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Last summer, a client requested insight into dealing with a sociopath as a boss. In response, I wrote a series of Brainzooming posts on handling bad behavior in an organizational setting, including from a corporate sociopath and horrible boss.

One of the most important pieces of advice for working with a sociopath as a boss is to minimize one-off conversations and avoid decisions during them.

The reason?

Well, quite frankly, a corporate sociopath won’t hesitate to tell you one thing, then say or do something completely different later. If you don’t have a witness or some way to hold the corporate sociopath to the decision, it’s your word against theirs. And in business, at least to my point of view, you NEVER want to be in a situation where it’s you and a horrible boss squaring off on a matter of opinion about what was said or done.

I was intrigued to see this weekend’s Dilbert comic strip depict avoiding one-off conversations with a sociopath in the organization. Even though it’s a comic strip (albeit a dark one), Dilbert plays the situation completely correctly in asking his co-worker, Alice (who has some bad behavior issues of her own), to witness the conversation with Larry the sociopath. When someone else is around, Larry masks his true personality and harmful perspective.

Dilbert.com

It’s intriguing that the client who inspired the original Brainzooming post has crafted a pretty intriguing scenario to gain distance from the corporate sociopath in the real-life situation. Without providing too many details that could compromise identities, it looks like understanding a weak spot for the boss has allowed our client to create a non-traditional working arrangement. The intent is to minimize the potential negative impact this particular corporate sociopath can create. It’s not a fail-safe approach, but it definitely creates more options for my client to react in a positive and self-protected way. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

If you have a sociopath as a boss, I’ll repeat a discussion thread that appeared in the original comments: get out of the situation if you have ANY opportunity to do so. Life is too short to deal with bad behavior in an organizational setting daily.

If you can’t get out, however, I’d encourage you to go back and look the Brainzooming post and use it to prepare your survival strategy. – Mike Brown

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If you’re facing a challenging organizational situation and are struggling to maintain forward progress because of it, The Brainzooming Group can provide a strategic sounding-board for you. We will apply our strategic thinking and implementation tools on a one-on-one basis to help you create greater organizational success. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you figure out how to work around your organizational challenges.

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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10 Responses to “A Corporate Sociopath and How Dilbert Handles Bad Behavior from One”

  1. stephenlahey says:

    In business, sociopaths seem to view people are either stumbling blocks or stepping stones. People are there to be used for their benefit – and everyone (except for them) is expendable. 
    Excellent advice on how to play defense, Mike.
       

  2. AlexanderG says:

    Benn there–more times than I care to count. I hate to say it, but I think this is far more common than most people realize. There are some genuine sociopaths out there–and they can truly make your life a living hell. Oh the stories I could tell….

  3. Faun deHenry says:

    Mike — Then there is the really smart corporate sociopath that “engineers” discussions when there can be no witnesses. When dealing with one of these, you must step very carefully, have your strategy (along with contingencies) well prepared in advance. What many people don’t realize is that poor behavior does not equal a lack of intelligence. Lots of sociopaths are very bright.

  4. Greg Marcus says:

    Wow, this is so on.   Someone who is a sociopath cannot be reasoned with, and cannot be brought around.  I think it is very hard for many people to realize that sociopaths exist.  I treated other people fairly, and expected to be treated fairly in return.  What I didn’t understand is that a sociopath is not capable of this kind of moral reciprocity.  I learned the hard way to actively work to minimize their power, or even better get out of their orbit as you suggest. 

    • Faun deHenry says:

       Hi Greg — If you haven’t read this book already, you might find it helpful, Without Conscience by Robert Hare, PhD. (ISBN-13 978-1572304512)

  5. Mike Brown says:

    Faun – It could be. Sounds like from the article even the experts debate the use of the terms and the potential overlap in them. I’m not a clinician, so for me from a business perspective, I’m talking about someone who seems to operate with no conscience or regard for others and is ultimately only (and harmfully) motivated by their own self-interests.