Among the most toxic employees that business leaders can encounter are those with a victim mentality. For the most part, you can quickly identify these individuals, as they generally blame other people for their own failures and shortcomings rather than accept responsibility. You may find that, as a leader, you are often the target of blame, so it can be tricky to confront the behavior without making the situation even worse. However, individuals with the victim mindset can destroy team morale and significantly hamper productivity if the behavior is not resolved.
The following are some helpful tips that you can remember as you confront employees with victim mentalities:
1. Stay focused on the issue at hand.
People with a victim mentality will often try to create chaos around them rather than take responsibility for their own shortcomings. Creating a distraction may involve blaming others or criticizing company processes until the attention is off of them. To circumvent this tactic, you should keep redirecting the conversation to the matter at hand and assure the employee that other concerns can be addressed at a different time if desired. Ideally, you will continually situate the employee within the mission, values, and strategy of the company and put the burden on that person to figure out a way forward.
2. Encourage real self-reflection.
You may be tempted to diffuse the tension in these situations by placating the person blaming others for their actions. This tactic, however, creates a toxic work environment by showing the other employees that people do not have to answer for their mistakes. A better solution involves providing the right time and space for the person lashing out in this situation to reflect on what happened and become more self-aware.
Ideally, this person will accept that they played a role in the failure and create a strategic plan to avoid similar missteps in the future. This encouragement of self-reflection shows individuals that they do not need to be afraid of failure, provided that they look at it as a learning opportunity. They need to understand that they have the power to solve their own issues and be given the chance to do so.
3. Avoid becoming anti-victim.
When you approach an individual with a victim mindset through an anti-victim lens, you will likely only make matters worse if you dismiss what they say as “complaining”—even if there is some merit behind their grievance. Furthermore, an anti-victim mindset can increase the divide that already exists. You are better off approaching these individuals with an expression of support, such as “How can I help?”
If you approach an employee who has legitimate concerns with an anti-victim mindset, you may dismiss them as “whining,” causing them to feel devalued and even betrayed. This, in turn, affects employee morale and productivity.
4. Provide follow-up support.
In the vast majority of cases, people do not change after a single conversation. This is why after you talk with your employee about their victim mindset, you will need to follow up with them frequently to see how they are doing with their new approach to the workplace. Continual check-ins help to keep the conversation alive, enabling you and your employee to have a productive workplace relationship. These check-ins do not have to be formal conversations. Even an e-mail or instant message on the company chat client can help. You should reinforce your message of support and ask the employee about their new outlook—this will help them understand that changing their mindset is a process, not a switch that they can flip.
5. Increase team-building efforts.
One way to help individuals abandon the victim mindset is to encourage stronger bonds between all team members. Team-building exercises help people feel closer and start to depend on each other more. One idea that may help is instituting a gratitude exercise, which allows everyone to thank each other and show where they are receiving help and support. As individuals receive gratitude from their coworkers, they start to understand what it means to be part of a team, and they may naturally stop misplacing blame. Such an exercise shows how interdependent teams are and allows everyone to feel like they take part in the successes and shortcomings of the company.
6. Be patient.
Victim mentalities do not change overnight, so you’ll need to approach these situations with patience and show understanding if these individuals backslide into old habits. The conversations that concern this behavior may be awkward, with long periods of silence, but a sense of patience can help relieve the anxiety that everyone experiences. Importantly, losing patience can reinforce a victim mentality by making the individual feel like they were set up for failure. Patience means not just checking in, but not getting upset when the check-in does not result in the expected response. Of course, patience does have its limits, and you’ll need to make sure that you’re not being taken advantage of, but recognizing and reaffirming your employee’s progress will help them become more confident in their new mindset.