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Personality Disorder and the Workplace

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Antisocial Personality Disorder

DSM-5 notes that Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is also referred to as psychopathy, sociopathy or dissocial personality disorder. Interestingly, Babiak and Hare (2006) differentiate the psychopath from Antisocial Personality Disorder, which they describe as a broad diagnostic category and may include the psychopath but also may not. They indicate that psychopathy specifically includes such personality traits as lack of empathy, grandiosity, and shallow emotions that are not necessary for the diagnosis of APD. Deceit and manipulation are the major characteristics of this disorder and behaviors in which the basic rights and other societal norms are repeatedly violated. This conduct falls into four categories; aggression towards people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft or other kinds of violations of rules or laws. They may repeatedly perform acts that are grounds for arrest, such as threatening others, destroying property and violence. They also tend to display a reckless disregard for their own safety. They can display extreme lack of responsibility. They also demonstrate little remorse for their acts and for damage they have caused. They tend to be callous, cynical and contemptuous of the feelings, rights and suffering of others. Exacerbating the damage that can be caused by these individuals is the likelihood for them to appear self-assured, while this excess will tend to appear cocky and overly opinionated. They can also display a high level of charm, which will appear superficial.

How the Antisocial Personality Disorder may manifest in the workplace

These individuals display an extreme lack of responsibility in the workplace. They will manifest this by, for example, having long absences from work with no rationale or excuse. They tend to have long periods of unemployment with no plan for obtaining an income. They will tend to default on debts, and may have a tendency to embezzle funds or steal from their employers. Their potential to be charming and verbally facile creates the opportunity for them to appear initially as the “wunderkind” in the workplace; however, this superficiality can become evident quite quickly because of a disregard for company rules and boundaries.

Babiak and Hare (2006) note that some corporate cultures may actually attract the psychopathic personality. Cultures characterized by aggressiveness and success at all costs might find the psychopathic personality appealing, especially in early stages of interviews where the psychopath is at his or her charming best. Cavaiola and Lavender (2000) comment that there are many instances where ruthlessness, cunning, manipulation, deceit and unbridled ambition are viewed as essential characteristics in order to advance in some organizations. No wonder, anecdotally, it appears that so many senior executives exhibit these kinds of behaviors.

Dealing with individuals with APD in the workplace can be tricky. Cavaiola and Lavender suggest caution if you suspect this disorder, as the excessive charm  that individuals exhibit can be disarming and they can use many subtle techniques to draw you into their attempts to control and manipulate. The authors suggest the following:

• Set clear boundaries about how they attempt to interact with you. For example, if the individual takes liberties to be overly friendly and puts their arm around your shoulders in apparent friendship – possibly too early in the relationship – be very clear, while being courteous, that this makes you feel uncomfortable and he or she should refrain. Be firm. Do not leave personal information or items in your office or on your desk which are of a sensitive personal nature. Keep security passwords and personal items like keys away from view.

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