So they’re all around us. Worse still, research suggests they’re more than typically present among bosses (though more often in larger organizations, as the dynamics of the startup community make it more difficult for their mode of operation to survive).
What are the six danger signs of a sociopath? According to science, the top six are as follows:
1) Fails to acknowledge responsibility and deflects blame onto others.
2) No real feelings or empathy.
3) Manipulate and bully for their own purposes. Due to their lack of emotion, sociopaths tend to need extra stimulation, and the feeling of power that bullying gives them tends to provide them with an adrenaline rush.
4) They have no remorse. After sabotaging and firing a person or putting another organization out of business they feel nothing, or in extreme situations may celebrate the “victory” and go out for drinks.
5) They enjoy making people feel bad about themselves.
6) They purposely sabotage co-workers and employees.
There are other signs as well. Here’s a list of signs from Wikipedia and another very comprehensive list of warning signs here. Science is currently debating whether sociopaths and psychopaths are in actuality the same thing. Furthermore, many bosses exhibit traits of narcissism—which is problematic in its own right—who are not full blown sociopaths.
Regardless, there is a high likelihood you’ve encountered at least some of these signs in the workplace and have perhaps had the unfortunate experience of working with an outright scheming or dangerously manipulative co-worker or boss. When it happens, what can you do?
In her article The Sociopath In The Office Next Door contributor Davia Teminsuggested the following strategies:
Trust your instincts. Martha Stout’s research shows that statistically, the odds you are dealing with a sociopath are higher than you may think. When a boss starts to publicly castigate you (or others) for mistakes you didn’t actually make, take note. When joking becomes sarcastic, one or two individuals are perpetually targeted, or a boss maliciously plays team members against each other, there may be a deeper issue at play. Take notes, and proceed with caution.
Keep Records. A true sociopath generally operates one on one, and thrives on situations they can turn into a “he said/she said” scenario after the fact. To the extent you can document instructions and commitments in email (or even through recordings, if you are careful) you will be further ahead.
Call the person out and defend yourself (carefully). If you can do so calmly and without losing your temper, stop the meeting, stop the discussion, set a one on one appointment with the individual in question, and do whatever else is necessary to hold your ground and avoid becoming a pawn. This will send the message that you’re not a victim to be played or walked over. Proceed with care—the effort to defend yourself could backfire if it makes you an even bigger target, or allows a mean-spirited boss to view you (or paint you) as disrespectful or uncooperative—but ultimately, you will be better off for having carefully defended the boundary that you are not willing to be treated unfairly or “played”.
Never, ever trust that person again. Sociopaths are a breed of leopards that will not (and cannot) change their spots. They may be smooth and persuasive; they may promise you anything—but once a person like this has been unveiled, avoid at all costs any scenario that forces you to work with them again.
Leave. If the organization is unable or unwilling to deal with the situation, your only hope is to leave. This is a scenario that occurs with surprising frequency—it is hard for an organization to fathom that a single individual could be at the core of so much harm, or the company may fear the repercussions of firing a person whose propensity for sabotage is known to be strong. In any case, if you are unable to move or transfer and the company is unwilling to deal with the individual directly, your most productive choice will likely be to move on.
Provide help and support for others. If you’ve survived a situation like this, you are in a uniquely beneficial position to help and support others. This, too, will be a favorable outcome of the hard won experience you’ve gained.
So if you’ve met or experienced a full-on sociopath in the workplace (and statistically the odds are high there’ve been several) treat the situation with care. Move yourself as speedily as possible to the point you can remember what you learned—and perhaps even laugh about the memory—as you put it as quickly as possible into the far distant past.