You may have heard us say that what you should look for when interviewing a potential new employee is ’attitude’. Existing employees should also be studied for their ‘attitude’. I think attitude is worth years of experience and loads of qualifications. The person who reaches the top of the mountain is not the PhD nor the veteran climber. It is the person who is determined to get there. As Robert Bruce said ‘Whether doing, suffering or forbearing you may do miracles by persevering’.  And perseverance is the personification of attitude.

What are the characteristics of attitude and how do we perceive it?

Attitude is neither superficial enthusiasm nor simple flattery. Some people may be taken in by these. They will be the people who look for short-term relationships, not for lasting partnerships. They expect obedience rather than initiative. Attitude has to be collegial, not servile – ‘I stand up for both you and me’. Willingness to express a position, explain it and be able to listen constructively to the other point of view is a major part of attitude.

Genuine enthusiasm is detected by the quality of the questions you ask or are asked. It is hard to ask good questions. First, you have to recognise the position of the person you are dealing with, their likely mood, concerns, anxieties. You don’t have to delve into another human’s private life to know if they have worries. You can read it in their face, hear it in their conversation, see it in their body language, watch it in their eyes. That is why learning to read people is a vital ingredient for both creating and comprehending attitude. 

Understanding engagement is key to how attitude will be expressed and read. The word ‘engage’ is used misleadingly much of the time. We know what it means when talking about marriage but forget that any engagement with others is as committing, without the sexual element. Civilisation is itself based on collaborative engagement. Hiring an employee is a very civilising thing to do – or ought to be. Do you think how civilised you are when interviewing a potential peer?

Just as the questions you get will tell you about someone’s attitude, so the questions you ask will help to elicit the attitude of your respondent. Some purely functional questions will be necessary in most interviews. The answers to them will not be particularly revealing. Factual questions should be dealt with by a department manager or HR, and on paper. It is a waste of time to dwell on them at an interview or discussion. Remember the appraisals you have had when what you were asked was the equivalent of the time of day?

All these aspects of attitude are important but the most important one is less definable. It is a willingness to meet the other person’s interests in order to reach a sensible and rewarding relationship – or decision, when a negotiation is in play – that both or all parties can subscribe to with honour. That means winning, but for all those concerned not just for you. Business has become too competitive to be successful for a community now. It has become a case of winner takes all. Real winners don’t take at all. Real winners share to the benefit of everyone.

How do you discover this last and most important aspect of attitude?

You care about people, about what makes them tick, what causes them to be difficult, what shows them in the best light. You care about their successes and are concerned about their failures. You feel a deep awareness of what delights and hurts them. You let them see that you care, not with sentimental, false words but with actions that tell them your feelings. A glance of sympathy is worth a thousand condolences.

There are no quick fixes in the business of attitude. Understanding it comes with looking for sincerity and disregarding false feelings. Two people know about care, the carer and the cared for.

When you meet someone who cares, you achieve an attitude of superb harmony.

Provided you both know that you care.