In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about The challenger, helper, victim cycle.

The victim mindset is one that some people have and it can be depressing being around someone who is always negative and constantly complains about everything. And while playing the victim might seem advantageous to certain people, other times it can prevent people from wanting to help you.

So in this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how some founders can either be stuck in the helper or the challenger frame of mind, Hiten’s philosophy when it comes to giving advice in general, how most people with a victim mindset have a hard time getting out of it and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

00:32 Why this topic was chosen.

01:23 How some founders can either be stuck in the helper or the challenger frame of mind.

05:00 Hiten’s philosophy when it comes to giving advice.

05:32 One very useful way to help someone.

06:20 How people, in most cases, want to feel good about themselves.

07:30 How Hiten approaches giving advice to people.

08:34 Why Hiten started sharing more about himself.

09:14 How most people with a victim mindset have a hard time getting out of it.

12:56 Hiten’s approach to giving advice to people with a victim mindset.

3 Key Points:

  • My philosophy is to tell people what I think they need to hear, not what they want to hear.
  • There’s a way to help someone by actually seeing what they are not and communicating it to them.
  • I think that as a founder, you can be either stuck in a helper or the challenger frame of mind


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: And today on The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about how to become more of a challenger versus a “helper”. Here’s the deal, this could be a super tiny episode, but something about this made me think of you and thought this could be a cool little conversation to have that might be useful to people. I saw somebody tweet this the other day, and it was just a little graph. I don’t know, honestly, I apologize for this. I didn’t do my homework to research where the graph is from and which book it is associated with, and who wrote this or who came up with it. But I don’t think it’s really that important for the purpose of this conversation. But it was a little bit of a circle and it just … A graph or a circle that described a concept, and it was called something like the helper victim cycle and how to break through it. And it basically was describing how people can take on a victim frame of mind of describing their problem or their challenge from a passive, “This has been done to me. I’m powerless, and I need help,” kind of framework of mind, which will then elicit somebody to step in as the “helper”, and a helper is somebody that will look for victims to be useful to, right? That person will step in and will give the victim advice, comfort, empathy. Typically, basically the message of the helper will be, “I hear you, I feel for you, and I can help you.” Right? Either by telling you what to do, or by doing it for you. And how these two … These frameworks are obviously not that useful because they leave both people … Maybe they feel slightly better in the moment, but they’re not really changing anything about the situation. And then they introduce this different framework, which is the challenger framework, which is somebody that is in a victim frame of mind doesn’t really need somebody to come and be a helper but need somebody to come in and be a challenger. So somebody that maybe as well says, “I understand that you are in a challenging situation. I understand that this is difficult for you. I am happy to listen to you, but my amount of listening has limits. I’ll listen to you for 50 minutes complain about this or whine about this, and then I will ask you questions to help you think differently about this or to come up with a solution, and then I am happy to be the person that holds you accountable for making the changes necessary to get out of this situation and move from a victim to a victor,” or whatever they would be called if it’s the feminine version of this. “And I will be there for you as long as you do your part. If you don’t follow through on your commitments, if you don’t make changes, then I will not be around for you anymore.” Right? So it’s a very different kind of framework that helps the victim to break through and is much more helpful than just being a helper. And I don’t know, I felt that that grab was beautiful because I do think that, as a founder and as somebody that is hiring people, building teams and in a leadership position in one way or another, you can be either stuck in a helper frame of mind that then makes people be victims and codependent of you, or exhibiting the challenger mind frame that really empowers people to grow and become more and more independent and not really needing you in order to affirm them or help them or whatever. I see a lot of times founders, or managers, or leaders be much more in a helper framework where they constantly do the work for people, giving them solutions, telling them exactly what to do, listening to them with all their problems, being there for them, and really never being able to empower that person to really grow beyond their past limitations. So I thought it would be an interesting little thing to discuss. Maybe you know a lot more about this. You are particularly good at being a challenger and not a pure helper, at least in my observation, although people would probably describe you from the outside as the super helpful person. I think you are, but you are because you are very good at challenging people. So, just curious to hear your response and your reaction to this.