It has been a while since I wanted to write about this. Bad attitudes have become an increasing issue in many workplaces, from micro to giant organizations. My opinions here are based on diverse experiences and observations over 26 years of my corporate journey. I won’t mention any names from these experiences, however. I have something more interesting to discuss.

I’d like to alert you before you continue: they are intense about this particular subject. As you proceed with this article, you should know I won’t leave any stone unturned. So, now is a great time to check your ego before moving forward.

When people with bad attitudes are part of a team, in any capacity, they can bring the whole team down. When they move to management, leadership, or any decision-making role, they can destroy an entire company. At the same time, despite the apparent harsh confrontation towards bad attitudes, this article aims at a fruitful end. More specifically, my goal is to provide individual contributors, managers, leaders, and business owners with concrete, fact-based, and actionable insights for avoiding the destructive consequences of not correctly addressing bad attitudes in the workplace.

Defining Bad Attitude

Ensuring we are all on the same page is essential for such a serious conversation. For this article, a bad attitude can be defined as a persistent, conscious, and deliberate pattern of behavior characterized by negativity, selfishness, and disregard for others. It manifests through actions and interactions prioritizing personal gain or satisfaction at the expense of team cohesion, organizational culture, and collective well-being. People exhibiting a bad attitude often engage in behaviors strategically planned to undermine, demean, or belittle others, showing little to no appreciation for anyone or anything or the journey toward achieving common goals. Such attitudes are self-enabling and self-justifying, creating a toxic environment that hampers growth, innovation, and the development of a supportive and inclusive workplace. A bad attitude, therefore, is not merely a momentary lapse in judgment or an unintentional misstep; it is a choice—a consistent preference for negative behaviors that value things over people, disregard the importance of journey and growth, and detach oneself from the reality and responsibility of contributing to a positive and constructive work environment.

If you think I am being too hard on bad attitudes at some point in this article, I would like you to return to the above definition and refresh your memory about what I am fighting against.

The Major Characteristics of Bad Attitude

I am always fascinated by how many TV shows serve as excellent illustrations of valuable corporate lessons. Some of them are pretty easy to see why, such as The Playlist (the story of Spotify), Super Pumped (the story of Uber), Big Vape (the story of Juul), Return to Space (the story of SpaceX), The Inventor (the story of Theranos), Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, while some others might not look like it and yet provide great lessons for entrepreneurs, innovators, and professionals in general as it is the case as As the Crow Flies (Turkish drama series) and Car Masters (car restoration reality show). These illustrations are handy since they allow me to provide real-world examples without revealing details of people and their experiences I either witnessed or know of.

I will use illustrations from Pressure Cooker, a cooking reality show on Netflix for this article.

Why? There are three reasons for that:

  • Reality shows are made for entertainment; therefore, getting illustrations from them is handy when addressing such a heavy subject. These illustrations are immediately more accessible to everyone, making the case more digestible. Moreover, due to the entertainment setting, most people will easily miss important corporate lessons one can take from it. So, I would like to bring those to light.
  • The entertainment nature of a reality show is also perfect to illustrate how lightly some people take problems associated with bad attitudes. Comments like “Well, this person is just like that” or “These things happen anyways” are more frequent than one would imagine. To highlight the danger of such stances, I will match each illustration from the reality show with a well-known corporate tragedy.
  • People are the same outside and inside the workspace. A person with solid habits of lying, cheating, and deceiving will do the same in your company, your team, and with you directly without second thoughts. You can bet on it.

Self-Awareness

There is no such thing as an “unaware bad attitude.” On the contrary, a bad attitude is always self-conscious and self-aware. Some team members exhibiting severe cases of bad attitudes will start their sentences with something like “I know I am annoying,” “I am not for everyone,” and “I am hard to deal with,” etc. These acknowledgments have no effect on how they interact with other people. Instead, it is just a declaration of self-awareness, so there are no questions to ask about it.

In the Reality Show

I started to watch Pressure Cooker on Netflix. At first glance, it is another cooking show where celebrities judge chefs. However, this particular show introduces a new element: the chefs will be judged by each other. When I saw that, I immediately thought that the dynamic of the competition became radically different from the typical cooking quest. If you are going to be assessed by your peers, more than your cooking skills is required. At the very least, you will have to invest in good communication, relationships, and leadership. As the participants were introduced, we heard bits and pieces from each one. Since it is a competition, it is only natural that each one presents themselves with bold statements. I noticed that most candidates talked well about themselves, highlighting their abilities, experiences, and passion for cooking. Mike, one of the contenders, introduced himself as follows:

The restaurant I used to work at, everyone called me Big Mike. I’m the smallest guy, but I act like the biggest guy in the room, and I think that makes guys like me very competitive.

