This is the final post in this series. The victimization syndrome can be compared to a virus that has infected not only clients, but our profession as well. Transformational change intensifies existing victimization and brings any latent tendencies to the surface. No one—advocates, agents, targets, or sponsors—is immune from its destructive power.
Treating victimization (whether it’s within clients or ourselves) requires a containment/vigilance strategy because it is one of those diseases that, once contracted, is difficult to fully eradicate. With sufficient courage and discipline, the mindset and behavioral symptoms can be held in check and we can remain observant for any early signs of reoccurrence. With victimization in remission, however, reoccurrence is always a possibility. It is ready to ambush us if given the slightest chance, so we can never assume a full cure and let our guard down.
That said, let’s recalibrate on our objective here. The following are key points from the first post in this series:
As change practitioners, our role calls for us to do all we can to inhibit victim tendencies in our clients as well as ourselves, while fostering and modeling influencer thinking and behavior as much as possible.
How can we help prevent, contain, and minimize the impact of victimization? Here are a few perspectives I’ve found helpful:
As committed as we may be to helping clients address their victimization, it is not up to us. Our role isn’t to make them stop being victims, it’s to help them make an informed decision about whether or not to continue on that trajectory.
All of the above applies to us as practitioners as much as it does to our clients. Moreover, our ability to assist clients with their victimization is in direct proportion to the extent to which we have addressed these issues within ourselves. To be a true asset to our clients, we must acknowledge our own victim vulnerabilities and learn how to manage them in ourselves and encourage the same with colleagues within our professional community.
Victimization can be compared to a disease that eats away at the confidence a person needs to successfully navigate transformational change. The syndrome has a debilitating impact and permeates the industries we serve as well as our own profession.
The stress and strain that accompanies transformational change tends to trigger and exacerbate tendencies toward blaming and dodging responsibility. To be effective in addressing victimization among our clients, we must first attend to it within ourselves. In this respect, it is imperative that we model the influencer profile—believing and behaving as though we can make choices that have an effect on the outcome of the projects we support. Our role calls for us to do all we can to deter victim tendencies in our clients as well as ourselves while fostering influencer behavior as much as we possibly can.
 I have defined a victim as a person who feels trapped in negative circumstances with no way out. Influencers are the antithesis of victims—they believe they can help shape the outcome of negative circumstances by the choices they make.
In the two previous posts, I wrote about the negative impact victimization can have on people and organizations. Here, I’ll describe what happens when victimization surfaces during a change initiative, and the ways it effects our profession.
Significant organizational initiatives not only magnify existing victimization; they stir up any latent predispositions toward blaming and dodging accountability. If victimization tendencies become activated or worsen, they can be a serious hindrance to reaching intended outcomes:
These are no small obstructions. They each represent significant stumbling blocks to accomplishing intended outcomes, but when they surface in clusters (as is usually the case), the aggregate impact can be devastating to initiative success.
How many of us are part of the hidden victim constituency?
With change dynamics fueling the victimization fires, as change practitioners, we have an obligation to examine our own culpability in spreading the victimization virus.
Most of the implementation barriers we contend with in our work can be held at arm’s length—meaning we are able to apply the proper objectivity to the various realization risk we identify and help mitigate. This detachment is possible because the inhibitors reside within the client system, not within ourselves. Seasoned professional change facilitators should always operate with a level of independence that ensures what they think, say, and do is consistent with what is in the client’s best interest (not what will keep feathers from being ruffled or job security intact).
It is quite a different matter, however, if we allow ourselves to be pulled in too close to the client’s political dynamics. It jeopardizes the objectivity we need for our work. It’s even worse if we display the same dysfunctional symptoms we are being called on to address (i.e., change agents operating as card-carrying victims themselves).
Clients are likely to manifest victimization differently than a practitioner but, at the end of the day, both react to negative situations as if they were trapped with no options. The victim response is probably being triggered by different circumstances, but regardless of what activates their helplessness, they are both displaying the same change-related dysfunction.
Some observations on how victimization impacts our profession
Why is all this relevant to us as change practitioners?
Providing clients with options for how change can be realized is at the heart of our work. We are dead in the water, however, if we find ourselves working with people who have convinced themselves they have no options from which to choose. When this happens, victimization pulls the rug out from underneath us before we even get started.
How can we practice our craft with sponsors who complain about recalcitrant targets but then say they can’t move them out of the organization because their “hands are tied” with legal restrictions? How do we assist agents who grumble about poor sponsorship but are unwilling to confront leaders with the implications of their actions? How do we support targets who blame leadership for all their ills and refuse to be explicit with them about the problems they see?
How do we successfully deal with these situations? We don’t. The circumstances have to shift before we can provide any meaningful value. We can engage in implementation activities as much as we want, but we can’t “practice our craft” when we deal with victim-prone clients, or when we display any dysfunctional symptoms ourselves.
In the next post, I’ll review some perspectives I’ve found helpful with clients, other practitioners, and myself as we all contend with our own victimization vulnerability.
 For the purposes of this blog series, I am defining influencers as people who believe they can help shape the outcome of negative circumstances by the choices they make.