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. It’s like I don’t … My philosophy is to tell people what I think they need to hear, not what they think they need to hear. People really want to hear certain things about themselves and it makes sense. If they ask you a question, or if they’re talking to you about something, sometimes they’re looking for compliments. Sometimes they’re looking for a positive reinforcement. I think that there’s a way to help somebody by actually seeing what they’re not seeing and communicating it to them. I’ve been through my own journey on this where I would really be quick to respond and give people my take on something, because I can get a take on something pretty quickly. Lots of practice and just lots of, I guess logic and pragmatic thinking, is what I tend to use, especially when people come to me with their stuff. When I come to myself with my stuff, it’s a whole different story. So, I think that … And there’s people in my life that I can bring something and they’ll do the same thing to me and that’s awesome. I think you’re one of them. So, this is really interesting to me because everybody really wants to feel good about themselves. That part makes it somewhat difficult to tell them things that they don’t want to hear. So I’ve spent now more of my energy, and I think I’m in a very great place about this where I just want … Sometimes I just won’t say it, because they’re just not ready. They don’t want to hear it. There’s no point. If I say something that I really think about them, or think about what they should do, or I have some thoughts, maybe they just want to vent. Maybe they just want to talk, and I don’t need to respond in a way I normally would, let’s say. I think what’s interesting is I’ve seen more people offer some thoughts on this, such as, “Oh,” you ask the person, “Do you just want to vent? Or do you just want to share something? Or do you want my advice?” You know what’s fascinating? I almost feel like that … I like that tactic. I’m not against it. I don’t think I’ll ever use it though. The reason is, it’s my job, if someone comes to me for something, or a friend, or anybody, to really decipher what they’re looking for. The reason I make it my job is because I don’t want to interrupt the flow in the conversation. I feel like if I stop you and say, “Are you looking for advice, or are you just trying to vent?” You’ll be off-put. It’s like off-putting in a way. It’s like, “Well, I’m just trying to talk. I just want to talk. I don’t if I want to. I don’t know if I need advice.” A lot of times people just don’t know what they need. So these days I just feel it up. I’m just like … I don’t know, I enjoy it when people talk to me. I enjoy it when people come to me with things. It’s something that … Not just … And I used to think it’s, “Oh, I like helping people out,” or whatever. It’s not to help them out, it’s just, I like people. I like listening to them. I like hearing what’s going on with them and what’s happening to them, and it’s actually even helped me do something that has been a little harder, which is, once I stop thinking about advice, I think we talked a little bit about I like to encourage people these days. I actually started sharing more about myself, and people seem to see that, and they’re like, “Oh, I’ve never heard that about you,” or, “Oh, no, I understand you better,” or this and that. I’m like, “Yeah, I’m not just trying to help you. I’m not just here to give you advice. I’m here to just talk. You want to talk? Let’s talk.” Right? Who cares what the label is, or let’s not call it that. And things just got a lot easier. So, I think when it comes to the example you gave with the victim and things like that, if that person’s ready to hear the message, by all means, go for it. But it’s your job when you’re delivering the message to figure out, “Are they ready for it? Do they need this?” And I do believe asking them is one way, for sure. It’s not my way, but it’s definitely one way where, if you don’t know what they’re looking for, it is totally reasonable to ask them. At the same time, in that victim situation, I don’t know. [inaudible 00:09:14]. Most people who have a victim mindset … I have a few people I know really well that have that. They have a hard time getting out of it. They have their own personal work to do. It’s not much you can do for them. There really isn’t. It’s just the way they are. It’s some childhood things, same things they repress. I could go on this, because I have a few folks in my life that really take that stance, and some people take that stance when they’re under stress, or something bad happens. Some people just take that stance normally. And you can see it manifest in almost their whole lives, and lots of parts of their lives. But the thing is, if you ever told them, “Hey, this is what you’re doing,” it’s likely that they’re not ready to hear that, and then you’d have to justify it. You’d have to give them examples, you’d have to do things like that. Now, the only caveat I have is, if someone is operating like that at work, and you see the pattern is continuous, and let’s say you’re their manager, or even if you’re not, it is worth, I think everyone’s time to find the right way to talk to this person about it. That’s a part that I find very fascinating, because at work, if someone has a certain mindset and it’s … Let’s say, let’s just call it negative, or negative to them but also probably harmful to the organization and people in it, it is someone’s job to talk to them about it, I think, because it’s not something that should continue and it’s something that the person should be aware of that they might not be. The people I’m referring to that have that mindset that I know, I don’t … I’m really close to them, I don’t think I can tell them. I really don’t feel comfortable telling them, because I think … But I’ve also seen them improve over time. So, instead of telling them, my reaction are different than they used to be. So they used to be a reaction where I would internalize their victimhood, and I would almost feed it. So then I was an enabler, and there’s lots of ways to feed something like that. If they’re the victim, you’re like, “Aw, I’m so sorry.” Oh, wait, hold on. Is there anything for you to be sorry for, for them? No. You’re essentially being sorry, as if you’re them, because they’re feeling like a victim, they’re sorry for themselves. It’s essentially one of the ways that the victim thing comes up, instead of, I listen and I actually give an alternative non-victim viewpoint to them. But I’m not telling them they’re being a victim. I’m just giving him an example of another way to look at it. That’s been really valuable for me in those scenarios instead of being more direct.