It sounds like being “the smallest guy” bothers Mike so much that he needs to act as “the biggest guy in the room.” When Mike arrives, the other participants try to socialize by throwing personal questions at him (something they were already doing with other candidates). Mike gets uncomfortable and says:

I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve never done this before. I’m just used to cooking food. Way less talking, way more cooking, that’d be happy with me.

As soon as he hears his peers would judge him, Mike says:

That makes me a little nervous, for certain. I don’t feel as confident at getting people to like me as much as the food that I put on the plate.

Mike was already giving signs. As you will see, knowing he could have issues based on relationships didn’t change anything in Mike’s first interactions with the other candidates.

In the Real World

One example of self-aware bad attitudes is the Wells Fargo account fraud scandal that came to light in 2016. Senior management and employees at Wells Fargo were found to have created millions of fraudulent savings and checking accounts on behalf of their clients without their consent. The actions were part of a broader strategy to meet aggressive sales targets and earn bonuses. The systematic creation of unauthorized accounts was a strategic decision, indicating that those involved were aware of their unethical behavior. The scandal was not the result of isolated incidents but was widespread, suggesting a culture where a bad attitude towards ethical practices was normalized and encouraged. Even when allegations surfaced, Wells Fargo’s initial responses included downplaying the severity, justifying the sales practices, or shifting blame, all pointing to a self-justifying attitude among those involved.

Intentionality

Bad attitudes are always intentional. Moreover, it is often strategically, carefully, and meticulously planned.

In the Reality Show

The first task given to participants is to cook their favorite dishes in 90 minutes. Everyone wanted to impress their peers, so everyone was running against time and reasonably nervous. Mike finishes his dish before everyone else. Here is what he decides to do:

I finished a little early. I figured I’d just maybe get in people’s heads a little bit. I just started cleaning the kitchen. So it’s just to be like, ‘Hey, I am faster than you, you know?

As we will see later on, that attitude didn’t go unnoticed.

In the Real World

The Enron scandal is one of history’s most infamous corporate fraud cases. Enron, once a powerhouse in the energy sector, collapsed in 2001 due to widespread corporate fraud and corruption. It was characterized by a complex web of deceit, including accounting loopholes, unique purpose entities, and poor financial reporting, all intentionally designed to hide billions in debt from failed deals and projects. Senior executives at Enron were not only aware of these practices but actively encouraged and participated in them to present the company as much more profitable than it was. This deceit was not random or accidental; it was a calculated effort to mislead investors, regulators, and the public, driven by greed and the pursuit of personal profit at the expense of ethical standards and transparency.

Selfishness

Bad attitudes are firmly, directly, and undeniably motivated by selfish reasons. It goes beyond a competitive position, which many times is healthy. It is much colder than that, for it lacks empathy and interest for the collective good.

In the Reality Show

The participants are alerted that one of them will have to leave the competition due to the first task and how they would judge each other’s work. The reaction of the majority of the contestants was of surprise. They expressed that they were not ready to send anyone home. Mike had a different opinion:

I’m not surprised that there’s gonna be an elimination tonight. You know, it seems like the right time to send someone home already. You know, we got 11 of us. There’s only one winner. We gotta get someone out at some point. So might as well be tonight.

I know it is a competition. I know there will be only one winner. But everyone else also knows that. He still needs to consider teamwork and establishing relationships before he thinks about winning anything.

In the Real World

When it comes to selfishness driving bad attitudes, the Volkswagen emissions scandal, also known as “Dieselgate,” is a strong example of such a problem. In 2015, Volkswagen was found to have intentionally programmed more than 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide to activate emissions controls only during laboratory testing. This manipulation made the cars appear far less polluting than in actual road conditions, where they emitted pollutants at levels up to 40 times higher than standards allowed. These actions were driven by the desire to meet emissions standards cost-effectively, boost sales, and enhance the company’s market position, all at the expense of environmental standards and public health. The decision-makers within the company who orchestrated or approved the cheating software were motivated by personal gain, such as bonuses tied to sales targets and the company’s performance, despite the ethical, legal, and environmental consequences of their actions.

Valuing Things Over People

What could follow selfishness? That would have to be materialism. What else could happen when one disregards others? No empathy, no solidarity. The image and the notion of “the other” fade out completely.

