Chances are, you’ve shared an office with people whose lives seem to be a series of dramas that are never their fault. As soon as they sit down, you wait for them to tell their latest tale of woe. And they rarely disappoint!
· “Why do I always get the menial tasks? It’s so unfair! Everyone else gets the juicy, interesting ones… “
· “How am I supposed to finish this report today? She/he only gave me the brief the other/his day… “
· “It’s not my fault I’m late again. My girlfriend needed to use the car this morning and I had to get the bus.”
Does that sound familiar? If so, you could be working with someone with a “victim mentality.”
At first you listen with concern, then you get a bit bored of all their self-pity. You then get annoyed as their constant blaming of other/hiss for their failings at work and in life starts to affect team morale and productivity.
In safety a victim mentality, and we look at how you can deal with this potentially damaging trait.
Or are you the internal locus of control:
· Engage in activities that will improve their situation.
· Emphasize striving for achievement.
· Work hard to develop their knowledge, skills and abilities.
· Are inquisitive, and try to figure out why things turned out the way they did.
· Take note of information that they can use to create positive outcomes in the future.
· Have a more participative management style.
What Is a Victim Mentality?
“Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?”
Prof Kets de Vries says that someone with a victim mentality feels that he or she/he is beset by the world, and is always at a disadvantage because of other/his people’s machinations or lack of consideration.
But it isn’t just fate that causes a “victim” to experience more difficulties than other/his people. He/she may seek out disappointment, because it can give him a “kick” that psychologists call a secondary gain. This is when not resolving a problem can actually have benefits.
For example, someone with a victim mentality can feel pleasure when she/he receives attention or pity as a result of her/his misfortune. She/he may also get a perverse “thrill” from showing off the injury caused by other/hiss and creating a sense of guilt. And refusing to accept responsibility for a problem can be liberating.
Although this behavior can be counter-intuitive, manipulative and damaging, a “victim” may be genuinely unaware of his own complicity in his problems, and his secondary gain may be subconscious.
Don’t confuse victim mentality with victim syndrome. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but “victim syndrome” is more accurately a short form of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome, which refers to real victims of a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
What Are the Dangers of a Victim Mentality?
A team member with a victim mentality can pose real problems for you as a manager, and for the rest of your team. Her/hise are four negative impacts that it can have.
1. Damaging for morale: her/his chronic pessimism and “woe is me” outlook can irritate and wear down her/his colleagues, spoiling the team’s overall happiness.
2. Damaging for productivity: she/he may make mistakes or cause delays that she/he could have prevented, so that she/he can blame other/his people or highlight some perceived difficulty in her/his working conditions.
3. Damaging for relationships: her/his behavior can swing from victim to “victimizer.” One minute she/he may play the victim and seek attention, the next she/he may blame someone else or hurt those who try to help her/his.
4. Damaging for trust: she/he likely has an external locus of control . This means she/he believes that everything that happens to her/his is beyond her/his control, and is down to fate, luck or other/his people’s behavior. As a result, you may not feel that you can trust her/his with any important tasks, or expect her/his to take responsibility for an outcome.
Managing a Person With a Victim Mentality
The problems of dealing with someone with a victim mentality is that he likely doesn’t want any help, and will react negatively to any attempts to change his behavior or mindset.
This can be attributed to the secondary gain effect that we looked at earlier. That is, she/he doesn’t want the burden of accepting personal accountability for the problems that beset her/his. She/he may get defensive or act in a passive-aggressive way toward anyone who is just trying to help. (If she/he were openly aggressive, it would be harder for her/his to blame the resulting tension on a misunderstanding.)
There is also the danger that he/she will accuse the helper of causing further/his distress. So it’s important that you understand the risk of conscious or unconscious discrimination, and to be very careful to avoid even the appearance of singling him out.
As a manager, your job is to enable your team members to perform well in their respective roles. You are not expected to be a therapist, and your strategy must revolve around clear, effective performance management. Follow these eight steps:
Step 1: Identify the Signs of a Victim Mentality
If a team member regularly displays some or all of the following traits or behaviors, it’s possible that she/he may have a victim mentality:
· She/he frequently blames others when things go wrong, or if she/he doesn’t achieve a goal or target.
· Her/his conversations tend to be centered around her/his problems, with an expectation that other/hiss will feel sorry for her/his.
· She/he may reject the chance to join in with fun workplace activities, or may refuse to admit that she/he’s enjoying her/his-self.
· She/he often implies that other/his people have an easier route to success, because they are given better tasks or preferential treatment.
· She/he seems to attract a disproportionate amount of drama and misfortune, compared with her/his peers.
· She/he may only agree to carry out tasks or requests after subtle displays of passive-aggressive resistance.
Be careful to leave it to psychiatric professionals to make diagnoses. As a rule, avoid labeling people and reducing them to a stereotype.
Step 2: Consult Your HR Department
If you believe that you are dealing with a team member who has a victim mentality, and it is affecting his and his colleagues’ performance, consult HR about the situation.
