Feeling Bullied at Work? You May be Working With A Sociopath.

If you think you are seeing evil in your workplace, you might be closer to the truth than you think.

According to Dr Martha Stout, Harvard psychologist and author of the book The Sociopath Next Door), around 4% of the world’s population is a sociopath. That means about 1 in every 25 people.

How Do You Know if They’re a Sociopath?

We’ve all experienced at least one in our work environment, at least those of us with a few decades or more of work experience, the un-conscious bully who tears a path of human destruction in their pursuit of winning and results – power and money – at all costs.

Are You the Crazy One?

One minute you’re their best friend and doing a great job, the next you feel like something they are trying to scrape off their shoe. You may be questioning yourself, thinking you’re being overly sensitive. Maybe you go home at night and berate yourself for losing it emotionally yet again over someone else’s behaviour. You are not alone. Few of us have the skills to withstand the on-off hot-cold crazy-making behaviour that is so often classic in the workplace sociopath.

Sociopaths are Distinctly Lacking in Empathy

They are a unique breed of individual incapable of empathy or any other intimate connection to human beings. According to Jane McGregor’s How to Spot a Sociopath at Work, “because of their cold and calculated approach to life they have a natural advantage in situations where there’s no place for feelings.”

Sociopaths cleverly their behaviour and are usually so covert in the workplace that everyone around them may start thinking they’ve lost their mind. Work closely for a sociopath and you may even find yourself miserably reduced to tears from their oftentimes public and just about always unpredictable taunting and abasement.

Sociopaths mimic emotions and behaviours of others

Sociopaths learn to create relationships that are beneficial to them, usually in pursuit of power and money. They are willing to hurt people to get what they want and although they may realize they’re doing it, fail to see where they are accountable. In their mind it’s always the other guy at fault.

Top sales performers and athletes often fall into this category.  As black and white as an Oreo cookie, sociopaths are as charming and entertaining on the outside as they are domineering and controlling inside their personal relationships.

Sociopath’s have no empathy for others.

Dr Stout describes sociopaths as people without much sense of right or wrong. They are not interested in understanding anther’s soul — unless to do so serves a gainful purpose. Even worse, they are very good at mimicking emotion, which they use to manipulate others for their own benefit.

Sociopaths are much harder to detect.

They are often very attractive and very social people. They are often very popular and can exude a natural air of authority. They are often the person that you may least think. However, they are extremely manipulative and they are very good at convincing others because they are very in tune with the emotions of others.

Let’s not confuse sociopaths with psychopaths. 

They are two very different types of people. While these mental conditions have many similarities, the differences result in two very different types of people. Generally speaking, sociopaths are not the crazy killers we see in the movies, but they are often much more manipulative than psychopaths. Psychopaths are easier to detect because of their impulsive and aggressive nature. The same cannot be said about sociopathic people.

Getting Clear on What to Do

If you do suspect someone of being a sociopath due to consistent behavior patterns, then these are some of the things you can do…

1. Trust your instincts.

Without proof it is easy to go into denial. There is a lot of information available on the typical behavior and personality type associated with sociopaths — teach yourself more.

2. Seek professional help outside of your workplace.

While there is so much information easily found on the Internet giving advice on how to detect a sociopath, you could be mistaking someone for just being extremely narcissistic, manipulative and aggressively competitive. At the same time, these are tendencies of a sociopath, and that is why it is worth seeking confidential advice outside of your workplace.

3. Keep Records.

Keeping your job safe in this case, or even defending yourself, will require you keep records of interactions including what was said. If the stress makes you unable to work you may qualify for stress leave. You will want to be able to cite specific situations to your doctor, employment standards, Worksafe and your local unemployment insurance office.  See reference links below.

4. Don’t trust that person again.

Sociopaths are not going to change. No matter how convincing they may appear, it is important to remember appearing to be genuine is one of their very powerful skills.

5. Keep your distance and be careful with this person.

Sociopaths are very dangerous people. Anyone with any experience working or living with a sociopath will tell you. They could and will have you doing things you couldn’t believe you would do, for example. Don’t underestimate the dangerous nature of these people. Keep your distance where possible.

6. Defend yourself and the truth.

In the case of confrontation and especially when you are under attack, always stand firm on the truth. Speak calmly and with a firm voice. Don’t allow lies you know of to become accepted by others.

7. Consider changing your job.

Dealing with a sociopath, and especially dealing with a very intelligent sociopath, is a very tiring way to work and live. In actual fact, by being aware a particular person is a sociopath, or does show the distinct personality traits and behavioral patterns of a sociopath, you’ve already won more than half of the battle.

Changing your job will probably be a lot easier than working with this person because they are not going to change. Considering that 4 out of every 100 people in your workplace are probably sociopaths, it’s not surprising for you to have come across one.

As an employer sociopaths create a  ton of harmful issues in the workplace, not the least of which is stress induced turnover.

As a headhunter, we often see would-be victims of sociopaths in our office looking to change jobs.

Employers need to be very mindful of employing these would-be super heroes – while they may in fact produce amazing financial results, in turn they will almost always inflict seriously expensive long-lasting damage to the people who happen to be in their path of destruction.

Ashton & Associates are specialists at identifying right fit candidates on the basis of values alignment, ambition and drive, skills, competencies and need.

Additional resources:

Anti-Bullying Legislation

Worksafe Bullying & Harassment Policies

Effects of Workplace Bullying

Kellie Auld, Workplace Investigator

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Barbara Ashton is the President and Founder of Ashton & Associates Recruiting.

Ashton & Associates Recruiting… Hiring Right. Every Time.

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