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Personality Disorder and the Workplace

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Working with a narcissistic boss can be exhausting. These individuals are likely to expect ridiculous hours of work without ever considering your personal situation. I recall working with an individual in a leadership position who expected her team to work over a long Memorial weekend, and set a team conference call late on the final day of the Memorial day weekend. While we invested many hours in preparation for this meeting, she did not show up, only to find out she was on a boat relaxing with friends. When we raised this issue the following day, she was completely nonchalant and dismissive about ruining the long weekend for her team and their families. Fortunately it is possible to manage these individuals more than some other disorders.  Cavaiola and Lavender describe that one should “stick to your agenda, and not theirs”. Clearly I missed this aspect of their advice in my previous example. Talking with the narcissist is possible. However, this dialogue needs to be presented in a way that lets them know that you are able to help them be successful. In my pervious example, I was able to sit down with this individual and both firmly set boundaries, as well as provide coaching that her team would perform much better (and she would look better) if she provided some support to her team. As Cavaiola and Lavender describe, providing constructive and balanced feedback is useful with these individuals, but they must feel it is for their benefit.

Avoidant Personality Disorder

Individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder demonstrate a pervasive pattern of inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and excessive sensitivity to any form of criticism. These individuals will avoid activities in which there is significant inter-personal contact for fear of criticism, disapproval for rejection by others. They will avoid or reject new opportunities for fear that they will fail or be criticized. In any social situation their initial assumption is that people will be critical and disapproving. They will tend to project as shy and acting with restraint and will likely avoid talking about themselves to protect themselves from appearing inadequate.

These individuals have a very low threshold for detecting criticism. The slightest hint of disapproval will result in extreme hurt. They will tend to be shy to the extreme, inhibited and will try to be ‘invisible’ in social settings to avoid putting their fragile wellbeing in the hands of others. These individuals believe they are inferior, socially inept and personally unappealing to others. They will therefore tend to have a very restricted and insular lifestyle.

How the Avoidant Personality Disorder may manifest in the workplace

Individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder are likely to struggle in the typical workplace other than the most nurturing and supportive. Cavaiola and Lavender (2000) note that it is uncommon to find a Avoidant individual in a management role, unless they have been promoted because of technical expertise versus people management skills.  The Avoidant manager will likely be vague, provide little guidance or direction, and will not provide support or “have the backs” of their team. They are also likely to have multiple excuses for why things don’t get done. However, the avoidant personality can be talented and hard working. Cavaiola and Lavender note that their hard work can be an attempt to cover up their sense of perceived deficiencies but given the right support and consideration they can be productive.

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