Difficult behaviours

A single conversation across the table with a wise person is worth a month’s study of books.
— Chinese proverb

Craig’s colleague is always difficult. He easily loses his temper if he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it. He also points the finger of blame when things go wrong… Sally has three team members who are always at war. No matter what she does to try and improve things, everything seems to fail… Dave wants more responsibility and recognition. Other members of staff who have shorter lengths of service have been promoted over him. Any conversation with his boss about this seems to fall on deaf ears… Tina is resentful of her colleagues. She is always the one making the tea and coffee. She also harbours a grudge as two of her team members regularly take up to one hour a day for smoking breaks… Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

Competing interests at work will never go away. New research is emerging about colleagues you may come up against in the workplace. The research indications are that people who are commonly associated with office conflict or tension may be categorised across three areas. These are:

  • Psychopaths: individuals who lack empathy for others and are highly impulsive thrill-seekers (incidentally, they are far commoner among senior executives)1
  • Machiavels: calculating, cold, manipulative and prepared to ruthlessly pursue their own interests
  • Narcissists: prone to grandiosity, a desire for dominance and feelings of superiority. Likely to be perceived as vain (again, senior managers are more likely to fall into this category, even more than mental health patients)2

The number of triadic people has increased greatly over the last thirty years.3 Insecure employment laws, decreasing autonomy and opaque reward mechanisms may have contributed to this. Constantly turning a blind eye when you are on the receiving end of bad behaviour can be challenging and draining. Otherwise known as “emotional labour”, rolling over on a daily basis for years can end up being bad for your health.

Incidentally, it is estimated that 1% of the population are psychopaths which equates to around 600,000 people in the UK. Only around 15,000 of these are incarcerated. So, the likelihood is that you will meet someone displaying traits that are consistent with those in this category in your working life. You may even have a next door neighbour that fits the description. In the case where they fear being found out, their strategy is to create chaos so that in the confusion they can avoid scrutiny.4

Based on some of the cases I have been involved in recently, this theme is of growing interest to me right now. Does anything I have touched on resonate with you?

There are, of course, strategies one might adopt to cope at work for the forty to fifty years or so of one’s career. I’m at my word limit now, so I will touch on some of these in my next missive.

For those with an interest in this topic, please see below for references:

  1. Babiak, P et al, 2010 ‘Corporate psychopathy: taking the walk’, Behavioural Science and the Law, 28, 1-20: see also Mullins-Sweat, S.N. et al., 2010, The search for the successful Psychopath’, J of Research in Personality, 44, 554-8
  2.  Board, B.J et al., 2005, ‘Disordered personalities at work’, Psychology, Crime and Law, 11, 17-32
  3. Twenge, J.M. et al., 2008, ‘Egos inflating over time: a cross-temporal meta-analysis of the narcissistic personality inventory’, J of Personality, 76, 875-901
  4. Boddy, C.R 2005 ‘The implications of corporate psychopaths for business and society, Volume 1 Issue 2 AJBBS.

Until next month,