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Sociopaths at Work

Sociopaths at Work

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone we worked with was easy to get along with and we were all on the same page, working together to achieve a unified outcome?  In reality this is not always the case and during our working lives we learn to work with a range of personality types. One of the most challenging situations is working with someone who displays sociopathic tendencies.  

If you have worked closely with a sociopath, you will be acutely aware of their destructive and antisocial behaviour, even if you weren’t sure how to categorise it. For those of you who don’t know what a sociopath is, it’s quite possible you have already met one. Most studies show that between 1- 4% of the population have sociopathic tendencies, meaning most of us will encounter a few in our working lives.

Sociopaths do not feel empathy towards others, show no genuine remorse and do not feel shame or guilt. They are often charming and charismatic, using these traits to gain the trust of those around them and convince people they are ‘normal’.    

Surprisingly, intelligent sociopaths often end up in leadership roles due to their ability to charm, deceive and lie their way to the top.  You may wonder how it is possible that we revere and value such traits in our corporate leaders, but these traits are often masked by persuasion, strength, influence and charisma - a powerful combination. 

Sociopathic behaviour is a personality disorder and it’s important to note that only a trained professional can identify and diagnose it. Simply being aware of sociopathic behaviour and will equip you to better handle any future encounters.  

So, what is the best way to handle working with someone you suspect to be a sociopath?

  • Don’t take it personally.  Sociopaths will do anything that fuels their over active self-interest, so try to ignore behaviours that may knock your confidence.
  • A sociopath will never be accountable for their actions so keep records of all important emails relating to deadlines, workflow, client interactions or anything you deem important. Sociopaths are known for lying about their performance, avoiding blame and spreading rumours about other employees.
  • Ask for an anti-bullying policy to be implemented in your workplace. It should outline antisocial behaviours that are not tolerated, including: spreading lies and rumours, harassment, disrespectful behaviour and abusive language.
  • You cannot change or reason with a sociopath, so don’t use your energy trying.
  • Avoid them as much as possible.

Remember, sociopaths are able to operate without the same moral compass that guides most people. Sociopaths can lie, manipulate and bully without feeling remorse.

If you would like to learn more about this fascinating topic, have a look at Dr Martha Stout’s book - 'The Sociopath Next Door' or simply watch Oprah’s interview with Lance Armstrong.

References

Watch out for Snakes in Suits - Rebecca Turner, The Australian

How to deal with a sociopath in the workplace – Jessica Jones, Demand Media

Beware the techniques of the Sociopath - A Perfect Target, Blog by Catherine