Business woman sitting on the stairs looking dejected

There are many roles people play on a typical team. There are healthy, productive roles like the cheerleader and the detail hound. Then there are the dysfunctional, counter-productive roles like the steam-roller and the gossip. But of all the roles on the team, the one people play without understanding its damaging impact is the victim.

It’s a difficult thing to admit because when you feel wronged, you are so convinced that you are an innocent victim of other people’s bad behavior. It’s so hard to imagine that you are contributing to your own misfortune. But if you are letting yourself be victimized (ignored, undervalued, yelled at), you need to turn the situation around.

Find yourself a quiet place and answer these true or false questions as honestly as possible.

  1. I feel anxious before team meetings.
  2. I keep my mouth shut when someone criticizes me or my work.
  3. My body language makes me small. I look down and keep my arms crossed.
  4. I bottle up my concerns and don’t share them with the team.
  5. I allow others to interrupt me or brush me off when I try to raise a point.
  6. I blame our poor team dynamic on the aggressive members of my team.
  7. I take my concerns to my team leader without addressing them directly with my teammates.
  8. I complain privately about bad teammates to my trusted confidants.
  9. I stop doing things and raising points that my teammates criticize.
  10. I find little, quiet ways to get back at people when they are nasty to me.

If you said yes to more than a couple of these questions, you are allowing yourself to be shut down. You need to find ways to make a bigger contribution. Equally importantly, you need to stop doing things that undermine the team. Your gossiping is just as harmful as someone else’s yelling.

Three Suggestions

Hold your head up. Literally hold your head up. And while you’re at it, spread out. Start by taking up more physical space and you’ll actually start to take up more psychological space on the team. Even if the confidence is pure “fake it ‘till you make it,” it will eventually work on you and everyone else.

Don’t back down. Make you point, no matter how unpopular. Be calm, clear, and to the point.  Don’t let anyone interrupt you and if they do, calmly say “I’m going to finish now.” If your point gets ignored, ask for support. “Does anyone else see value in considering this perspective?”

Keep it productive. If you seek out support from your teammates or boss, keep it positive. It’s legitimate to ask for moral support. It’s also okay to ask for coaching on how to be more effective in dealing with a troublesome teammate. It is not okay to complain, undermine, or retaliate.

It might feel unfair—why should you have to change? It will likely be anxiety-provoking—what… stand up to her!? But then it will feel so much better. You will feel better about yourself and the team will see more value from you.

One caveat. If the transgressions of your teammates go all the way to bullying, then these tactics won’t necessarily be enough. Seek support from your human resources department if your teammate (or boss) is being abusive.

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