A Coaching Power Tool Created by Maria Rannila
(Cross-cultural coaching, SWITZERLAND)
I’ve decided to take a look at this topic in my power tool, as I find this is often such a powerful shift of perspective that can change both your thinking as well as how you perhaps decide to act on things. Often this is a question of awareness. People are acting as victims out of a habit without thinking; they don’t realize that there is a choice to make as in what attitude to choose towards life.
What does being a “victim” mean?
A quick google search shows this definition:
a person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment.
In this definition there’s two aspects to be noted:
- the person perceives that they are facing/have faced misfortune or ill-treatment;
- the person feels helpless and passive towards how they have been/are treated.
If you suspect your client to be in a victim state, it would be good to get deeper into their story, to hear them describe the situation(s) they’re in, how other people are treating them, or what the misfortune has been they’ve experienced. You can listen hard as a coach to check if you hear hints of any underlying assumptions or attitudes that might be the key for the client to reframe their reality.
What does a victim attitude look like?
A victim attitude may come across in many ways. Some ways that I have witnessed:
- A person sounds like this: “I should…I can’t...if only I could…I never will…I wish I had more/less…it’s terrible…”
- A person complains.
- A person constantly worries.
- A person expresses frustration/dissatisfaction, because other people in his/her life are not behaving the way s/he would like them to.
- A person blames other people.
- A person compares their life to others.
Also, if a person is expressing these emotions, it may be a sign of a victim attitude:
When is a victim attitude useful?
It’s important to remember that all attitudes get adopted for a reason. A victim attitude can become a useful habit, an everyday way-of-life, as it enables the client to comfortably sit on the couch and complain about the world not turning their way. Often it’s about other people, who should change something in order for them to be happy/satisfied. Especially when life hits them with a big question: illness, death or guilt over something in the past.
Katie is working part-time whilst taking care of her family with two young kids. There’s lots to do in the daily life and she often feels tired, especially as the younger child doesn’t consistently sleep well. Katie often compares herself to her friends: how their homes look beautiful, children’s clothes are pretty, holiday destinations exciting, birthday parties perfectly planned, hobbies plentiful, husband-wife relationship full of passion and generally life fulfilling. Her life just doesn’t seem to tick all those boxes and she’s too tired anyway to “step it up”… She finds herself frustrated and sometimes takes it out on her kids as they’re not ‘behaving perfectly’. She also snaps at her husband particularly about undone housework .
What does it mean to portray an attitude of responsibility?
A person who accepts responsibility over his/her life is aware of their role(s) in the context they live: family/workplace/community etc. They have an understanding for themselves: what does it mean to live these roles so that they can make themselves proud; how can they live their values in each of these roles and what are their priorities. They understand that they have a freedom of choice between their priorities and they accept that. They accept the surprises that life brings and take action (based on their values), when life throws things at them that they have no control over.
Has a relationship with responsibility as well.
How to help a client make the move from a space of being a victim to a space of responsibility?
The key concepts here are degree of control and freedom of choice. Exploring these concepts with a client might then lead to action – this could also be an active way of changing their attitude towards something/someone.
Building the client’s self-awareness may help the client to realize what’s (easily) within their control: How does X (Activity/person) make you feel? What are your strengths? What do you enjoy doing? Perhaps there are some easily attainable wins available.
Another thing is to build Katie’s awareness on her own expectations on all the responsibility areas in her life. She currently perhaps feels victimized over the vast amount of tasks she feels are upon her. An interesting question here could be “what’s within your control”; the idea is to explore with Katie (a) who is responsible for putting those responsibilities upon her, (b) how could these responsibilities get taken care of:
- what would happen if they would not get done at all
- if someone else would take care of them
- if they would get done with “lesser” quality than how Katie currently feels would be “right”.
Enhancing the client’s awareness on what they have control over in a situation where they feel helpless or paralyzed can be interesting. Here a client may realize that they cannot or don’t want to take physical action to make changes. At this stage the coach can bring forward an opportunity for the client to take a look at their attitude / perspective. The client always has an option to choose to adopt a different attitude towards the situation. The client’s attitude is always their choice. A coach can support a client by making them aware of their attitude and check how it serves them in this situation – and then potentially to look at alternative attitudes.
Chances are that Katie is already taking responsibility over an array of aspects of her life, if she’s worried about the quality of a birthday party. An interesting question could be to ask her to list everything that she’s responsible of – this is likely to be a long list of things and hence a useful awareness for Katie. From this list she could then prioritize the top 3-5 most important ones, where to concentrate her (limited) energy. The Priority List could be a tool for Katie to take a look at on a regular basis to see whether priorities need to be adjusted – she could do this together with a coach, or also on her own or with a friend/husband.
- what’s within your control?
- in order to act on this, what are you prepared to give up?
- how is your current attitude profiting you?
- what might be another way to look at the situation?
- what would your role model do?
- what’s stopping you from taking action?
Finally, it’s important to remember that taking action usually requires stepping out of the comfort zone – perhaps a tiny small step or a bigger leap. In case the client decides to move to action stage, the coach may still have an opportunity to support in handling the potential fears related to stepping to the unknown. It’s also very important for the coach to acknowledge the action steps taken, to make the client aware of their progress and courage.