 Granted, maintaining this kind of impartiality is easier to accomplish when you are an external practitioner with more distance from company politics but, nonetheless, the standard for practicing the craft remains the same.
In this series, we’re talking about the prevalence and consequences of victimization during change. In the first post, I defined a victim (one who feels trapped in negative circumstances with no option but to endure) and contrasted this mindset with that of the influencer (a person who believes he or she has choices to make that have an effect on the outcome of negative circumstances).
People exhibiting victimization tendencies spend their time complaining about unfortunate situations and dodging responsibility for addressing the resolution. This mindset plays out in all aspects of life, but one of the most common forums is the work setting.
Victimhood on the job is not hard to spot. People prone to thinking and acting in this way exhibit some or all of the following tendencies:
This is by no means a complete list of victim thoughts and actions in the work environment, but I think it presents a sufficient profile for this writing.
People who choose to deal with work-related challenges as influencers also display tendencies that are easy to recognize:
There are more characteristics of influencers, but this should be enough to illustrate the difference between them and victims in the workplace.
There are many harmful implications when victimization runs rampant in an organization. Here are a few:
My focus so far in this series has been on the debilitating impact victimization has on people and organizations. In the next post, I’ll explore how change amps up these problems for our clients and, in the process, catches change practitioners its grip.
Many challenges and roadblocks hinder the successful execution of major change, but few rival the obstructive power unleashed when people act as—or allow themselves to be treated as—victims. Victimization is a disease that destroys the confidence a person needs to sustain a transformative journey, and it has reached epidemic proportions among not only targets, but sponsors and agents as well. Instead of feeling they can successfully navigate the turbulence of change, those who feel victimized generally don’t see their aspirations realized.
Closer to home, victims within our own practitioner community are now so prevalent that a sense of powerlessness is fast becoming the norm for our industry. It’s bad enough that many experienced change agents display symptoms of victimization, but the problem is compounded by the fact that we are the role models and mentors for the next generation entering our field. My fear is that if we don’t come to terms with this crippling way of thinking and acting, our profession will orchestrate its own decline in impact. Over time, we’ll become less and less influential and eventually irrelevant to leaders serious about executing their initiatives. We have no hope of battling the plague of victimization among our clients if we are carriers of the blight ourselves.
The Basics of the Disease
Depending on the context in which it is used, the term “victimization” has many different interpretations, so I won’t validate or refute how others have used it. As I’m applying it here, a person displays a victim mentality when he or she feels trapped in negative circumstances with no option but to endure. Influencers are the antithesis of victims. These are people who believe they can help shape the outcome of negative circumstances by the choices they make.
Some people lack the ingenuity to formulate solutions to address unpleasant situations. These are not victims. They may be in over their heads (missing the necessary intelligence and/or creativity), or just inept, but they aren’t being victimized by their circumstances. I’m not suggesting these people don’t experience adverse consequences. I’m simply saying they don’t fit the definition of “victim” I’m outlining here.
To qualify for victim status, as I’m using the term, a person must recognize that there are alternatives to pursue, but be unwilling to explore them because it would require decisions or actions they are not inclined to engage.
Victimization isn’t an isolated phenomenon.
People who, on an extended basis, feel ineffectual at piloting their own future tend to become resentful and alienated.
Because they believe they have no choice, victims often are involved in activities they know will result in failure. They fulfill their own low-esteem prophecy by taking on tasks that are doomed and subsequently reinforce for themselves and others that they can’t succeed. Influencers see themselves and their reputation as a valuable resource that must be protected. They are not only good at what they do, they are selective about when and where they do it so as not to tarnish their image with too many and the wrong kind of failed efforts. Influencers are risk takers but they pursue dicey situations with forethought, not on a whim.
Finally, like most experiences in life, victimization is a continuum that kicks in with varying frequency, at different levels of intensity, and under assorted circumstances. That said, a person seldom feels trapped with no options in only one area of life (i.e., only at work or only with the same person or set of circumstances). Usually, if a person falls into a victim mindset in one setting, it will likely show up in other areas of his or her life as well.
It’s a plague
Victimization is so prevalent today that it has become a defining characteristic of our times, yet it is sometimes difficult to see the devastating effect it has on individuals, organizations, and the whole of society. We live in an era where we hardly notice when people shirk their responsibilities, expect something or someone else to take care of their problem, or go underground with their complaints and suggestions because it would be too expensive to openly try to do something themselves. Victimization is becoming our norm, in part, because we are adjusting to its commonness. The tolerance for capitulating to this kind of mindset as an acceptable standard has reached unprecedented highs.
In virtually all aspects of society, the level of courage and discipline required to be an influencer seems to be in short supply and is becoming more rare all the time. At its current rate of growth, the victim mindset may become dominant in some settings where the majority of the people feel marginalized—including those in leadership positions. The result would be victims leading victims…not a formula for an optimistic outlook for our species.
In the next post, I’ll focus on the implications when victimization plays itself out in organizational settings. In the third post, I’ll address how change exacerbates the likelihood and intensity of victimization, and how change practitioners inadvertently contribute to the problem. In the last post of the series, I’ll offer ways to limit victim tendencies in ourselves and others while fostering influencer thinking and behavior as much as possible.