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The Power of Attitude

By Matt Faris, PE, Project Manager, Koontz-Bryant, P.C.

One of my former colleagues in the engineering profession was one of the smartest people I have ever known. I owe an awful lot to him for what he taught me over the years. However, there were things he taught me that he may not have been aware of. One of the things I remember about him was how he handled plan review meetings. He would never finish a meeting without arguing at least one issue. It may have been a small issue, or it could have been a large one. Most local review panels dreaded meetings with him knowing that they would not get out of a meeting without some sort of disagreement. So before a meeting began the attendees were prepared for a negative experience. Indirectly from this experience, I learned that perhaps that was not the best approach to achieve optimal results.

In a review meeting a few years later, I mentioned that I learned under my former colleague and I joked that I wasn’t about to end the meeting without some sort of argument. It was a risk I took not knowing if the panel had a sense of humor. The reaction I received was a relief as I heard laughter from everyone at the table. A trivial item was chosen as a topic, a brief debate followed and the meeting finished with everyone in a better mood!

I had just experienced an “aha” moment. Tension was released and people smiled! While sometimes it’s important to argue with someone on an issue to see where you can find common ground, many times it is best to focus on the common ground itself and avoid the argument altogether. If you can do so with a positive attitude and a bit of humor the results can be surprising.

An example of how I discovered this in my day to day experience was during a casual conversation with a particularly gruff employee of a local Utility Department. I had made it one of my goals to make him smile. Although it was difficult, through further dialogue and friendly discussions, I achieved that goal. The next few meetings had similar results. Time passed by and a while later I happened to walk by his office; he stepped out to greet me and shared a joke with me! I was amazed.

I came back to my office at Koontz-Bryant and told my co-workers of our exchange. Because I had changed my attitude towards this gentleman I was able to learn that he had a sense of humor and we established a sort of camaraderie. My co-workers and I were all happily surprised by this man’s change in attitude, but the interesting thing was that it took my change of attitude to see a change in his. More importantly, he became easier to deal with and more cooperative on various issues related to land development. A situation most would describe as “win-win”.

With a positive and humorous attitude I was able to make a connection with an individual who appeared “difficult” to others. Wouldn’t we all rather deal with someone who is friendly and happy as opposed to someone who is argumentative and negative? Moreover, wouldn’t it be great to make someone’s day better by treating them nicely? We all have bad days. Whether it is the newest plan processor at the front desk or the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, we could all use a little more happiness. Now, when attending meetings, one of my goals is for the attendees to be in a better mood when I leave than when I got there. Mutual respect and a positive attitude will accomplish far more over the lifetime of a project than a negative debate ever will. The best thing is that it costs absolutely nothing.