Some of the people you come into contact with at work fall into the category of ‘corporate sociopath’. Our regular columnist, Eki Maria, explains how to deal with people who are likely to stab you in the back…

The American Psychiatric Association defines sociopathy as ‘…a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood.’ Corporate sociopaths are typically characterised by a subtle ruthlessness that sees their authority created through sustained manipulation of others in the work place. Corporate sociopaths will lack conscience, never experience guilt and as your colleague take deep personal pleasure in seeing you fail at tasks. Their outward demeanour will often be highly charismatic and contagiously high energy. Naturally people in their working environment, including leaders, will be drawn to this personable way and thus provide the sociopath with a wide pool of people to manipulate. It is essential to make early identification of workers with this personality disorder as failure to do so could see them wreaking havoc within your organisation and with your personal and professional development. Beware, they will smile warmly at you while simultaneously pushing that metaphorical knife firmly between your shoulder blades.

The moral compass of the corporate sociopath is non-existent. Notice those in the workplace who appear to be prepared to do anything for success. They will ensure they win every negotiation and every promotion from under your feet, stalling your progress. Workers with this personality disorder will chase leadership roles and responsibility, regardless of whether they are able or qualified to do the job.

Many corporate sociopaths will do well in organisations and in jobs where such personality traits can be advantageous. You do actually want your surgeon to be an emotionless machine while performing surgery. As you do from an investment banker when he or she is executing your deals. However, in most work environments, this person will be an undetected parasite making alliances based on how much information and favour they can extract while giving the minimum back. If you find yourself in a work relationship with someone who continuously demands help, advice and support but is never around when you need assistance, the alarm bells should sound.

Apply the rule of three. If you feel that someone at work has misdirected you in some way once, you can probably let it go. Twice and you need to make an assessment as to the ethics and trustworthiness of this person. Three times and you do need to begin the process of separating your work life from theirs in order to protect your working relationships and progress. Create your own direct lines of communication to those in power that can work as an antidote to any negative actions they may orchestrate against you. Suspect flattery. If a colleague is consistently harming or humiliating others while campaigning for your sympathy you are almost certainly dealing with a sociopath. Never agree to help them conceal their suspicious activities – yours will be the first name they call when the investigation team comes knocking.

Typical characteristics:

Behaviour will show an innate sense of superiority involving talking down to or humiliating others.
Will superficially compliment an individual then subsequently attack or criticise them in greater detail to managers.
Can have micro-focus on issues of interest to them that are unrelated to organisational issues.
Often stagnates progress by creating drama and disruption within the organisation for their own personal reasons.
Appears to live in a ‘fictional world’ where their behaviour and actions have little relation to reality.
Contradictory or cruel behaviour lacking any apparent rhyme or reason.
Deceptiveness for no obvious reason when it doesn’t seem to directly benefit them.
Mimicking personal attachment with no actual regard.

How do you deal with this type of office behaviour? It can be difficult to watch an unscrupulous person climb the ranks particularly if you have been a casualty of their cold charisma. There are many subtle tricks you can use to ensure you always win the office games this brand of sociopath loves to play. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the personality disorder and the ‘win at any cost’ mentality.

You may never be able to uncover the true motivations behind their behaviour but to stay ahead of their manipulative efforts you should: 1)Manoeuvre them away from important initiatives or decision-making regarding your projects or development 2) Make it a policy to not believe anything they put forward without it being independently corroborated. 3) Use one-on-one conversations as opportunities for small talk to find out more about the person without divulging any of your personal ambitions or weaknesses. 4) If you have to work together any decisions should be made with witnesses present who can confirm the details. 5) Skilfully avoid or work around them at all times – this person can be dangerous.

The corporate sociopath will not be concerned with building positive work relationships. They will be investing that effort into thinking strategically to stay one step ahead . It will be imperative that you plan ahead and anticipate upcoming scenarios. Your strategy should be to avoid all direct contact especially if you suspect you have become a target. Confrontations can be fruitless as you only encounter one of their many faces.

If you have a corporate sociopath working under you aim to keep them placated and occupied. Cover your bases by minimizing any dependencies on them. If they are working on a task, ensure there is another person also reporting back. Unfortunately this person will only have their own and not the organisation’s best interests at heart.

Best policy will see you cut this person out of your working life completely. However if this is not possible don’t be tempted to beat them at their own game. Unless you too have no remorse, they will have won before you’ve even started.

DneinNuqer

Asime Nyide, known as DneinNuqer, is the insightful mind steering the helm at tabj.co.za. With a keen eye for business trends and a commitment to delivering cutting-edge insights, Asime curates a dynamic space where industry enthusiasts and entrepreneurs alike converge. Unveiling the latest market developments, strategic analyses, and thought-provoking perspectives, Asime Nyide fosters a community of forward-thinkers at tabj.co.za, making it a go-to resource for those navigating the ever-evolving landscape of business. E-mail / Instagram