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Keeping sociopaths out of the workplace

At Lovefraud, most of the discussion is about sociopaths in romantic relationships. But here is a key concept to understand: Sociopaths don’t just exploit romantic partners. They exploit everyone who crosses their paths, in all aspects of their lives. That includes everyone they work with or do business with.

Forbes.com just posted the following article:

How to screen out the sociopath job candidate

The author, Rob Asghar, asked  Dr. Matha Stout the warning signs of a sociopath in a job interview. Number One on her list was overwhelming charm. Wow, that sounds familiar.

 

 


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14 Comments on "Keeping sociopaths out of the workplace"

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I guess everybody who has dealt with a classic a-hole at work would love to class them as a sociopath, but, heck yeah, I’ll go with that.

We’ll just call her Kitty.

I may attract a lot of sociopaths to my life, but at least I know a warning sign when I get one. Problem is, they’re often low-level warning signs, as in, just steer clear of a few idiosyncrasies, and you’ll be fine.

I agreed to take a job nine years ago — the job I left last year — with a, let’s just say, not-too-respected Wall Street operation. One of the people who interviewed me was Kitty, and it wasn’t so much her charm, but how charmed she seemed with me, that raised a slight red flag with me.

Fast-forward: Intimidating my supervisor into intimidating me; claiming that because I had had a stress-producing conflict with my doctor in a case of (freakin’) cancer, I was “a difficult person” in my personal as well as professional life (after I had shared that information with my immediate supervisor in order to seek help for my stress and minimize the damage to my work); acting in other lawsuit-ready ways with a co-worker who was about to retire anyway; asserting authority over me even after I had moved to a different department; bizarrely reporting my alleged bad behavior at meetings, as in, once yawning and once shuffling papers, each time bypassing the authority of our general department head; being overheard in adjacent cubicles, constantly complaining about me. I finally left when my immediate supervisor started coming over and literally yelling at me, at her behest. And I had done nothing seriously wrong. A reasonable request to correct something I had not known about. Over several years, Kitty’s harassments led to thousands of dollars in lost pay.

And I was so intimidated, just wanted to keep my job, hated documenting so many things and abandoned the effort, that I always gave her an OK review in the random anonymous tell-on-your-co-workers HR initiative. I just knew it would be traced back to me if I said anything negative about Kitty.

There’s this idea that I should have sued. In reality, lawsuits are difficult to go through and only expose the complainant to every little nitpicky complaint anyone ever made against them. I believed I would actually lose money on such a suit as compared with continuing in my job. And I would have suffered stress, which would have been even more detrimental to my health.

I really enjoyed this article. It was brief, to the point, and well done. The small list especially tailored to a business context can be slightly modified and useful in other areas as well. I was intrigued by the personality test, and plan to research that topic a bit when I have time. I have wondered if my spaths handwriting could be analyzed to identify her disorder. Early on in our relashamship, I every time I saw her writing I found it disturbing. Hard to explain, there’s just something really off about not what she is writing, but the way it looks, kind of creepy.
Sistersister I had a General Manager I had to answer directly to who made my life miserable for 5 years. If I hadn’t been simultaneously dealing with 4 other cluster B’s in my personal life maybe I would have cut my losses and got the heck out of there. I can certainly relate to much of what you went through. Thanks for sharing. Doesn’t it feel good to have that behind you ?

I have no regrets after leaving, even though I am struggling financially. Talk about a “dark night of the soul,” and I’m turning 50 this week! It’s my journey to find out what is next for me through living with integrity in my career and life. I sometimes blame this person for my distress, but in reality, it wasn’t her job to protect me from my own midlife crisis. Parasites like to swim in pools of crap; otherwise they starve. Don’t be a pool of negativity, uncertainty, dependence, or need. If you are, don’t blame a person for being that big, red sign telling you that you’re on the wrong road. Heck, they don’t even have to be smart to do it.g

Related to sociopaths in the workplace: What about social movements? In my experience, a lot of sociopaths hang out in political organizations, political parties, activist journals, and similar places.

I have a friend who is a journalist, very dedicated to righting a certain wrong that she unearthed 25 years ago. Nobody doubts her sincere angst that this is going on, and she describes it with so much insight in her writing.

Or maybe she’s just a spath, using this righteous cause to mask her own need for control.

Or maybe I’m wrong, as she’s always telling me. But someone telling me I’m always wrong is a big red flag for me. I may not be God’s answer to humankind, but I’m not that bad for making an occasional mistake, either.

Strangely enough, I know the next time I see her she’ll act as if nothing happened. And then, another time when we’re doing fine she’ll make a big deal out of something I never thought was an issue.

And her latest act of weirdness was an e-mail in which she accused me of making a pointed request to stop from e-mail harassment from a third party (at her instigation) ONLY BECAUSE I was angry at my boyfriend. (That’s strange, I don’t remember telling her about an alleged argument with him; perhaps he did, but he’s history now, probably not wanting to explain this strange chain of communication.) . . . And why does it always sound like a tangled junior-high-school tale of he-said/she-said/and-then-they-told-so-and-so, every time I report something she did? Like this paragraph, for instance.

