November 28, 2014 in True Strength, Mindset, Guest blog posts

Victim to Victor

How do we know if we have a victim in our midst during our coaching interactions? In fact, what do we really mean by the term ‘victim’? We are used to hearing this in connection to crime, but in coaching is this a little harsh? I suspect it is more common than we realise. How many times do we witness our clients play the victim? When is it ok for clients to ‘offload’, and when does this border the fine line of not taking responsibility and ownership? Coaching certainly can be a helpful process for relieving pressure and acting as sounding board, but as coaches it is important that we learn to recognise the signs of victim behaviours, e.g. where we blame everything and everyone else but ourselves for what’s going wrong. To be effective coaches we need to feel confident that we can guide our clients along a journey and help them to reflect on their thoughts and actions so they can minimise the ‘victim’ behaviours and replace them with more effective behaviours we associate with the ‘victor’. However, we first need to learn to recognise the signs.


One of the key skills of a coach is the ability to raise levels of self-insight for our clients and to encourage responsibility and ownership within the coaching process. Ownership is the key here. It is the client, not the coach, who needs to own the outcome, although true transference of this in practice, may prove challenging. In our role as coach, this is how we can make a difference and facilitate the shift from victim to victor. In my view, the first step is to recognise the behaviours of the victim and to remain alert for the signs and clues. However, this is not always easy or obvious. This is where a better understanding of theory can enhance our coaching practice. Attribution theory in particular, offers some important insights into the types of behaviours we associate with taking ‘ownership’. In its simplest format, attribution theory seeks to explain causality of behaviour and invites us to consider whether the causes of behaviour are ‘intrinsic’, thus influenced by our personality, or whether causal factors are ‘extrinsic’ or outside our control.   Applied within the coaching context this would lead us to observe how the client expresses perceptions of control and influence. Do clients take the view that they can influence the outcome, or are they more likely to blame environmental, or situational factors. Of-course, this is often not a cut and dried process and can be a combination of both.


In this sense we start to reflect on the intrinsic and extrinsic nature of perceptions. In order to be a more effective coach therefore, I would strongly argue that we need to understand the causal factors, and to be able to differentiate when personality is the causal factor, or when the situation or context is more relevant.


This can be hard to distinguish at times, which is when the right tools and diagnostics can be helpful in removing some of the guesswork. A tool which has helped in this respect is ENGAGE. This diagnostic identifies how clients perceive themselves on a number of facets, including what they perceive their circle of influence to be, which differs from influencing skills. This is a subtle, but important distinction, which often gets overlooked or confused and is very difficult to differentiate without some type of measurement. Feedback from clients has been highly positive, particularly in terms of the tools ability to identify the specific obstacles, as opposed to the presenting symptoms. The key benefits – coaching dialogue is fast-tracked, eliminating time wasted getting to the core issues at the heart of victim behaviours. As we know, these are often masked by other things, on the intrepid journey from victim to victor.


This article is a guest post by Dr Jodi O’Dell, one of our associates and the creator of ENGAGE. You can find out more about Jodi on the ‘About Us‘ page. The next article in the series ‘Do you fly blind when you coach?’ will take a closer look at how we know as coaches that we are working on the right things. The above article is the opinion of the author and should not be relied upon to replace professional advice”


  1. November 30, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    David Evans

    I thought this was a really interesting blog – of course, the coach should be encouraging accountability and coachees to create an action plan for improving the area that the coaching is focussing on. I suppose therefore we need, as coaches, to be really tuned in to any signs that indicate any form of victimhood.

    And we need to do this without crossing boundaries that are there for a reason. In my blog “Where does the business coach draw the line?” ( I talk about the dangers of drifting into counselling or psychotherapy in the coaching environment.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. December 1, 2014 at 6:51 am

      Ian Pettigrew

      Hi Dave, thanks for the comment. You make good points here and in your blog post. There’s a lot to be said for the power of setting boundaries and for being equipped to notice and make sense of what is going on. I do agree; not all coaches are equipped to do do this!

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