In the Reality Show

Interestingly, the strongest candidates are confident and take pride in their honesty and transparency. But they do that with an outstanding level of sensibility. In particular, they show they care about others. As a matter of comparison, another participant called Lana said the following when she heard about the elimination:

I am shaking in my boots having to send someone home, to be quite honest. There’s a lot going through my head to make a decision, but I know it has to be made, and I know I will make it. But I know I’m not gonna rush to make it.

A contestant named Jeana was voted one of the bottom 3 out of 11, and as such, she was at risk of being eliminated. She remarks:

Last night, everybody was saying ‘Oh, you’re safe, you’re good.’ I feel like if they didn’t say that I would be a little more confident. But that’s probably exactly what I would say to somebody going home.

Jeana reveals herself as someone who didn’t want to reveal any of her actual impressions and opinions about anyone else in the competition. She makes it clear that she only cares about not going home and would adjust her actions and words to that end.

To contrast Jeana’s attitude, we can take a look at what another participant, Robbie, said about judging each other’s work:

In real-world and real-life restaurants, not only do you live and die by your guests’ perception of you, but you also can get a lot of progress or a lot of failure based on what your peers think about you. That sort of peer criticism is invaluable.

In the Real World

I don’t want to be economical in explaining how tragic the value of things over people can be. A horrible example of that involves the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, one of the deadliest garment factory accidents in history. The Rana Plaza collapse, which resulted in the death of over 1,100 workers and injured more than 2,500, brought to light the hazardous working conditions and the blatant disregard for human life exhibited by certain players in the fast fashion industry. Despite prior warnings about the building’s structural integrity, factories within the plaza continued operations to meet the relentless demand for cheap clothing from international brands. This tragedy highlighted how some companies, driven by the pursuit of profit, prioritize financial gains and the production of goods over their workers’ safety, well-being, and lives.

Disregard for the Journey

It just builds up. Combine selfishness with valuing things over people, and any journey will be a struggle. The obsession with self-indulging rewards leads to a disregard for the processes that make us better and lead us to conquer what is worthwhile in life.

In the Reality Show

Another contestant named Sergei was struggling to appreciate the dynamics of the activity he was participating in. The idea was to gain the respect of other chefs and receive good feedback from them. Instead, he spent most of the time elaborating on how superior he believed he was over everyone else:

I definitely have an upper hand on these private chefs. They don’t get to feel the heat and the burn of, like, the kitchen and the line. I’m one of the few that can do 500, 600 covers a night.

After receiving the first criticisms for the dish he prepared, Sergei ranted:

I thought my dish was way better than that. I nailed the cook on my venison. The sauce is delicious. Everything’s just flowing and perfect. I’m kind of pissed, to be completely honest with you. Like, what the hell?

The whole point of the experience up to that moment was to gain respect from other chefs. Refusing to accept their opinions defeats the purpose of the activity.

Jeana was so sure that she would be lying to anyone else in the house that she could not believe anyone in return:

I am getting a read on these people about, like, all right, you can’t really trust what they’re saying… exactly.

Being strategic does not mean being false—something so simple, but missed by a few contestants.

In the Real World

Perhaps one of the most tragic examples of disregard for the journey in recent history is the scandal involving Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos. Holmes, the founder and CEO of Theranos, claimed to have revolutionized blood testing by developing technology that could conduct comprehensive tests with just a few drops of blood. However, it was eventually revealed that the technology did not work as promised, leading to one of Silicon Valley’s most notorious fraud cases.

Holmes and Theranos showcased a disregard for the journey of genuine innovation and ethical business practices by misleading investors, partners, and patients about the capabilities and readiness of their technology. The pursuit of fame, wealth, and influence in the healthcare industry drove them to fabricate results, creating a dangerous situation where real patients were using unreliable medical tests. Holmes’ actions were motivated by the desire to be seen as a successful entrepreneur in the highly competitive tech industry, sidelining the critical importance of transparency, scientific integrity, and patient safety.

Further Characteristics

Could there be more? Yes. Bad attitudes are also:

  • Self-enabling and self-justifying: they create a cycle that perpetuates and rationalizes negative behavior. People with bad attitudes often develop a narrative that supports their actions, regardless of the negative impact on others or themselves. This self-justification process enables them to continue their behavior without confronting its harmful effects, as they convince themselves that their actions are warranted, necessary, or even virtuous under the circumstances. This self-enabling cycle shields the person from criticism and introspection, allowing the bad attitude to thrive unchecked. The more a person engages in self-justification, the more entrenched the bad attitude becomes, making it a self-sustaining loop that resists change and undermines personal growth and healthy relationships.

