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Antisocial personalities may lurk in cubicles

The Boston Marathon bombing drew attention to the antisocial personality, beginning with the bombing, an act of violence, and the emotionless face of the younger suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. You might encounter it more commonly at work in theft, lying, sexual harassment and stalking.

“In the workplace less dangerous antisocial personalities will disrupt by lying, stirring the pot or otherwise acting negatively or irresponsibly, such as triggering interpersonal conflicts for perceived personal gain or sadistic enjoyment,” says David Reiss, psychiatrist at DMRDynamics in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. “The dangerously antisocial personality will act maliciously, sabotaging workers, threatening perceived competitors or acting violently when angered or enraged, all without reflection or care.” Targets may be random, people they think slighted them, others toward whom they feel jealous, even “friends.”

Reiss says the underlying mindset may foster first unethical, then criminal and finally overtly sociopathic behavior, which is repetitive, even when the individual knows he may be caught. Lack of guilt, remorse and empathy are its hallmarks. The person “cares not about fairness, justice or truth,” Reiss says, “but only having his or her needs and desires met.”

“Many are exceptional people, attractive rainmakers or decision-makers and often physically good looking,” says Linda Henman, owner of Henman Performance Group LLC in Chesterfield, Mo. “They get into power because they have these gifts and can be pretty destructive before (they’re) criminal. If it’s about making them feel better or increasing their satisfaction, it’s OK.” Remaining calm, they thrive on chaos and change where the risks are high, often breaking rules. She adds that many land in jail because of embezzlement and regulatory noncompliance.

SELF-ORIENTATION

This type of person is self-interested, regardless of the effect on others. Almost every month Mark Faust, principal at Echelon Management International LLC in Cincinnati, encounters a client with a valued salesperson who, for example, “lies on his expense report by $1,000 per month but brings in $1 million in profit,” Faust says. He cites situations such as buying gasoline for personal use with a company credit card, graft, and in two other cases, stealing and reselling bags of corn and bean seeds.

Faust says most employees know what’s occurring. He says that with their sixth sense they can spot sneaky behavior, such as being out of the office unnecessarily, and advocates watching for at least one repetition before reporting. The problem, he says, is that management may not encourage you to report. In his book “Growth or Bust: Proven Turnaround Strategies To Grow Your Business,” Faust mentions that “a white-collar strike” against a leader may prove an effective intervention.

PERSONAL RISK

The risk to prey is high. Henman refers to self-oriented people as snakes, “destructive reptiles,” and recommends that you get away from them as soon as possible. However, she mentions that they may be part of the fabric of the organization, even its leadership.

Reiss has worked with antisocial individuals and those “who filed a claim of harassment or workplace-injury when they were victimized or threatened by the co-worker, peer, supervisor or supervisee.” These cases involved inappropriate behaviors that ranged from relatively minor negative interactions from a person previously considered a friend — “not saying good morning, borrowing money and not paying it back, blaming me for their problems” — to serious threats of violence or actual violence. Faust cautions that while you should confront company leadership about the situation, you risk finding that leaders won’t protect you. Whenever possible, Henman says, get away from snakes.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net. © 2013 Passage Media.

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