SHOW DATE: JUNE 26, 2013

Do you have a Paula Dean in your office? Someone who constantly whines about others’ problems, crying “poor me, poor me,” while never even considering others’ feelings? Worse yet, is it possible that someone is you?

You’ve worked and lived with “victims” your whole life—and at some point you may have even played the part and been the Paula Deen. The Food Network star, who was recently ousted from her show after the exposure of racial slurs she made years ago, made a vital misstep that greatly impacted her chances at rebuilding her reputation: she let her apology breathe. She allowed herself to fall back on an old apology and then proceeded to complain about her problems.

What Paula didn’t take into account was that it’s the injured party that gets to decide how much apologizing is enough. It’s the same in the office—you don’t get to apologize and say, “I’ve done it, it’s over.” Glazing over the problem will only put the injured party into a higher state of agitation and halt their productivity even further. To avoid this, there are two important factors you need to always watch out for in your office: how to avoid being a victim and how to deal with one.

So how do you avoid being a big, thumb-sucking victim at work? Stop with excuses! Whatever your trump card—a grave illness, hard times at home, working too hard—by making it about yourself, you’re putting your troubles and feelings above everybody else’s. If you are responsible, take responsibility; don’t pen it down to personal issues or others’ insensitivity.

It’s easy to just tell yourself to take responsibility, but the actual process requires several necessary actions that not everybody is clear on. Here are three steps to get you started:

1)    Don’t be stubborn, apologize: the first step to avoiding victimizing yourself when you’ve done something wrong is saying two magic words (well, not really magic): “I’m sorry.” And once may not be enough. You may have to apologize multiple times before the injured party will feel understood. Paula Deen neglected the fact that her apology was not enough. This only further corroded her career and reputation. Neglect the injured party at work and you may end up the same.

2)    Don’t let your ego get in the way: Does pride get in your way? Are you the higher-up or fellow co-worker who never stoops so low as to say a simple “I’m sorry” to your lowly underlings? News flash: this mentality is a flaccid ego trip. It will only result in unsatisfied, frustrated co-workers, and make you look incompetent because you can’t take responsibility. In the words of Marcellus Wallace from Pulp Fiction: “F**k pride.” (You can fill in the blanks.) Pride is just another deflection, another facet of the “victim” mentality. Pride is one of the reasons Paula Deen is still in a hot mess for comments she made years ago. Who can respect someone who can’t even own up to their mistakes? Learn from Paula everybody.

3)    Hey, LISTEN: the most important step is to listen. Say “I’m sorry” and listen to the affected party. It doesn’t matter if you believe what they have to say is rubbish. Rushing headlong through the problem, burying it in the sand, bulldozing through the truth—these post-apology deflections will only cause more discomfort and will keep people from performing their best around you. An apology is not a one-way street, and thinking this way will lead you into a cul-de-sac. In case Paula Deen hasn’t been made an example of enough in this article, here’s another parable: Paula thought you just had to apologize and poof, all your racist comments would go up in smoke. But Paula neglected to listen—the other, more difficult half of the apology paradigm. Paula didn’t listen to how the people she affected felt about her comments. Thus Paula’s apology never formulized into anything concrete and genuine. The moral is, turn a blind eye to how the injured party feels, and your apologies will be for naught.   

But what if you are the injured party? Is your supervisor letting you and your co-workers take the heat for something he messed up because he is afraid of looking bad in front of the CEO? Is a co-worker not doing the job he’s supposed to because of personal issues he takes with him to the office? Dealing with victims can be a giant exercise in frustration. You confront them about their responsibility and they mark it off to working too hard or family troubles or whatever—as if their problems are worse than anyone else’s in the office.

Relax. There are ways to deal with an office victim other than bludgeoning them to death with a stapler. Here are two steps to start you off:

1)    Mind your setting: will you confront the victim in front of all your co-workers and call them out on their selfish ways, or will you be smart and approach them in private when there is no social pressure that would cause them to raise their defenses? Setting matters. A victim is much more likely to deflect your criticism when others are around. Approach them in a low-stress, quiet environment where the two of you can talk—they’re more likely to listen this way. On a slightly different note regarding setting, keep in mind that when talking to a victim, you don’t have to dismiss their problems—they might be really struggling at home or internally. You can even try and help your co-worker – just do it after work. Part of what makes an office victim a victim is his tendency to bring personal problems into a place of productivity, thus brining others down with him.

2)    Yeah, you’re right—so what… kill them with kindness: this is a big one, get ready. So you approach your office victim and they use their flurry of excuse cards to deflect any criticism you throw at them. This is where you have to stop and consider: “Am I doing this to prove that I’m right?” First off, let’s get something out of the way: You’re right, they’re wrong. It’s true. But so what? Being right won’t help you run an efficient office. This is the part when you take one for the team: kill the victim with kindness (remember what Marcellus Wallace said?). It’s easier for the victim to hear you out when you don’t sound like you’re being confrontational. Tell them how you were affected by their actions and then ask them to apologize. After all, you’re helping them save their reputation. If you’re coming into the fray with the intent to be right and to prove the victim wrong, not only will your argument flail, flounder and fall upon deaf ears, but you will be adopting the mindset of the victim himself—in other words, you’ll only be doing something for your self-benefit.

Remember, you’re in it for the team, not yourself. Paula Deen wasn’t thinking about the “team” when she apologized—she was out to protect her self-interest and retain her pride. And you can see how far that got her.


By Aleksandr Smechov