  • Always a choice: they stem from an individual’s decision to respond to situations, people, or challenges in a negative manner. While external circumstances can influence one’s disposition, the attitude one adopts in response to these circumstances is a matter of personal choice. Choosing a bad attitude involves selecting a perspective or approach that is pessimistic, uncooperative, or harmful over more constructive alternatives. This choice often reflects a preference for immediate emotional gratification or self-interest rather than considering long-term consequences or the well-being of others. Recognizing that attitudes are a choice empowers individuals to take responsibility for their reactions and to make conscious decisions to cultivate positive, supportive, and constructive attitudes instead.

  • Culture destroyers: they erode the foundational values and norms that hold a community or organization together. When individuals choose to engage in negative behaviors, such as disrespect, pessimism, or selfishness, these actions not only affect their personal relationships but also permeate the broader environment. A culture influenced by bad attitudes becomes marked by distrust, conflict, and disengagement, undermining teamwork, collaboration, and collective goals. As these negative behaviors become normalized, the positive aspects of culture—such as open communication, mutual respect, and shared purpose—are diminished. The destructive impact of bad attitudes on culture can stifle innovation, reduce morale, and lead to a toxic environment that hampers growth and success.

  • Ungrateful: they focus on negativity, overlooking the positive aspects and opportunities in any situation. Individuals with bad attitudes often take for granted the support, effort, and contributions of others, focusing instead on shortcomings or personal grievances. This lack of appreciation fails to acknowledge the value and significance of what others bring to the table, whether in personal relationships or professional settings. An ungrateful attitude diminishes the importance of kindness, help, and resources others offer, fostering a sense of entitlement rather than gratitude. By ignoring the good in people and situations, bad attitudes cultivate a mindset blind to the generosity and the benefits of collaborative effort, eroding the foundation of mutual respect and appreciation essential for healthy interactions and relationships.

  • Detached from reality: they often stem from a skewed perception of the world that ignores or misinterprets the positive aspects of situations and the intentions of others. This detachment manifests in an inability or unwillingness to see circumstances objectively, leading to reactions and decisions based on biased, pessimistic, or unfounded beliefs. Such attitudes result in surprise or denial when faced with the natural consequences of negative behaviors, as the individuals holding these attitudes have constructed a version of reality that justifies their actions and shields them from accountability. This detachment not only hampers personal growth and relationship building but also leads to misunderstandings and conflicts, as the individual’s perceived reality clashes with the experiences and perceptions of those around them.

Practical Pieces of Advice

In mathematics, we can “cancel” a term in an equation by adding it to its additive inverse or multiplying it by its multiplicative inverse. In both cases, the result is the identity (additive and multiplicative, respectively).

Similarly, in the workspace, we can cancel each characteristic of bad attitudes by using their corresponding inverses. As a result, we generate a corporate identity.

Cancel Bad Attitude Using its Inverse

Cultivate Positive Self-Awareness

Encourage individuals to reflect on how their actions and attitudes impact others, focusing on empathy and understanding. Positive self-awareness involves recognizing one’s role in a team and the larger organizational goals, nurturing a culture of mutual respect and collaboration.

Incentivize Intentionality Towards Positive Outcomes

Encourage setting intentions that promote teamwork, constructive feedback, and shared successes. Transform strategic planning into a tool for positive change and growth rather than manipulation or self-serving goals.

Promote Generosity and Altruism

Instigate acts of kindness and support within the team, highlighting the benefits of giving others time, attention, and resources. Show how mutual support leads to shared victories and enhanced personal satisfaction. Have open conversations with those with difficulties coming on board on this step and help them overcome any identified barriers if they are willing to do so.

Emphasize the Value of Relationships and Human Connections

Highlight stories and examples where valuing people over profit led to long-term success and fulfillment. Foster an environment where individuals feel appreciated for their contributions, not just their output.

Celebrate the Process, not Just the Results

Create spaces for reflection and learning, emphasizing the importance of growth, challenges, and the lessons learned along the way. Encourage a mindset that values persistence, resilience, and the journey towards achieving goals. Show that the journey matters and is worth celebrating every step of the way.

Promote Accountability and Humility

Implement feedback systems that are constructive and aim towards personal and professional growth. Encourage team members to take responsibility for their actions and to see criticism as an opportunity for improvement.

Choose Positivity and Constructive Attitudes

Highlight the power of choice in shaping one’s environment and relationships. Encourage and prioritize making choices that build up the team and contribute to a positive culture.

Be a Culture Builder

Nothing is more powerful in an organization than a solid, healthy, and compelling culture. Actively contribute to creating a positive, inclusive, and supportive workplace environment. Recognize and reward behaviors that strengthen the organizational culture and align with core values.

