Victim Mentality In The Workplace 2021-07-12T02:30:21-04:00

Victim Mentality In The Workplace

Have you ever worked with someone who went through life with a victim mentality?  I know that I have done so multiple times.  It can be a real drag!

I was reminded of my experiences with “victims” this week while having a coaching conversation with the leader of a non-profit organization.  All the signs were there:

-This person maintains a “glass-half-empty” philosophy at work

-He deflects responsibility when people try to hold him accountable

-He quickly blames other people whenever things at work do not go as planned

-He claims to be overworked when others point out his failure to follow through on priorities

-He focuses on job responsibilities he enjoys, but does not own responsibilities that are not among his favorites

-He is unable or unwilling to look in the mirror and ask how his own actions are contributing to problems and what he can do, within his sphere of influence, to help make things better

I could relate to the leader’s frustrations as she catalogued her disappointments with this team member.  I have managed similar people in the past and my frustrations led me to question my own leadership skills.  I asked myself all the usual self-doubt questions:

-What am I doing wrong?

-What can I do differently?

-Why can’t I get through to this employee?

-Who can get make a positive impact on this person if I cannot do so?

-Is this person’s attitude affecting other teammates’ morale?

-Is this person’s mindset affecting other’s ability to perform their own jobs?

After I would beat myself up about my leadership insufficiencies, I usually was able to take a step back. 

Sometimes this willingness to pause and reconsider was based upon a conversation with a friend whose leadership acumen I respected.  Other times it was the result of reading an insightful book.  In additional instances, my paradigm shift emanated from a seminar or conference.

In each instance, my shift in attitude was symbolized by a me-they focus.  My initial tendency was to blame myself when I could not succeed in managing a team member who carried a victim mentality. 

At a certain point, I would reach the “aha” conclusion: “Wait.  Maybe it’s not me!  Perhaps it’s them!  Maybe, no matter how hard I try, I may not be able to succeed with this teammate because he is not ready to “be reached.” 

Just like I have learned with leadership coaching, I cannot successfully coach a client unless and until he or she is ready to do the work and accept coaching.

If you are leading someone who is lugging around a victim mentality, you can hope for several possible avenues:

-A light bulb will go off, they will have an “aha moment” and change their paradigm

-They might read a book or enroll in a course or webinar that helps them challenge their self-imposed mental obstacles

-An openness to coaching will help them undertake a journey with a coach to explore their attitudes

-They might be willing to go into counseling or therapy and assess their beliefs and behaviors in a private safe space

-They might be amenable to adhering to a performance plan, including regular check-ins with you, that helps them indirectly take a look at their unproductive beliefs

Sometimes carrying a team member with a victim mentality can produce adverse impacts on everyone else on our team.  People get tired of working with that person.  People feel their energy dissipating when in this person’s presence.  People build up resentment when they believe they are “carrying” their victim-colleague. 

Leaders can become tremendously frustrated when “nothing” works in getting through to this employee.  Pretty soon this one poor team member is having a negative impact on all other team members.

As leaders, we have to be willing to examine these situations.  We may reach the point where we are forced to ask the tough question: “Can this person who has a victim mentality really succeed as a member of our team?”

Sometimes, happily, that answer is “yes.”  We can utilize leadership skills or other resources to assist this team member in changing his or her outlook.  However, in other instances, the employee’s own lack of self-esteem or ingrained self-limiting beliefs are simply too strong to be overcome.  In those cases, it is best to cut ties for the benefit of everyone else.

When you do encounter a team member who carries a victim mentality. strive to use your best leadership skills.  Work with this person to challenge him or her.  Do not put the burden of “changing” this person on your own shoulders.  Realize that when we want to help a teammate change, it requires their willingness to accept the challenge and work with us or another professional.

Leaders can only do their best.  Once we do our best, we can feel satisfied.  We may be frustrated or disappointed.  It does no good to carry anger toward these teammates with victim mentalities.  We can feel sorry for them if we want do. 

However, in all cases, we must do what is best for the group we lead.