Enjoying Your Work
Ego-involved attitudes help define people’s views of themselves
Attitudes refer to people's evaluations about various objects and concepts in their lives. Objects can be seen and touched, and examples of attitudes toward objects are types of automobiles being considered for purchase and brand names of clothing that might be worn to work. Concepts are more abstract, and often cannot be seen, heard, or touched, but they are nevertheless very important in people's lives. Concepts often refer to ideas that reflect a person's values and self image. Examples are the types of careers that people want to have and the types of schools to which they want to send their children.
People's attitudes can range from weak to strong. Weakly held attitudes might include whether or not politicians in Hawaii should provide financial support for a new modern art museum featuring local artists. While some people feel strongly about this issue, many people don't care very much one way or the other. Some of these uncommitted people can be encouraged to change their attitudes if proponents of the museum make convincing arguments. Such arguments can include how the museum will improve the quality of life in Hawaii, how it will attract tourists, and how it will provide educational opportunities for artistically inclined schoolchildren.
The most effective arguments will match the interests and concerns of people whose attitudes might be changed. People whose jobs are dependent upon the visitor industry will pay attention to arguments that a new museum will attract more tourists. Parents with school-age children may find that arguments about educational programs for youngsters are compelling. Good communicators are skillful at reading audiences and tailoring their arguments to the interests and concerns of listeners.
In contrast to attitudes about which people do not have strong feelings and thus can be moved in the direction of a speaker's recommendations, some attitudes are very strongly held. These attitudes often are part of people's self images that they are very proud to communicate to family members, friends, and co-workers. Such attitudes often deal with deeply held values such as the proper role of government in improving community life, religion, and the legal status of a woman's right to an abortion. These attitudes do not change easily and speakers advocating change will find their task to be challenging. If they advocate for change at community meetings, speakers will be interrupted and will have to deal with angry voices and with audience members who attack both their personalities and their motives.
These strongly held feelings and opinions are sometimes referred to as ego-involved attitudes. They are attitudes that are central to people's views of themselves, the types of individuals they are and want to be, and the images that they want to present to others in their communities. Examples of these attitudes that are currently in the news include legal challenges to admissions at Kamehameha schools, efforts to improve Hawaii's public schools, and the choice of sites for city dumps.
People often draw from their ego-involved attitudes when speaking out in public forums such as legislative hearings, public demonstrations, and school board meetings. Since the attitudes are deeply held and since they are confident enough to voice their views in public, they will not be easily swayed by speakers who have differing views.
Attitudes cannot be captured by a single point on scale ranging from "disagree very much" to "strongly disagree." Especially for ego-involved attitudes, people have positions that they find acceptable, positions about which they are neutral, and positions that they find unacceptable. If strongly held attitudes are to be changed, communicators must ask whether their message is consistent with at least one position that audience members find acceptable or about which they are neutral. This is a very difficult task for communicators, and helps explain why attitude change regarding important issues is so challenging.
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The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: firstname.lastname@example.org