Practice Gratitude

Encourage individuals to express thanks and appreciation for the efforts and contributions of others. Neglecting gratitude is one of the most serious red flags in any workspace. It should be easy to show appreciation for others. Cultivate an environment where gratitude is expressed openly, reinforcing positive interactions and relationships.

Foster Engagement and Connection with the Real World

Advocate for awareness of the impact of one’s actions on others and the organization. Promote involvement in community and social causes to broaden perspectives and foster a sense of responsibility toward the greater good.

The Golden Statement

At some point in the show, Lana becomes the team leader in which Mike is in it. Mike is upset because he was chosen last. Lana talks to him in an attempt to get him to grow into a good team player. Mike’s initial reaction is not the best.

Lana remarks that she likes to work with others, but respect can’t be taken. It has to be earned. Lana then provides the following piece of advice to Mike:

Understand you always have to be learning and understanding that there’s always room for error and criticism.

Mike hears those words in a very unsettling way. He does not fight back, but he clearly struggles to accept it. Lana then delivers the most fantastic statement I wish every single person in every single area of the corporate world could live by:

I would much rather have someone with a good attitude and a bad skill set than someone with a great skill set and a bad attitude. You can’t teach someone to have a good attitude, but you can always teach someone to cook.

Lana, I couldn’t agree more with that.

Out of Curiosity

It is clear that Mike is a highly talented chef. However, skills are only one of many requirements for a great professional. Mike arrived at the competition tossing out his qualifications:

I have a high standard for what a good chef is. I went to Culinary Institute of America, and I think that demands respect. It’s literally like Hogwarts is for Harry Potter, as that school is for cooking.

Mike didn’t save any criticism towards his peers. He was vocal about the many details he didn’t like for each dish. His peers noticed. Robbie expresses his concerns about Mike:

Mike’s an opinionated guy. I just hope that Mike can take a look in the mirror and see his own food with the same critical eye that he was judging everybody else’s food.

But when the time came to receive criticism on his dish, his conclusion was a claim of superiority:

Of all the dishes that I’ve seen, I like mine the best.

On the next day, chefs are divided into two teams. The two best-voted chefs, Renee and Lana, become team leaders. The teams are formed, and Mike is the last person to be picked. He didn’t like that at all.

I am really bummed that I was picked last by Lana. Not too excited about that. I didn’t know why I was picked last. What’s the deal? I cook good food. What’s going on?

Mike didn’t notice that his cooking abilities alone were insufficient to position him well in a team setting. What happens to Mike? What happens to Lana? What about the others? You will have to watch the eight episodes of Pressure Cooker to find out. I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Believe it or not, everything I mentioned here is just a tiny fraction of the first episode. In an attempt to incite your curiosity, I will say that the way the season ends is genuinely satisfying. There are lots of lessons that can be taken from it.

In the following episodes, you will see that not everything is what it seems, and bad attitudes are truly something nasty to see in any human being. Each episode could easily be an article on its own.

Zero Tolerance

Making mistakes is not the same as having a bad attitude. Having a bad day is not the same as having a bad attitude. Being inexperienced is not the same as having a bad attitude. Engaging in a heated argument is not the same as having a bad attitude. Strongly disagreeing with someone is not the same as having a bad attitude. All of these things, in isolation, can happen to anyone and might not be a sign of a bad attitude. It can just mean that humans are humans, with virtues and flaws, with emotions and life experiences that can be manifested in different ways depending on each context.

Now, recall the definition of bad attitudes provided early in this article. There is no fix for such a thing. If you see early signs of bad attitudes in your organization, do something about it in a timely manner, or you will regret it profoundly. For the good of everyone else in your organization, confront it firmly and remove it while the damages are manageable.

Bad attitudes are like a baby monster that, when fed, grows strong and eats the owner and everyone around. Bad attitudes will show you no mercy in their destructive power.

Conclusion

The way you position yourself against bad attitudes is to manifest your own values, principles, and beliefs. Remember: true, great professionals (emphasis on the true) are also great people, and almost invariably, they do not tolerate bad attitudes. If you are in a position to do something about it and you don’t, you will lose the best members of your team. Keep in mind that delayed justice is denied justice. There is a time to address bad attitudes, and this time is as soon as possible. Cherish good attitudes. Be vocal and loud about it. Empower it, acknowledge it, highlight it, reward it, and protect it at all costs. Always choose a good attitude over experience. Experience can be acquired, skills can be learned, expertise can be developed, and techniques, methodologies, and strategies can all be trainable. But you can’t fix with teaching a matter of choice.