Have you ever stepped back and reflected on the tone and quality of the conversations you have with coworkers, friends or family members?

Just this week, as David was waiting in line to board a plane, he overheard two people complaining about “this person and that manager.”   Taking a page from the “Monday-morning quarterback” playbook, they had plenty of complaints about co-workers and second-guessing of leaderships’ decisions.

It’s amazing how much time and effort goes into talking about what’s wrong with this, or what we don’t like about that.

We call such interactions the “Kinship of Victimhood.”   One definition of kinship is “relationship through common characteristics or a common origin.”  It is all-too-easy for us to reinforce complaints we hear from others, and collude with them in “ain’t it awful” discussions.  Often, we are unconscious to our need to build relationships on common ground even if it means joining the Victim pity party.

Here’s another example of the kinship in action.   David was on a short commuter jet flight into Chicago’s O’Hare airport and sitting in the second row.    In the first row was a pilot from another airline and a flight attendant from yet another.  Both of whom were “catching a ride.” The two flight attendants (one was supposed to be attending to the flight he was on) and the pilot moved from one complaint story to another as they “compared victim notes” about their opinions of gate agents, air traffic controllers, and the overall state of the industry.

In addition, David also observed that the working flight attendant devoted his time and energy to the back-and-forth “kinship” and never focused on the customers he was there to serve.  Granted, it was less than a 20-minute flight and, yet, this example illustrates how the Kinship of Victimhood can take over a person’s focus, time and attention.

Let’s face it: we have all participated in such conversations.  They are common with almost any subject: the weather; politics; the economy; global climate change; world affairs. The list is endless.

This kinship does serve a purpose.   It is a way of connecting; a way of relating; and many times, a way of coping.    We see the positive side of the Kinship of Victimhood when we read or hear about neighbors coming together in times of disaster or threat.  Sharing their feeling of victimization and their stories with this year’s hurricanes, earthquakes and fires can help people heal from their trauma.

The “shadow” of this kinship is that if this is the only way you relate to your life experience, over time it will reinforce your sense of Victimhood—as a role and way of being—–by heightening the focus on the victimizing experience and perpetuate a problem-focused Victim Orientation.

As Creators, we are called to move our conversations beyond the Kinship of Victimhood. We do so by focusing our attention on what we want to create and/or how we choose to respond to the situations in which we find ourselves.

When you hear another complaining, avoid the Kinship of Victimhood by:

  1. Acknowledging the emotion behind their complaint (“I hear you are really frustrated.”) and then,
  2. Step into the Coach role and ask a question, with compassion about their frustration, about how they might choose to respond to the situation.

Rather than being triggered by others who may complain, choose to buffer yourself and build more resourceful and empowered kinships.