Refusing to Be the Victim – How to Adopt a “Player” Mindset at Work

We all have times when we experience negative feelings like unfairness, lack of control, or frustration. When this happens, we can play the victim or we can choose to take responsibility for making the best of our situation.

I recently read Fred Kofman’s book Conscious Business, which gave me a new way of looking at this–victims vs. players.

Victims & Players

Kofman uses the terms “victim” and “player” to describe the attitudes of defensiveness or openness we often adopt in difficult situations. We tend to take on these roles when circumstances are beyond our control, and we may be players in some situations and victims in others.

The victim mindset

Victims focus on the things they cannot influence. We may gravitate toward this role to maintain our self-esteem and avoid viewing ourselves as part of a problem. Being a victim helps us avoid blame, shifting that blame to external forces and other people.

The player mindset

Players focus on the elements they can influence. We may take the perspective of the player when we recognize our role or contributions to a problem and create self-empowering explanations for the situation. Players base their self-esteem on taking responsibility and doing their best to move forward while working on the factors they can influence. The player sees external forces as neither good nor bad, but as challenges.

Why Be the Player?

Playing the victim can feel safe, preserve our self-esteem, and help us avoid being blamed or called out as wrong. But it also keeps us on the sidelines and stuck in a frustrating situation we neither want to accept nor take responsibility to change.

Being a player comes with accountability and, possibly, failure. But we can move forward with confidence as a player if we base our self-esteem on taking responsibility and working with integrity. We can keep our self-respect and change the situation we are facing by exercising our freedom and power of choice.

Since it’s unreasonable to expect others to know and fix our problems, choosing to be a player seems like the logical choice for living a life of fulfillment and forward, positive action.

How to Be the Player

I’ve been thinking about how this plays out at a company like mine—a company where teams make custom software for clients. Here are a few scenarios for how a player or victim might respond to difficult situations at Atomic Object.

Scenario 1: The backlog is in poor shape

You notice that the backlog of work isn’t well defined, especially the tasks you’re supposed to do during the current two-week period (sprint). This has happened to your current project before, and you’re tired of getting blocked on work. You’re also frustrated that you might not be able to put in an adequate amount of hours on your project this week.

Victim-oriented mindset:

  • “It’s unfair to expect me to invent requirements. I don’t want to be blamed for doing something wrong.”
  • “The project stakeholders and product owner should be doing their job better so I can focus on mine.”
  • “I can’t be expected to work full-time weeks based on how this project keeps going.”

Player-oriented mindset:

  • “I saw this coming and should have spoken up earlier. I could have set expectations that we’d be filling in the requirements gaps as necessary and that might cause rework everyone will have to accept.”
  • “I’m going to finish writing the requirements for these tasks and schedule a meeting with the project stakeholders and product owners to get their sign-off. I’ll also talk about the pattern of incomplete requirements and make recommendations on how team capacity may need to be re-allocated to keep everyone productive.”
  • “I can work a full-time week by shifting my focus to working on requirements, focusing on other parts of the project, or pro-actively supporting another project or team.”

Scenario 2: There’s too much work to do

You’re currently working across two projects and have too much work to do to keep both projects on track. You’ve told each of your teams when you can be available, but they keep scheduling you into meetings outside of your available windows. You feel worn out, frustrated, and like a failure.

Victim-oriented mindset:

  • “Can’t they see how much time I’m putting in across both of my projects?”
  • “Why don’t they remember the times I’ve communicated for my availability? Why don’t they look at my calendar before scheduling me into key meetings?”
  • “I guess I’ll just have to do it all.”

Player-oriented mindset:

  • “If I’m worn out, I won’t be able to serve anyone well. I need to assess if this situation is short-term or long-term. If I’m overloaded long-term, I’m going to work to reset allocation expectations and ask for the appropriate, additional team capacity. I’m going to ask for commitments on a path forward so I can manage myself appropriately to a future goal. It’s not a sign of failure or weakness to proactively remedy unsustainable work assignments.”
  • “I’m going to choose to be flexible in my schedule when I’m asked to join a meeting outside of my previously communicated time window. But I’m going to kindly remind people of my schedule, the juggling I’m doing to make this meeting work, and I that won’t always make the same choice in the future based on my other commitments.”
  • “I’m going to delegate some of my responsibilities to other team members when I’m temporarily overloaded. We can rally together to get through a busy time, and it will be a great opportunity for mentorship and growth of other team members.”

Scenario 3: You’re dealing with microaggressions

You’re working on a team with Vince again, and he drives you crazy. He always interrupts when you are discussing ideas. He also seems to talk about your ideas or team ideas as if they were his own. Who can stand this guy!?

Victim-oriented mindset:

  • “Vince doesn’t respect me. I’m tired of putting up with him.”
  • “Can’t Vince see how much of a jerk he is? How can anybody work with him?”
  • “I’m going to talk with another teammate at lunch today and see if they can’t stand Vince either. I bet they have some frustrating stories about Vince, too. At least I don’t have to suffer alone.”

Player-oriented mindset:

  • “I don’t understand why Vince acts this way or how he views me. It doesn’t make sense for Vince to intentionally disrespect me. If he doesn’t respect me, we should get that out in the open as we won’t have a high-functioning team without mutual respect. I need to have a direct conversation with Vince.”
  • “Maybe Vince is an over-eager and expressive communicator? Perhaps Vince hasn’t honed the skill of being a good listener? This could be an opportunity for me to help Vince grow professionally.”
  • “I’m going to tell Vince the impact his behavior has on me. I’ll talk about specific, observable behaviors so he’ll know what I’m getting at.”
  • “Assuming Vince agrees and has a desire to change his behavior, I’m going to ask permission to call him out in the moment if he interrupts me in the future. I’m also going to ask for, and schedule, a check-in conversation in six weeks.”

Being the Player Is Not Easy

The above scenarios are oversimplified for brevity and clarity. Being the player in real life not only requires a conscious choice to take responsibility, accountability, and action towards a positive future, but it takes the tact and skills to engage in constructive conversations. A player mindset is a start, but it isn’t enough.

I recommend reading Conscious Business for a deeper dive into the player mindset. Difficult Conversations is another great book for learning and developing skills for effective discussions.

Since reading about the victim and player archetypes, I’ve continued to tune my thoughts and words toward the player mindset of choice and responsibility. I’ve been happier and felt freedom even in difficult circumstances. I hope this introduction has a positive impact for you, too.