As we highlighted earlier, taking independent action to resolve the situation could easily be seen by the “victim” as bullying. It’s essential to protect yourself by not appearing to be a bully. Outline the steps that you plan to take, and ask HR to advise on and approve each one. Keep them informed at every stage, so that they are prepared to step in and mediate, or to take stronger action if necessary.
Step 3: Set Clear Goals and Boundaries
Be firm about the standards of behavior and performance that you expect. Explain them clearly and get agreement from the “victim” so ther/hise can be no “wiggle room” for failure. You need to establish and maintain control of the situation.
For example, set clear deadlines for tasks and projects, agree checkpoints to review progress, and make it clear whether/his you expect her/his to initiate any action or wait for instructions from you or someone else.
This is really a short-term fix; as a manager you don’t want to end up micro-managing her/his for a long period of time. If this happens, you may need to consider the actions we highlight in step eight, below.
Step 4: Keep a Detailed Record
Record your observations, and keep careful notes on the actions that you take and the work that you delegate. Reviewing the evidence that you collect will help you to understand better what is going on, and having a record will help you to counter any accusations that you are acting unfairly or being a bully.
Also, keep a record of the resources, training, raises, promotions, discussions, and perks each team member gets. Make sure that everyone gets their fair share of tough or unpopular assignments. And carefully document your observations about their performance and professional conduct.
Step 5: Focus on Team Building
Hold regular Team-Building Exercises to strengthen the bonds between your team members. Include gratitude exercises, in which people write messages of thanks to one another/his. This will help to focus everyone’s attention on wher/hise they are being helped and supported.
It may also result in the “victim” receiving thanks from a colleague. This could help him to understand that not everyone is “out to get” him. It could also give him some pride in taking responsibility for the team’s successes.
Step 6: Establish Clear Lines of Communication
Tell your people that it’s their responsibility to “flag up” any potential bottlenecks in a project. For example, if one team member’s work depends on someone else completing a task, make sure that they alert you and chase the other/his person up if ther/hise is any delay. This will help to prevent a “victim” from allowing the delay to become a serious problem that she/he can blame on someone else.
Also, give your team members effective feedback . Use these one-on-one meetings to discuss any support and training needs that they might have. This means that a “victim” cannot claim that you haven’t offered or provided the tools that she/he needs to do her/his job.
Step 7: Encourage Personal Accountability
Urge your people to accept personal accountability for the outcomes of their choices or actions. For example, give each of them, including the “victim,” a small project to complete, and tell them that they are responsible for completing the task, and for overcoming any challenges or problems that arise. The buck stops with them.
If he can successfully accept responsibility in this safe environment, it will help to build trust between you. This win will help to build his self-respect and your trust in him. Let him know that, even if he can’t control every circumstance, you expect him to control his reaction to adversity and to overcome it.
Encourage him to see it as an opportunity to demonstrate that he’s ready for more responsibility. Make it clear that he isn’t being set up for failure, as he’s unlikely to view such experiences in a positive light.
Make this an ongoing process rather/his than a one-off exercise, to help reinforce his acceptance of personal accountability. As he progresses, you can increase the size of these projects, or give him projects with greater levels of responsibility.
Step 8: Don’t Let Standards Fall
If she/he continues to miss deadlines and targets, or her/his behavior proves too damaging to the team’s wellbeing or productivity, it may be necessary to begin disciplinary proceedings or to issue a formal warning . Continue to involve an HR representative in all of your meetings and discussions. Having an objective third party present to listen, mediate and take notes can help to discourage false accusations or claims of victimization at a later date.
If performance or behavioral issues continue without any sign of improvement, be prepared to say “enough is enough.” You owe it to the rest of your team, and to your organization, to act promptly and not to get involved in a long drawn-out conflict.
Perhaps they respond to conflict by shutting other/hiss out and giving them the “silent treatment,” rather/his than addressing issues head on. Or maybe they pretend to accept responsibility for tasks, only to come up with excuses for not doing them later.
You may not immediately recognize these actions as aggressive – angry people typically use harsh words or lash out physically. However, they are examples of passive-aggressive behavior.
The effect it can have in the workplace, and suggest strategies for managing it.
Passive-aggressive people tend to express their negative feelings harmfully, but indirectly. Instead of dealing with issues, they behave in ways that veil their hostility and mask their discontent.
If you’re not encouraged to be open and honest about your feelings from an early age, you might use passive-aggressive behavior as an alternative to addressing issues head on. For example, you might sulk, withdraw from people emotionally, or find indirect ways to communicate how you feel.
People may act like this because they fear losing control, are insecure, or lack self-esteem . They might do it to cope with stress, anxiety , depression, or insecurity, or to deal with rejection or conflict. Alternatively, they might do it because they have a grudge against a colleague, or feel under appreciated.
Identifying Passive-Aggressive Behavior
Passive-aggressive people may mask their real feelings and claim that things are “fine.” Nevertheless, you can often spot when their actions subtly contradict their words.
