INTRODUCTION: Many problems in school or the workplace are the result of self-defeating attitudes held by students or workers.  Self-defeating attitudes lead to negative choices, and negative choices quickly get people into academic or employment difficulties. To help students become aware of self-defeating attitudes and what they can do to improve them, I used this activity in a non-credit Success Workshop.  These workshops, offered weekly by our college, are open to the public and are attended by college students, high school students, and community members.  I chose to focus on self-defeating attitudes in the workplace so that attending community members would feel included.  

With its focus on workplace attitudes, this strategy could be used in any career or work readiness course. However, by simply revising the scenarios to a college setting, it would be ideal for any college orientation or college success class to help students identify self-defeating attitudes that may get them off course academically. It could also be used in any course where the instructor wants students to apply course content to real-life problems: e.g., engineering, sociology, or history, psychology. Instructors using the On Course text can use this activity to reinforce concepts found in Chapter 6 (Gaining Self-Awareness) or Chapter 8 (Developing Emotional Intelligence). Time needed: Approximately 60 minutes.

PURPOSE: To offer students an opportunity to…

  • explore the connections between attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes
  • identify negative workplace attitudes and behaviors as well as ways to change them


HANDOUT: What’s Going On? from the I-CANS (Integrated Curriculum for Achieving Necessary Skills) website. This handout provides six brief scenarios for discussion.  I deleted the directions and substituted the discussion questions below.

Discussion Questions #1 (displayed on PowerPoint or whiteboard)

     A. What attitudes and behaviors of other people get on your nerves?

     B. Think of someone you know who has/had problems at school or work. What attitudes or behaviors have led to the problem?

Discussion Questions #2 (displayed on PowerPoint or whiteboard)

     A. What’s going on? Why does each person act as they do?

     B. What is likely to happen if each person maintains his/her present attitude and behavior?

     C. What advice would you give this person about his/her attitude and behavior?                                                            

Pens/pencils and paper for each learner


1. Have students make two lines facing each other in pairs.  If there is an uneven number of students, you can participate in the activity yourself.

2. Show Discussion Questions #1, and tell students, “Today we are going to explore the connections between attitudes, behaviors and outcomes. To begin thinking about this topic, you are going to talk with the person you are facing about the discussion questions on the board (or overhead).  Question 1 is ‘What attitudes and behaviors of other people get on your nerves?’ You’ll have a couple of minutes to talk, and when I call time, change partners by this line moving one person to the right while the other line stays in the same place.  The person without a partner in the moving line will go to the other end of that line to find a new partner.  After we change partners, discuss Question 2 with your second partner.  When I call time, switch partners again and discuss Question 1. And then Question 2 and so on. Any questions?”

3. “Okay, let’s begin.”  After two minutes of talking, have students change partners by one line moving while the other line stands in the same place. Repeat this process until each person has discussed each question at least twice.

4. Ask students to sit in groups of four to six, and distribute the Handout: “What’s Going On?” [Or create your own brief scenarios to illustrate attitude/behavior problems in settings appropriate to your content.]

5. Give students the following directions: “In your groups, read the six scenarios out loud.  I have posted three additional questions on the board [or overhead].  Please discuss each question for each scenario and have one person record the group’s answers.  [20-30 minutes] 

6. In a large-group discussion, ask each group’s spokesperson to present their responses to the scenarios. Start with a different group of students for each situation.  Reinforce and highlight comments that students make about 1) the causal relationship between attitudes/behaviors and outcomes and 2) our ability to change outcomes by choosing different attitudes and behaviors.  [15 minutes]


I love presenting in our College Success Workshop series because of the variety of folks who attend.  During the discussion of the initial two questions, I participated in the partner line because there was an uneven number of students in the class.  The students I talked to identified some issues in their workplace including co-workers who constantly complain about their jobs or those who do sloppy work.  The participants seemed to enjoy the opportunity to vent their pet peeves about attitudes and behaviors of fellow students and co-workers, and some of the students wanted to keep talking after I called time. I was pleased that they had a lot to discuss since they would be able to apply their experiences to the upcoming scenarios.

Using the second set of discussion questions, students compiled their answers for each scenario.  A couple of groups finished early, and when I called time at 25 minutes, two of five groups had not completed discussing all scenarios.  However, my priority was to have time to discuss each scenario in the larger group.

The students had many good ideas about how to improve the situations presented in the case studies.  Since the scenarios do not go into great depth, they leave room for interpretation which was interesting at times.  For example, in the first situation some folks assumed Melinda was not a team player while others perceived her as needing training about what tasks she should be doing when she finishes her work early.  This raised the issue of needing to take initiative on the job.

There was disagreement about scenario number three and some of the younger students did not understand why Jose’s boss would be upset with him.  This led to a discussion of implicit versus explicit job requirements and expectations of minimum performance.  Some students wanted to blame employee mistakes on lack of training (how does Jose know he should pick up litter and trash?).  The peer to peer teaching/learning came into play when other workshop participants pointed out that employers are looking for employees that take the initiative to do what needs to be done without being told.     

My favorite moment of this workshop was when a high school student said that the character Darlene in scenario number two needed to “stop being a hater and chill out.” He got a laugh and elaborated on specific ways Darlene could interpret Laneeka’s comments to improve her [Darlene’s] reaction to the situation. His suggestions included ways that she could take constructive criticism and learn something from the situation instead of being defensive. This student was applying important concepts of Emotional Intelligence.


The purpose of this activity is to have students identify negative attitudes and behaviors and present ways to change them. I believe these goals were achieved. The large group discussion revealed that many of the workshop participants know both what employers are looking for and how to be responsible, pleasant employees. The group dynamic was particularly effective because we had some working women in the workshop who supplied solutions that younger participants did not identify due to lack of experience.

Students identified self-defeating attitudes and behaviors in the workplace as illustrated in the scenarios. They also came up with many ideas for alternative attitudes and behaviors that the characters could adopt to improve the situation. Students collectively identified the following as desirable attitudes and behaviors that employers seek: taking initiative on the job, being a team player, having a strong work ethic, being honest, being reliable, and being able to learn new tasks. It’s not much of a stretch to say that college instructors are seeking these same qualities.


This activity takes about an hour to complete thoroughly. The alternative to shorten the time is to assign each group a different scenario. I did like having each group work on all scenarios because the discussion was very rich for each case; however, by the end of the discussions some of the answers were becoming repetitive.  I asked students to come up with new and specific solutions in each case and not just accept that “getting fired” would be a likely outcome. A more realistic outcome could be missing out on opportunities for promotion or not being able to use the employer as a reference in the future.

–Barb Brown, Academic Counselor, Kodiak College, AK

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