We have all worked with someone who believes the world is against them.
The are a victim of circumstance and their behaviour turns the environment toxic.
The following may sound familiar:
- Why don’t I get any of the new opportunities?
- I should be able to say which shift I want to work.
- Why do I have to take lunch when they tell me to?
The person with a victim mentality can be toxic to a team and difficult to manage.
I want to share with you the techniques to help support someone with a victim mentality.
Impact and Traits
Take a look around and decide on whether you are working with someone showing a victim mentality. If unchecked their view on the world will have a severe impact to the team:
- Time consuming
- Sap morale
- Affect relationships
- Erode trust
- Kill teamwork
If you are unsure whether a victim mentality is on show look for these common traits:
- Poor attitude
- No responsibility for own actions
- Convinced people are conspiring against them
- Eager to share their tales of woe
- Resistant to working on solution
- Focused on the bad things affecting them in their past and present
A team-mate showing these traits will create a toxic atmosphere.
Playing the role of a victim leads to a sense of entitlement and selfish behaviour.
They believe they are entitled to special treatment.
As a result their behaviour becomes a habit.
They seek situations that result in receiving the special treatment.
Typically they will escalate a situation, create a fuss and do anything they can to get what they want.
We are all victims in some way.
We have all faced pain and travelled the difficult journey of coming out the other side.
Just because you have been a victim it does not mean you have a victim mentality.
The difference between being a victim and acting with a victim mentality is choice.
A victim mindset is a pattern of behaviour. It is not a personality trait but something learned. As a result the pattern can be broken.
There are strategies you can to help support someone struggling with a victim mentality.
It can be easy to label someone as suffering from a victim mentality. We get sucked into applying a stereotype and as a result we switch off and our listening drops off.
It is important to ignore any bias or assumptions you might have. Listen and understand what the issue is, repeat the issue back to the person you are talking to. Show that you have listened and understand what their issues are.
It is important to not indulge a person showing a victim mentality. Set a clear time limit for them to explain what is happening. Acknowledge their issue ‘I hear what you are saying.’ Having this approach means you are listening but making it clear you do not agree.
People showing a victim mentality will rarely look for a solution to their problem. They are looking for someone to indulge them and give them special treatment. Once you have listened to the conversation should switch to solution. Below are some examples of questions you could ask to help achieve this.
We are not psychiatrists.
This is not your role and you do not have the training.
Even the most qualified psychiatrists struggle to cure people with victim mentalities. Your role is to help them achieve their best performance and contribute to the team.
Part of focusing on the solution is setting clear expectations and boundaries.
- Be clear about objectives and behaviours.
- Set clear deadlines.
- Ask if anything is unclear and clarify what needs more clarity.
- Set up regular weekly check in points to make sure progress and help to remove obstacles.
By following the above steps you are holding them accountable to their performance and what they deliver.
Focus on Commitment
Focusing on their level of commitment keeps them future focused. It challenges them to break their pattern and make changes to their thinking and behaviour.
This is a great opportunity to focus on obstacles and what they believe will get in the way. You want them to believe your support is there to help them achieve, not catch them out and punish them.
A simple way of getting this across may sound like this:
‘Let’s talk about the issue and see if we can work out a way forward.’
The focus should be on a commitment to act with what they want to achieve.
Questions you might ask to help them reframe their mindset:
- What do you want to be, regardless of the situation?
- How do you want to be perceived?
- What would you really like to happen?
- Are you willing to makes this happen even when the circumstances may still seem unfair to you?
Using questions which call out an unfair situation is a neat hack. You are empathasing the situation is not great.
In doing so you are focusing on who they want to be in spite of this. You are taking the issue off the table and asking them to focus on their future self.
Other questions you could ask include:
- Who are you committed to be, in spite of it all?
- What values do you want to display?
I remember playing for my high school football team. We were a decent team but our next opponent were a level above us and had wiped the floor with us in previous years. The pitch was a bog, we knew they were a better team and we were missing a couple of our best players.
Our Manager knew about our worries and used the techniques outlined above. He acknowledged the issues and called the fact we were up against it. He then asked us:
- How are we going to play today?
- What do you want to achieve?
- Are you going to win?
He took the issues off the table and focused on our future, in spite of the issues at hand.
We were so fired up and the problems that were of concern melted away.
We did not get the result we wanted but the masterstroke by our Manager, before the game, has always stuck with me.
Now you have the commitment action is key.
Questions to ask someone with a victim mentality include:
- What action will you take?
- What will you do differently?
- How will you be different?
Having a great conversation means nothing without action. There has to be some output otherwise it just becomes a game of good intentions. What you are doing is setting a goal with what they will do and how they will do it.
Arc of Success
Any conversation you have should focus on the long-term.
It is easy to try something new and experience failure. When this happens it confirms our fears and we tell ourselves it was always doomed to fail.
It is important to remember it takes time to achieve consistency. The arc of success is long and along this arc there will be setbacks. Follow up is vital.
Checking in with the person to understand how they are feeling. If they are going to wobble and are at risk of giving up the check in will be vital.
Remind them part of success is learning from the failure. Remind the journey is worth it. Remind them about the answers to the questions you asked them.
The arc of success is long.
Someone showing a victim mentality is likely to be one the most challenging people you will have to lead.
It is easy to give up on them and believe there is nothing you can do to help.
Taking this view may mean you deal with an endless loop of behavioural and/or performance issues.
Using these techniques will help you lead and make sure a victim mentality does not turn the team toxic.
I look forward to hearing how you get on and the difference you make.
Believe and take action