Enjoying Your Work
People’s attitudes incorporate range of positions
Attitudes are often measured on a scale where people make a mark corresponding to their feelings. For example, they are asked to think about a big company such as General Electric and to rate it on a scale ranging from "very good" through "no opinion" to "very bad."
While convenient and efficient, this measuring technique does not capture the complexity of attitudes. It does not capture the richness of people's feelings on issues such as the reliability of General Electric products, follow up services, the quality of the company's leadership, and the attractiveness of the company as a place to have a career.
Especially for people's important and self-defining attitudes, a better approach to measurement is to examine a wide range of positions. These various positions are organized according to people's latitudes of acceptance, rejection, and neutrality.
Let's use the workplace example of managers' attitudes about communicating with employees.
For traditional managers who view themselves as the sources of knowledge and authority, the latitude of acceptance will include statements such as "tell employees what to do" and "make sure that employees know what my goals are." These are the communication practices that traditional managers find to be acceptable. But knowing only acceptable practices does not allow for an in-depth understanding of attitudes.
The latitude of rejection may include practices such as "listening to the concerns of employees," and "requesting input from workers concerning decision making in this company." These are the practices that traditional managers will reject, and workers who want to see more openness in communication will face a stone wall. For some communication behaviors, managers will have no feelings one way or the other, so these practices will be put into their latitude of neutrality. Such practices may include "talking informally with employees out of the office at company parties," and "responding to worker inquiries via email."
Research by communication scholars has revealed an important finding that is useful for people who want to encourage attitude change.
If a recommendation for change falls in people's latitude of rejection, it is often perceived as more negative and more unacceptable than the change agents intended.
If the change agents want more participative management where bosses seek out recommendations from workers, managers will react to the fact that this is in their latitude of rejection. Part of their reaction will be that they feel they are being criticized and that their authority is being questioned. The individuals requesting the change may not have had such intentions. They simply wanted more opportunities to give managers their suggestions. These strong reactions after placement of suggestions into manager's latitude of rejection help explain a common workplace problem. Workers wanted change and communicated their suggestions to their managers. But the bosses reacted in a very negative manner. The workers then think, "We had no idea that management would react in such an intense way. We just wanted more workplace communication and a two-way flow of information."
In this example of workplace participation, employees will have more success with attitude-change attempts if they frame their suggestions in terms that fall into their managers' latitudes of acceptance or neutrality.
This recommendation requires that workers know their bosses well.
Such knowledge of others is always useful and important in attitude change attempts. If managers-interact in a relaxed manner with employees at company social gatherings, perhaps employees can suggest a weekly informal gathering over coffee where ideas can be shared.
Or, if managers enjoy responding to e-mail, perhaps several employees can send separate e-mails with the same suggestion for workplace improvement.
In all such communications, workers should not be demanding and should not threaten their boss's authority. If they fail to take this advice and are seen as overly aggressive, then the boss will dismiss them and will reject their suggestions.
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.
is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org