Because she’s a spath? Crazymaker? Nut job?

The sociopath in my office was there for 36 years! He was second in charge to the owner/president who lives in another state, so the sociopath was effectively in charge of the whole workplace. We’re a small family-owned company so we don’t have an HR department and the designated company HR person was the sociopath. He was also very vengeful and engaged in character assassination whenever he had the opportunity as well as being in charge of hiring and firing, so no workers dared to make an HR complaint concerning his behavior.

This guy was so toxic that whoever worked with him felt like they needed a shower afterwards. I didn’t report to him but was expected to cooperate with him in several areas and he always made whatever project we were doing a hellish nightmare. That was his specialty. Most of my co-workers were genuinely committed to the company and to doing their jobs well so they bit their tongues and tried to stay focused on their tasks, hoping to avoid his wrath.

Company morale was circling the drain. Many of us complained to the owner numerous times over the years (and he had his own run-ins with Mr. Sociopath) but the boss had issues of his own and depended on the sociopath to manage the company so he wasn’t prepared to confront the sociopath. He passed it off with remarks such as, “M just isn’t a people person” and “He can be difficult but the company is doing well so I don’t want to make any changes”.

Finally, in 2011, the owner began dealing with his own issues in therapy, and became able to take a look at the havoc the sociopath was creating in the company. I was on the 4-person committee that began in order to find a way to limit the sociopath’s control and move him sideways in the company. It soon became clear to the owner that the sociopath was beyond return and needed to go. It took nearly a year of committee work and negotiations to get rid of the sociopath. He was totally uncooperative, didn’t negotiate, and ultimately walked out without an extremely generous severance package that totaled around $75K for reasons that aren’t really clear.

We have yet to find that he embezzled, but we are looking because he had access, opportunity, we know he lied, and he had a sense of entitlement that all point to something being fishy.

After the sociopath left, it was as if someone had opened a window and a cleansing breeze swept through the company. Many workers have come out of the closet disclosing the awful things he did and how badly he treated people. We’re also all scratching our heads because it’s not clear if he was doing anything other than making trouble. He was supposed to be the IT person but we have since learned that others were completing nearly all of his work.

Sorry this is so long, but there is an important point I’d like to make: sociopaths always seem to cultivate minions who help them do their dirty work. The sociopath had “minions” within the company who toadied up to him and carried his water. (Of course, the minions got special treatment and could do no wrong in the sociopath’s world. The sociopath created his own cult within the company.) Our sociopath left 2 minions that we became aware of when we reviewed his emails. One of them seems to be coming around to the new workplace environment, but the other seems stuck in the old way and is causing trouble with co-workers. They’re being scrutinized very closely so that one of them doesn’t step into the power vacuum created by the sociopath’s departure and recreate the same old same old.

Just goes to show you how evil people are when left to do as they please. In accounting they have ‘checks and balances’ (such as 2 people required to sign checks.) In a company such things are important, not only with money, but with VALUES. I don’t think most companies understand that a persons’ values have everything to do with what will happen as the years go by and their job has become boring. Some people establish themselves as ‘boss’ and play mind games with people. Unfortunately their values aren’t in align with the company values, or others, only themselves.

The company actually does have a policy that 2 people are required to sign checks but the sociopath thwarted this without the owner’s knowledge. He had signature rubber stamps made because there were “so many checks to sign” and then, at some point, appropriated the stamp of the other signatory who later claimed he “hadn’t signed checks in years”.

We also have a Bookkeeper/Credit Manager as well as an independent CPA who reports only to the owner.

Being the IT person, the sociopath was in charge of setting up new accounts in our system. This is now being examined to ensure that all of our accounts are “real” and not phantom accounts to divert money.

You are so right about how evil people can be when left to do at they please.

Anyone seen the movie “Single White Female”? It happened to me. Leni, the real person’s name, started working at a small medical center and was put next to me. Lies and distortion. Back-stabbing. Stalking on the job. Charming enough to ‘get back into the game’ after the supervisor spoke to her.

One other female employee figured her out and encouraged me to see the movie “SWF”. She said Leni’s transformation physically…new hairdos, losing weight quickly, wearing more revealing clothing…was not lost on her. She felt Leni also wanted ‘to be me’. That may sound flattering but admiration can go too far…far out in fact. As in wanting someone else’s life just like the movie.

She got away with using crude language and ‘rough talk’ because of the hours we worked…no one was around much of the time and it would have been her word against mine. That is another thing…she changed her hours to my hours. She had ‘gotten under my skin’ at that point and I thought she would be good company. Before I knew it I was isolated and former ‘friends’ in our group ignored me and were catty and vicious. Leni had gotten to them.

The unfortunate truth about this medical center was its unprofessionalism (I heard families of patients complain and bring their loved ones elsewhere). There were blogs online about waiting too long, unreturned and disconnected phone calls, hearing things they did not want to hear from employees…no boundaries and unsympathetic supervisors who actually appeared to be sociopathic themselves.