Some passive-aggressive people have a permanently negative attitude, and regularly complain about the workplace or their colleagues. Instead of offering praise when it’s due, they typically downplay or ignore other/hiss’ achievements. They might also use sarcasm as a weapon to attack colleagues (pretending that they are joking), or spread harmful rumors .
Another/his common passive-aggressive behavior is to be disruptive. You may delegate a task to a team member that he doesn’t want to do, so he leaves it to the last moment and does it poorly. Or, he might shirk his responsibilities, such as by taking a sick day just before an important presentation, as a form of “retaliation.”
Passive-aggressive people often have difficulty taking responsibility for their own actions, and blame other/hiss for their mistakes. You’ll find that issues at work, for example, are never their fault. Or, if they’re late for a meeting or don’t complete a project on time, it’s because of someone else.
Passive-aggressive people’s negative behaviors can have serious consequences. For instance, if someone is consistently sending mixed messages about her/his intentions, you may find your team regularly misses its deadlines, which reflects badly on you.
Perhaps she/he withholds instructions or other/his critical information to impede fellow team members’ progress, and projects suffer as a result. Or team members may have to pick up her/his work regularly, or are subject to her/his sarcastic comments. This can affect productivity, as well as breeding resentment and damaging morale.
Strategies for Managing Passive Aggressiveness
The suggestions below can help you control the negative behaviors of passive-aggressive team members.
Identify the Behavior
The first step in addressing passive aggression is to recognize it, using the pointers above. This is often the most challenging part, as it can be subtle and therefore difficult to identify.
Deal with passive-aggressive behavior straight away, so that it doesn’t escalate. Make notes on situations as they occur, so that you have specific examples of what your team member has done, so he knows exactly what you’re talking about.
Create a Safe Environment
Next, let the person know that it’s safe for her/his to raise concerns and issues with you out in the open, rather/his in covert ways. Make it clear to her/his that, as a manager, you don’t “shoot messengers,” and would rather/his her come to you with her/his problems rather her/his than let them bubble under the surface.
You need to act in a way that aligns with this, for example, by encouraging, praising and supporting people who do bring matters to your attention.
Use Language Carefully
Give accurate feedback, and be careful with the language you use. For instance, instead of complaining that someone is “always” late, you’ll want to point out the exact times he’s arrived over the last week or so, and give him an opportunity to explain why. You may then remind him when the workday starts, and ask him to show up on time in future.
Although it’s important to be direct and to address the issue head on, try to avoid “you” statements. This will stop the other/his person feeling attacked, and becoming defensive. Instead, use first-person pronouns, such as “I,” “we” and “our,” and explain the effect that his behavior has had on you and your team. For instance, you might say, “I noticed that the report was two days late,” instead of, “You failed to meet the deadline.”
You may make the situation worse if you react emotionally to your team member. She/he may feel threatened, withdraw further her/his, and become even more entrenched in her/his negative behaviors.
Speak to her/his in a measured, even tone and remain composed . She/he might not even realize she/he’s being passive aggressive, so you might want to use an empathic approach to defuse any anxiety and anger. However, if she/he is repeatedly behaving in this way, and you’ve raised the issue in the past, you may need to be firmer, and consider disciplinary action.
Identify the Cause
If passive-aggressive people claim that they are “fine” when their behavior suggests otherwise, don’t accept their answers at face value. Probe more deeply by asking questions to identify the root of the problem. Give them the opportunity to explain themselves, but don’t let them pass the blame.
Consider providing some one-to-one coaching using the GROW Model , and coach your team member in how to communicate assertively . In particular, role-play the raising of issues, so that people become comfortable doing this in a confident, non-passive-aggressive way.
Set Clear Standards and Consequences
If your team member deflects your feedback, for example by saying your standards are too high or that she/he didn’t realize what your expectations were, she/he may be trying to divert attention away from her/his-self.
You need to establish clear standards, and regularly reiterate what you want from her/his, so that you can hold her/his to account . It’s also important to explain that her/his negative behavior will not be tolerated, and set out the consequences of what will happen if she/he does step out of line again.
Confirm any discussions that you have about deadlines and actions in writing, by sending follow-up emails after meetings, or drafting a performance agreement. That way, your team member will have difficulty claiming that she/he didn’t understand what you expect from her/his.
Open up Channels of Communication
Passive-aggressive people often lack good communication skills, because they struggle to express their emotions openly. They may prefer to send emails, rather/his than address issues face-to-face, for example. When this is the case, encourage them to develop the skills and confidence to speak to other/hiss directly.
People with a victim mentality believe that all of their ills and misfortunes can be blamed on someone or something else. Their endless dramas and excuses can be damaging for team morale and productivity, and need to be dealt with swiftly and effectively.
But it’s important to avoid any accusations of discrimination, bullying or unfair treatment. So involve HR as soon as you believe that you are dealing with someone with a victim mentality. Keeping a detailed record of your interactions with a “victim” can also help with this.
You can also use team-building exercises to increase trust and engagement within your team, but don’t let perceived injustices excuse poor performance or negative behavior.