Steli Efti: Yeah, I love it. That makes a ton of sense. I think one thing that I want to just highlight before we wrap up this episode is, sometimes this pattern happens in not a distinct and strong of a manifestation, especially at work. Some people, they might not be outright victims at work where they complain and they whine and they’re passive and negative, where it’s very obvious to everybody, but the dynamic that’s created is one where there’s dependencies. This person comes to you always slightly too early with their problem, looking at you to suggest some brilliant solution, and you gladly step into the role of going, “Well, have you done X, Y, Z? What about if we did this, this, or that? What about this idea?” And then they give you the positive reinforcement of admiring you and going, “Oh, my God. No, I hadn’t thought about. That’s a brilliant solution to my problem. Thank you so much,” and then they leave. That can seem like a productive interaction, right? Person A had a problem, I come up with a solution, person A is now grateful and left with that solution. That’s a wonderful thing. But when that happens again and again and again and again, you’re training oftentimes that person to nothing for themselves. You train that person to not sit with a problem a bit longer and come up with their own solution, but just instantly come to you as a lazy way of finding solutions. And you may be feeding that, or training that behavior, or programming that behavior into somebody because you get a dopamine rush by solving other people’s problems. It makes you feel good. You feel brilliant. You’re like, “Oh my God. I’m so creative. I come up with ideas. I don’t even know how to do it.” That can be a really … To me, that mirrors very closely to the help-a-victim dynamic where it’s not productive, because the more people are joining the team or the more people you’re doing this with, eventually you’re going to start being overwhelmed and used. You’re going to start complaining why you’re solving everybody’s problems and your own problems are never being solved because you don’t have the energy and creativity anymore for it. And these people never … You’re not allowing them and helping them grow beyond your ideas, your capabilities. You’re making … Your coding them into a behavior of relying on you way too much, and I’ve seen this so many times. I have done this myself so many times in the past, and so that’s a framework that I would advise people to observe, either with themselves, or with their managers, or with other people within their teams or within their startup, and to try to break through and go beyond, because it’s a really limiting way of collaborating and working together.


Hiten Shah: Yup. Yup. I couldn’t agree more.


Steli Efti: There you go. There you have it, folks. That’s it from us for this episode. We will hear you very, very soon.


Hiten Shah: Cheers.