“I ain’t much but I’m all I think about.” – Unknown wise person.

When I share this quote it never fails to elicit knowing chuckles from those within earshot. Almost everyone knows that we spend a lot more time worrying about ourselves than about others. In a management setting, however, it’s not really funny.

Common sense tells that our inner dialog will have a big impact on our attitude about a person or situation. And that attitude will be contagious: not only is our productivity quite literally the product of it, but if we work with or lead/manage other people, it also has a big impact on their productivity.

Houzz co-founder and CEO Adi Tatarko shared a shocking statistic from early surveys of the Houzz community.
Courtesy Adobe Stock

The bad news is that psychologists have found that most people's inner dialog skews negative and thus holds them back. Or as the Eagles so eloquently put it in the song Already Gone: “So often times it happens, that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.”

The good news is that we do indeed have the key. Most of us don't realize how much control we have over our inner dialog—and our attitude—and how little changes can make a big difference to our work environment. You don't have to transform your personality; you need only put a little more thought about how you react in certain situations, and about the part your thoughts play in those reactions.

I saw this at work recently when my family and I had dinner at a local restaurant in Raleigh that's famous for its great steaks and upscale, casual atmosphere. Our expectations were high, but as we strolled up to the front door we were blown away. The greeter asked us how we were doing and we replied with the usual “excellent,” “great,” etc. Then my brother-in-law asked him how he was doing and he said “this is the best day of my life so far!” then followed up with “and I bet tomorrow will be even better!”

There wasn't a trace of sarcasm in that answer. This man was either as sincere as you can get or he should be in Hollywood, acting for a living!

He had decided to have a great attitude and to positively impact his environment and those in it. And it worked! Our little party, already anticipating a great dinner, laughed as we bounced into the restaurant, ready to have a blast. There’s no telling how many dozens of people each night, hundreds each week and thousands per year he impacts. And how many of his colleagues provide better service—and earn better tips— because of his attitude. I bet his attitude plays a part in the great reviews this restaurant gets.

I'm not saying that you need to be a bubbly extrovert: you don't. The point is that, regardless of what might have been happening in his head, he made a little effort that had a big impact on our experience.

What does this have to do with home building? I'm glad you asked.

Say you're a site supervisor and you have to talk with a trade about their consistent tardiness. If you come to the discussion with a defensive, confrontational attitude because you have been ruminating over the problem all day, what will be the likely outcome of that conversation?

What if, instead of showing up ready for a tense conversation, you set aside your self-righteousness and try to understand why that trade isn't showing up on time? Yes, it may be because he's not being honest with you about his availability but it also may be that the sub doesn't trust your schedule because your jobs have a history of not being ready when you say they will be. You will only find out by creating a trusting environment for that conversation.

I've seen this play out both ways again and again. In my experience, being confrontational creates a self-fulfilling expectation: the builder expects that the trade can't be trusted and needs to be micro-managed while the trade expects builder to be an ass. Such relationships inevitably end before too long. However when the builder tries to see things from the trade's point of view and come to a mutually acceptable solution, the relationship usually ends up dramatically stronger and more trusting.

But don't just take my word for it. Plenty of studies have shown how good and bad attitudes can impact the productivity and engagement of work teams.

A great example is the Gallup State of the Global Workforce Report for 2017. One of the most important metrics that Gallup measures is Employee Engagement. Engaged employees “are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace." In effect, they become psychological owners that drive performance and innovation. Non-engaged employees, on the other hand, “are psychologically unattached to their work and company." They do little more than put in their time, and they lack energy or passion.

The greeter at the restaurant is the definition of an engaged employee and it’s clear to see how his engagement creates positive feedback loops in coworkers, supervisors and customers. Are you that guy? If not, why not? What would it take from you to become that guy? How many like that would it take to transform your team, office, division, or company? Not as many as you may think.

According to the Gallup report, only 31% of U.S. and Canadian workers are engaged, while 52% are non-engaged. Worse still, the remaining 17%—one in five— are “actively disengaged.” They're either deliberately trying to not help the company or trying to cause it harm.

More importantly, Gallup also found that companies with highly engaged workforces—where the rates of engagement exceed 70%—lead their industries in just about every measure of performance.

Which company is yours? Are you and your colleagues switched on and actively engaged in making your company great? If not, you probably ought to get to work improving the level of engagement. A behavioral change by one person can start a positive chain reaction.

If you're in a leadership position, it's your responsibility to be that person. Leaders' attitudes have a multiplying effect, so if the leader is confrontational the workers will likely be disengaged. But leaders that put aside their internal dialog and engage with their team usually have motivated people working for them.

I talk a lot in this column about the benefits of creating a culture of collaboration but that type of organizational change can seem overwhelming. So rather than trying to swallow the whole program at once, start small. Try a new attitude for one day or one interaction. Then let me know how it turns out. Have a great start to 2019!