, IF we just have the right equipment including a crane and we can take the window out of the room it is supposed to go in. We will put the piano through the window.

The CEO pulled me aside and gave me an edict: “Don’t ever let me fire Creative Biz Dev Guy. He and TL are the only two guys that understand where I am coming from when I am thinking forward and dreaming big. Everyone else thinks I am on crack and shit’s on my ideas but those two guys can see the potential”. Two lessons here:

  1. If you want to hear ideas from your team, don’t shit on them when they are suggested.
  2. Anyone can see the potential of an idea with the right frame of mind.

These two guys didn’t think about how it “couldn’t be done”. They were always figuring out how it CAN be accomplished and this is why they were able to keep up with the CEO. Are you an AmericCAN or an AmeriCAN’T?

There are no impossible tasks. There are “interesting problems” and “tough challenges”.

Alternatives to negative answers

Instead of saying “No”, “No, it can’t be done.” or “No, that’s stupid.”

Try: “That is an interesting challenge. That could be tough. Let me think about that for a minute?” If we say “It can’t be done” and someone does get it done, we will have mud on our face.  

Try: “I can see where we could come to that conclusion. Have WE thought about it this way?”

Instead of saying: “We don’t have enough people / budget to get that done.”

Try: “Let’s figure out how many / how much it will take to get what we need and back off from that number.” Then follow-up with:  

  • “What is the minimum that we can get away with?”
  • “What can we do to make an initial viability test?”

Instead of saying, “It isn’t MMYYYYY fault”

Try: “I am sure what ever happened wasn’t intentional. Let’s figure out how to improve the situation.”

Instead of saying “I don’t like that.” Or “I hate that”.

Try: “I haven’t learned to appreciate that yet. What should I be looking for?”

Instead of saying “Johnny is stupid, dumb, an asshole, etc”. 

Try: A small personal dose of STFU.  OK, that sounded horrible, but I am pretty sure you will remember it. BOOYAHHH!

Glass half full

The goal is to think before we speak and try t0 present ourselves in at LEAST a neutral tone. It’s not going to happen overnight. Change will be a process. 

Look at the glass as half full instead of half empty and if the glass is less than half full, find a smaller glass.

Next week: how to shed a reputation for having a negative attitude.

See you at the after party,

HRNasty
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • gander2112

    I will take the contrarian or “negative” view on this.

    I totally get this, and understand your point. However, in my opinion that management who has surrounded themselves with “positivity” oozing personnel create a reality dysfunction zone. This is more than just surrounding yourself with “yes men”, but distorting what is happening in real space nearby.

    I like having at least one person who appears grounded in reality, practicality, and rationality to prevent some insane chasing of pretty butterflies. I have worked for an executive who indeed surrounded himself like thus, and what happened was that we couldn’t ever get a project finished. He would have a lark, and a hallway conversation with his director of engineering, and boom, we were off on to a significant redesign at the 11th hour. Three weeks later, I would be in an update meeting, and I would get pounded for saying that the launch was delayed for 6 months because the project was derailed due to a whim.

    Yet I was the one who was labeled the “negative nancy” (actually, in my review that year, I was called an Eeyore) for pointing out the consequences of these flights of fancy. Alas, he was ultimately fired, I was run out on a rail, and I had a heart attack from the stress that position put me in.

    I guess my takeaway is to be somewhat cautious of just being a yes-man. Short term, it will endear you to your boss, but only a bad boss will shut out dissenting opinions. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and the battle scars to prove it.

    • Gander, I completely agree with your comments here. I honestly believe that we can present the counter points when we do not agree with the masses in a positive way. I do believe that we can present alternative and even opposite views in a neutral to positive way. It doesn’t mean we are being a yes man. And I think it also asks that we know “when to quit and salute the flag”.

      I have seen many employees have an opinion that went against management and I thought they were right. But it is how they presented their ideas that I didn’t appreciate. I believe that when we are “grounded in reality and practicality” we should be able to present our ideas with out negativity. I hope this is making sense because I agree with you. I do want someone on the team that thinks out of the box. HRN

      • gander2112

        Good point, and often to be the effective “grounding” agent you need to build the credibility. Truly negative or neutral people rarely build that credibility (and in fact often self select themselves out of the organization.)

        I am just of the opinion that sometimes you really need to fly the bullshit flag. Reminds me of the old Cheech and Chong skit: “Looks like dog shit, smells like dog shit, tastes like dog shit. Good thing we didn’t step in it”

        Sometimes, even with all the indicators pointing to dog shit, the organization will stomp on that stinky pile 🙂

        • as a good friend once said: 1 part shit and 99 parts wine, tastes like shit.
          Really appreciate you bringing up the solid mindset!

      • Bunny

        It’s called the “silk glove” delivery. 😉

    • Bunny

      So true!!!

  • J-nean

    Excellent advice and I think it was directed at me, lol. Will definitely remember “STFU” b/c that is useful in so many ways and situations. I’m proud to be an Ameri-can and am mindfully working on the positive attitude! Thanks!!