I ended up leaving before Leni…in fact I just walked off the job in disgust. I had another job lined up, a state job, and I did it in the morning before going to the medical center. It turned into full-time. I never looked back.

On my new job I felt Leni coming up behind me…thought she could be lurking around corners and ready to approach H.R. about my job and see if she ‘could get in’. We even got a phone call in our department and my ‘narcissistic’ boss said, ‘We don’t need anyone and that particular job is already filled…’ Good show.

Unfortunately the workplace is one of the worse places to be.

The workplace is often an environment where manipulation and testosterone pay off, where ASPDS, spaths, etc, rise to the top. Employers are seeking output and want return on their investment in personnel. The business world is competitive. While it makes sense to simply do your job and stay out of the fray, social interaction is often required and no one wants to appear not to be a team player.

Corporate culture usually comes down from the top, so if you meet the boss during the interview and find that (s)he has questionable interaction with you or others, that could be a good job to stay away from.

Unfortunately, we don’t all have the luxury of being so picky. We’re happy when a seemingly great job comes our way. We simply can’t be trusting of everyone around us at our job. Politely curbing interaction with manipulators early-on, cataloging instructions, and documenting things that appear out of line may be the best protections we have.

Jm

jm_short;

Very true. Let me add a few points:

1) Unless somebody is very well studied regarding sociopaths, they won’t understand the charm aspect. Even mental health professionals don’t understand this trait, or are fooled.

2) Certain industries, namely the Financial Services Industry, are run by Sociopaths. Knowingly or not, they recruit and cultivate Sociopaths. They call this system “Meritocracy” but in reality it is back stabbing, lying, kissing up, ignoring impropriety (and laws) that get advancement. And bonuses. Big bonuses.

Wall Street is rotten to the core yet every company presentments itself as the model of virtue. And the Industry is self-promoting:

http://www.euromoney.com/Article/1117308/The-worlds-best-private-bank-named-in-annual-survey.html

UBS the best?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/21/business/ubss-track-record-of-averting-prosecution-common-sense.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.acfcs.org/historic-ubs-case-is-model-for-us-assault-on-offshore-tax-evasion-says-former-us-prosecutor-who-led-it/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/869789.stm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Jewish_Congress_lawsuit_against_Swiss_banks

The list is endless.

3) As you noted, the job interviewer may very well be a sociopath.

Sadly, perhaps the whole “American” model of success, at least in its current incarnation, based upon money, power and success is sociopath driven.

In reality it’s simply human nature to value money, power and success. What kind of human being would not value success? And even in primitive tribes that didn’t have “money” as we know it, people still strove after possessions of numerous kinds. As for power, while plenty of people are not power-hungry by any means, the drive for power is still a normal (though highly variable) trait among humans at large, along with the drives for “achievement” and “affiliation” (or “connection” with others). Every society has a fair ration of normal individuals who seek power, and everyone else has to handle that as best they can.

The real genius of American society is not that it created this set of aspirations—on the contrary, they’re as old as humanity itself, if not older—but that it’s enabled more people to fulfill them than ever before. Not everybody, I realize, but certainly a larger number.

As for sociopaths (or psychopaths), the problem is that being the predators they are, they’re capable of exploiting any social, political or economic system whatsoever. Yet the extent to which they can exploit it depends on the nature of the system. If we’re looking for a society that’s “sociopath driven,” the Western democracies of today are the wrong place to look. The sociopath’s heaven is a dictatorship. We should look instead to Nazi Germany, or the Soviet Union, or the Cambodia of Pot Pot, or many of those corrupt autocracies that Africa and Latin America (among other places) have so often been afflicted with. Or of course many societies of the past, like the Ottoman Empire, or… well, the list is endless. In short, a system where, unlike our own, the People have far too little power to dislodge psychopathic dictators and their cronies from their thrones.

Redwald I so agree!!! It is not the structure of the political system that makes us in the western world vulnerable… it is the emphasis on individualism verses a more group based societal structure.
I also agree that power and possessions are valued in all societal structures. I am an immigrant from India…moved to the US looking for a better life….I’m competitive, hungry for the trappings of success, and willing to work for it. The difference between me and our average cluster B is their willingness to exploit others to get what they want. In the work environment that is where we need to watch our backs. That singly in my opinion defines a disordered person. the capacity and willingness to use and exploit others…

I was only 17. My sociopath ‘came out’ and told me she had been using me and lying to me for the entire duration of our ‘friendship’. I did not have the adult skills or socialization that many of my peers. You could call my family a ‘hotbed’ of dysfunctionality that a sociopath would love to exploit…which she did. No one saw through the facade.

I was so mixed up and disgusted with her that I brought her to our ‘local’ state mental hospital…thinking we could ‘fool’ the entire psychiatric community. By God…she did. One of them complimented her on her intelligence, calm demeanor, and charm. Not to be undone, I added my own intelligent comments and charm. This guy was completely fooled. At a psychiatric facility…imagine.

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