Challenge Fault-Finding Thinking
A victim blames others for their circumstances, creating a comfortable insulation from any responsibility they may bear for creating or allowing the conditions or events that happen in their life. According to Locus of Control theory, a psychological and sociological concept, there are two types of people - internals, who attribute events to their own control, and externals (or "victims"), who attribute events in their life to external circumstances.
Due to assigning control outside themselves, externals tend to feel they have little power over their fate. They often communicate this belief (subtly or obviously, consciously or subconsciously) in day-to-day communication. As leaders, our greatest opportunity to convert externals into internals is by challenging this fault-finding thinking, each and every time.
Listen closely for times when they describe others as being barriers or challenges to their success but stop short of explaining what they intend to do about it. Practice making this a "time-out" opportunity for you to share what you have observed and how victim thinking increases stress, decreases job satisfaction, and undermines their present and future goals. Help them see the payoff for making it personal. Highlight their strengths to give them energy to break through into new ways of thinking.
The Million Dollar Questions
Victor Frankl survived the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz by discovering the ultimate freedom: "to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to chose one's own way." Frankl explained, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
The most effective way to help someone overcome the victim-hood stronghold is to help them take back the power they have willingly given away by taking responsibility for every action and circumstance in their life. Often this requires showing them how. To do this, practice asking the Million Dollar Questions any time you encounter victim thinking:
- "What IS within your control?"
- "Are you a part of the problem or the solution? How so?
- "What can you contribute to help solve the problem?
- "What is your role in creating what you want to see happen?"
- "What can you learn from this setback or challenge?"
- "Are you holding yourself accountable to the same expectations you hold for others? How so?
Settle for surface responses and that's exactly what you will get. Help them objectively think through their problems and challenges and extract the lessons to be learned. While this may be uncomfortable at first, it will require less of your involvement as you create a pattern of positive confrontation and condition your team to focus on individual accountability. Also, keep in mind that this requires an environment of trust in which the leader consistently models ownership behavior.