Coaching employees out of ‘victim’ power position

Amrita had a reputation as being highly emotional. She was prone to tears and frequently complained to her manager, Ted, about people treating her unfairly. Ted was spending hours each week managing Amrita’s requests for help with dealing with difficult people. Ted didn’t know it, but Amrita was a textbook example of a perplexing problem – the employee who gains power by adopting a ‘powerless’ stance.  Here are some tips on how you, as a manager or HR professional, can deal with situations like this.

1. Notice the warning signs

Amrita was a clear example of a ‘role playing victim’. This term describes someone who acts as though they are powerless in a relationship, even though they’re not. It’s used to distinguish between people who have genuinely suffered misfortune and those who are playing power games. Often, playing victim is associated with workplace conflict.

victim role

Role-playing victims can be very skilled at baiting their managers or colleagues into playing the ‘rescuer’ role. This sets up a toxic team dynamic and can lead to workplace conflict or claims of workplace bullying. To prevent this happening, managers such as Ted need to be on the lookout for early signs that Karpin’s ‘drama triangle’ is playing out. Behaviours to keep an eye on include:

  • The regular telling of ‘poor me’ stories by the role-playing victim
  • Splitting of the team into factions which support the role-playing victim (the rescuers) and those accused of tormenting them (the persecutors)
  • Managers listening to only one side of the ‘drama’ story – the victim’s – and taking biased action to fix the situation

2. Refuse to play the ‘rescuer’ role

A role-playing victim gains power by hooking others into playing the rescuer role. To break the drama triangle dynamic, managers and HR professionals need to:

  • Consciously step into facilitator role. This means using solution focused questions to coach staff like Amrita, so they can solve their own problems
  • Prevent collusion between the role playing victim and well-meaning colleagues who extend a sympathetic ear to ‘poor me’ stories. This involves explaining the drama triangle to those playing rescuer roles within the team and teaching them how to disengage when ‘poor me’ tales are told

3. Provide training or coaching to boost EQ

The reasons employees like Amrita take on the victim stance can be complex. Often, these people lack skills in emotional regulation. So it can help to provide these team members with training or coaching in the competencies of emotional intelligence. To decided which intervention best suits your situation, use Eleanor Shakiba’s free situation analyser.

It’s also useful to refer employees to online videos such as What is emotional intelligence?

4. Teach problem solving skills

People who resort to playing the victim usually have poor problem solving skills. They cope by baiting their colleagues or managers into sorting things out for them. So it’s important to teach employees like Amrita how to solve their own problems and manage conflict at work. Managers and HR practitioners can do this by:

  • Modelling the problem solving process by leading the staff member through a brainstorming process focussed on a real life problem
  • Providing training or coaching in problem solving skills
  • Asking solution focussed questions to guide the employee through the steps of rational problem solving
  • Referring the employee to section two of Eleanor Shakiba’s book Difficult People Made Easy. This section includes step-by-step instructions on how to solve problems proactively

Need help training your team to handle people problems? Contact Eleanor Shakiba today.

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