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Personality Disorder and the Workplace

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Paranoid Personality Disorder

This disorder is manifest as a pattern of pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others and their motives and intent. They assume that others are out to exploit, harm or deceive them even if there is little or no evidence to this. They often express feelings about being deeply injured by others even though they cannot substantiate this. These people are preoccupied with scrutinizing the intentions of others for evidence that they are plotting against them. They find it difficult to believe that others actually demonstrate loyalty or trust.  These individuals struggle to confide in others making it difficult to develop close relationships. They will tend to avoid answering personal questions, thinking that this information could be used against them. Causal remarks made by others are often interpreted as demeaning or threatening. They tend to hold long term grudges and are unwilling to forgive perceived insults or slights made by others. They tend to response aggressively to any perceived slight or insult from others making it difficult to maintain constructive relationships for long periods.

How the Paranoid Personality Disorder may manifest in the workplace

Organizational success is almost always based on some element of trust. It is not difficult to imagine how this disorder would not only struggle personally, but would potentially be destructive to, for example, a team’s morale and effectiveness. With the workplace of the future being more based on agile teams forming and moving from one project to another, the need  to innately trust others – at least initially – is essential, and then to base trust on factual evidence. These individuals are struggling to do this. Moreover, in this “hustle and bustle” of working together under time and cost pressures, tension is inevitable and a degree of team competitiveness is not uncommon – this disorder would tend to misinterpret common competition and minor frustrations amongst team members as plots to make the individual fail or as targeted backstabbing. The holding of grudges and aggressive responses to team members would quickly alienate this type of personality from the team. A greater challenge would be when this personality type has emerged as a team leader and has greater leverage across all members of the team. I would imagine that cases such as this, in which this personality type is able to escalate to a team leader position is in industries, such as science, medical and engineering where intelligent people can progress good engineers for example, and then be promoted simply because they are good engineer rather than a good people manager.

Cavaiola and Lavender (2000) describe the likely behaviors of an individual with Paranoid Personality Disorder in a management position. This person is likely to be extremely distrustful and suspicious of subordinates, often thinking that their reports are scheming to undermine their effectiveness and will tend to be defensive with good ideas posed by team members. They may misinterpret high levels of motivation amongst peers or subordinates as an attempt to show them up or get their jobs. Developing talent is likely not a role that these individuals will be good at. They are likely to be micromanagers given that they will be suspicious and distrustful of what subordinates are doing. Of pivotal importance for the paranoid manager is to feel in total charge of everyone in their work domains. They will often respond to circumstances of uncertainty in an extremely harsh manner if they feel out of control. Interacting with the paranoid individual must be centered on their need to be in control. Be as open and transparent with these individuals as possible so as to avoid any possibility of distrust developing. Be cautious of being overly inquisitive about them personally, as this interest can be easily misconstrued. Cavaiola and Lavender also suggest caution about common office joking or teasing however benign it may be given the potential of these individuals believing that they are being picked on, or are the butt of jokes. Effectively, the most effective approach is to interact openly but with caution and to keep the work relationship friendly but at arm’s length.

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