by Steve Adubato, PhD

Consider Jim Smith, a manager who has been working his way through the corporate ranks for over two decades. He is a solid middle-manager with a nice corner office and a decent salary. The problem is, every time Jim is up for a major promotion, he gets knocked down and he can’t figure out why. The buzz is that beyond Jim’s technical responsibilities he is “depressing to be around.” Colleagues have said confidentially that they hide when they see Jim coming down the hallway. They try to avoid his meetings and if they are forced into conversation with him, they cut it off as quickly as possible.

Simply put, Jim Smith has a pretty bad attitude. He takes himself way too seriously (you can’t tease him) and complains a lot about what hasn’t gone right for him. He blames others (including his parents and/or his wife) for why his professional life hasn’t worked out so well. Jim’s just no fun. Let’s ask some questions about Jim’s problem.

Q—How could it be that an otherwise smart, articulate, technically capable manager doesn’t understand that he is turning people off and it is hurting his career?

A—Millions of people function like this every day. They are oblivious to how they are seen. They walk around with a negative attitude, rolling their eyes, being sarcastic and sometimes even nasty for so long that this is all they know. These people incorrectly think that as long as they “do their job” that’s enough to move up. Well, it’s not. People have to like you and enjoy being in your company.

Q—If Jim is technically competent, why wouldn’t his annual performance evaluation communicate the message that his attitude is hurting him?

A—Great question which goes to why most performance evaluations aren’t particularly helpful. Many managers I have spoken to are afraid to be candid in such 360 evaluations. They are not convinced that their comments will remain confidential. Why take the risk in letting Jim know that his negative attitude is hurting him if he could potentially turn on you? Further, most leaders haven’t created a workplace environment where a free and open exchange of feedback is possible.

Q—So what can you do to help a manager who is so entrenched in his ways and doesn’t know any better?

A—One solution is to have a big time intervention. Jim needs a heavy dose of external and internal coaching. If the organization really wants to invest in helping him reach his leadership potential, it must first get him to acknowledge that he has a problem. Then, a performance game plan must be agreed upon and stuck to. If Jim has any chance, he must understand that walking into a room with his head down, without saying hello to anyone before a meeting starts is a problem. He must commit to himself and to the organization that he will work on his interpersonal communication skills. He must commit to stop cutting others off and telling them things like; “You are 100 percent wrong…that is a stupid idea,” when someone else makes a suggestion.

Like many professionals, Jim doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, therefore, he needs a lot of help and support from those around him. People often communicate on auto-pilot without thinking about what they are doing and their impact on others. Until you stop and take a hard look in the mirror, this pattern will continue. It’s time for Jim Smith and a lot of other managers with bad attitudes to do an intense communication inventory. For a list of some inventory questions click here.