Working around the sociopath


“Sad to say, the workplace sociopath is alive and well in some workplaces in New Zealand,” says Robin Johansen, independent consultant and former CIO at engineering consultancy, Beca. “The more senior they are, the less likely it is that they will be dealt with, in my experience.”

Still, Johansen agrees with Bridget Gray at Harvey Nash, that the modern workplace and practices make it harder for the sociopath to thrive, but it does not eliminate the possibility.

“Without any professional training in psychology, observation also teaches me that rehabilitation of the workplace sociopath is unlikely so if you find yourself working with one, it is necessary to decide whether you will work around them or find other employment.”

Self-centred charmer

Dr. Tony Fernando, a psychiatrist and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, says many sociopaths are very charming.

“They can be very convincing in making you invest in their dubious schemes.”

He agrees social media provides sociopaths with more information about people but this information is also accessible to everyone. While some sociopaths are crude interpersonally, many of them, in fact, are total charmers and very savvy, he says.

“If you meet someone for the first time and he is totally into you, “be very careful”, Fernando says.

“Suddenly you are the centre of his universe, no one else matters; they know how to make you really feel good from day one. That is very nice and all, but be very slightly careful, you might be dealing with someone with sociopathic tendencies.

“They are smooth talkers, they are very manipulative, they would know how to make you feel good so they can get what they want from you.”

There are two rough groups of sociopaths, he says. The unsuccessful ones who end up in prison because they are not very smart, and the very successful ones such as a CEO who does not care about staff at all.

All they care about is their image, which is usually measured in terms of money, looks and perception. They really don’t care about people’s welfare. If they see people as dispensable objects or stepping stones, you might be dealing with a sociopath.”

They are self-centred and it’s everyone’s fault when something goes wrong, he adds.

“But when things are successful, he claims the limelight and it is all due to him.”

Another rough gauge of a sociopath: If they are in an office setting, they only talk to people in power, people who ‘matter’ and totally ignore people at the bottom – such as cleaners, admin staff, and trainees – unless they need something from them, says Fernando.

His advice? If they are not doing something unethical, they cannot be reported, he says. If you suspect unethical behaviour, a chat with HR might help.

“Being a sociopath is not a crime in itself. All of us have streaks of different personality traits – including bits of narcissism, shyness, drama queen tendencies and even sociopathy,” he says.

“It is a matter of the degree one has of these features and how much it impairs relationships. However, if one suspects pathologic sociopathy in a colleague – be careful with your interactions, do not open up too much with them as they can use your private information to their advantage. Personally, I can work with them but will keep them at a distance.

“Don’t expect too much in terms of them helping you, unless they’re using you for something.”

Excerpt from “How to recognise and deal with a workplace sociopath” by Byron Connolly, February 5, 2014

Photo courtesy Chris Dlugosz


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