Organisational Change Management Volume 2

19. More Bad Behaviour in the Work Place

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(office psychopaths, alphas, narcissistic managers, jerks, etc)


. Office undesirables or misfits include the following personality types

- psychopaths (cold & ruthless),

- alpha-males/females (domineering)

- narcissists (me, me, me types)

- machiavellis (compulsive game players)

These are a very low % of the general population but higher % at the top of organisations

. Some traits associated with poor behaviour include anxiety, aggression, dominance, emotional instability, primal trauma, passive-aggression, type A behaviour, needful control, neuroticism, narcissism, paranoia, etc

. Some of the justifications for accepting bad behaviours in organisations are

- cliches like "winning is everything; it is the only thing; second-place means being the first loser"

- justifications such as "these people have extraordinary talents". Sometimes they are described as "talented jerk; brilliant bastard; a jerk but a superstar". It appears

"...if you are a really big winner, you can get away with being a real big asshole..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

. Alpha males are usually direct, aggressive, abrasive and intelligent. When pursuing rapid change, they do not suffer fools gladly. They demand accountability and can become intimidating if people don't get quick results. Sometimes they are physically big which can add to the intimidation impact. At the same time, they can be very compassionate and caring.

- they possess some characteristics of successful managers, ie

i) emotional detachment in decision-making

ii) remain calm under intense pressure

iii) they get things done, etc

Being a jerk will most likely not be beneficial in the long term, especially if you have to deal with the same people many times.

On the other hand, there are 4 situations where these characteristics are helpful

i) if their work involves once-only encounter in which reputational blow-back has minimal impact

ii) immediately after a group has formed but its hierarchy has not become established

iii) when a group's survival is in question & immediate action is essential, such as when Steve Jobs was invited back into Apple.

iv) an obvious benefit of this aggressive management style is that staff members often leave quicker and it is more cost effective, ie those who resigned due to the unpleasant workplace environment. It cost less to pay out than someone who takes redundancy or is fired.

. But bad behaviour creates an unfriendly workplace with a culture of fear and intimidation

. Past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour, ie if a bully now, most likely will be a bully in later life

Office psychopaths

. Psychopaths are very different in real life from how they are portrayed in movies, ie homicidal maniacs or sexual deviants, etc. Furthermore, they are not the manager who sometimes loses it.

"...psychologists make the distinction between states (fleeting feelings, thoughts, and actions) and traits (injuring personality characteristics) by looking for consistency across places and times - if someone consistently takes actions that leave a trail of victims in the wake, they deserve to be branded as certified assholes..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

We all have the potential to act like psychopaths etc when placed under pressure.

. They are estimated to comprise around 3% in the adult male population and less than 1% in the adult female population.

. They are hard to spot as they are like chameleons, ie have the cunning ability to act perfectly normally and be very charming while wreaking havoc around them. Their defining characteristics are

"...polish, charm, cool decisiveness, and fondness for the fast lane ‐ which are easily, and often, mistaken for leadership qualities. But along with their charisma come the traits that make psychopaths so destructive: they are cunning, manipulative, untrustworthy, unethical, parasitic and utterly remorseless..."

Gardiner Morse, 2004

They lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, victimize and destroy co-workers; all without any guilt or remorse

. Their quest for money, power, status and advancement at work operates without a conscience. They are very manipulative and show a lack of empathy, fear, guilt or remorse throughout their careers. "Breaking the rules" and "pushing the envelope" are acceptable human behaviours to them. Furthermore, they will do almost anything to undermine a colleague and in an underhand way that is hard to identify. As Robert Sutton (2007) observed some of the most common everyday actions that these offenders perform include

- personal insults

- invading one's 'personal territory'

- uninvited physical contact, threats and assaults

- intimidation (verbal and non-verbal)

- 'sarcastic jokes' and 'teasing' used as insults

- withering e-mail

- status slaps intended to humiliate victims

- public shaming or status-degrading rituals

- rude interruptions

- two-faced attacks

- dirty looks or glaring

- treating people as if they are invisible, ie the silent treatment

- obscene gestures

- swearing

- yelling and shouting

- temper tantrums

- vicious rumours and gossip

- sexist and racists remarks

. It is felt that psychopaths are becoming more common in business as they are attracted to the pace and volatility of today's workplace, ie competitive behaviour, win-at-all costs attitude, risk taking etc. They tend to gravitate to positions of power. Furthermore, many organisations unwittingly nurture them

"...Organisational psychopaths thrive in the corporate world where their ruthlessness and desire to succeed is not only mistaken as ambition and good leadership skills, but is rewarded with promotion, bonuses and pay-rises......They say things like: ' you know you are the best, you are able to influence people, you are determined to win at all costs for the organisation'. These sorts of statements appeal to a lot of people, but are particularly appealing to the psychopath......They are all out for themselves..."

John Clarke has quoted by Hazel Parry, 2007

"... a psychopath shows an abnormal lack of empathy, combined with strongly amoral conduct, masked by an ability to appear outwardly normal..."

Fiona Smith, 2010l

. They psychologically destroy their victims by befriending them and at the same time undermining them. For those targeted by psychopaths, the consequences can be devastating, ie

"...they take away people belief in themselves and their abilities. They take away their trust in other people......the victim becomes cold, cynical, bitter and almost unable to function..."

John Clarke as quoted by Hazel Parry, 2007

Furthermore, it is very hard to change psychopaths; attempts to rehabilitate them invariably make them worse.

"... they don't care. They don't think of themselves as psychopaths. They don't think they're doing wrong. They just think they are smart and if everyone else had the same intelligence, they would do the same thing......when you rehabilitate them, you teach them social skills and show them how to deal with people appropriately. They will then use these social skills to better manipulate people..."

John Clarke as quoted by Hazel Parry, 2007

. Psychopaths are characterised as people without fear, conscience or empathy; they are manipulative ego-centrics with superficial charm, anti-social behaviour and a lack of remorse. There are functional and dysfunctional psychopaths.

. Psychopathic personalities are suited to some professions that require the ability to be calm under pressure and to make decisions without the complications of emotions ‐ for example, surgeons, firefighters, soldiers, many senior managers, etc. Surgeons feel no compassion for the patient they are operating on; it is a luxury they cannot afford, ie

"... In the theatre I am reborn, as a cold, heartless machine, totally at one with scalpel, drill and saw. When you are cutting loose and cheating death high above the snow line of the brain, feelings aren't fit for purpose..."

Dr James Geraghty as quoted by Kevin Dutton, 2013

. Profiles of hero populations show that they all rank higher than normal on fearlessness, emotional attachment and dominance.

. The business world also rewards psychopathic behaviour. Many top managers display more psychopathic traits that inmates in psychiatric wards!!!!! It appears that some combination of these traits can help with success in business, ie emotional detachment in decision-making, remain calm under intense pressure, etc and they get things done.

. Some researchers (e.g. Dutton, 2012) people think that the world is becoming more psychopathic. This is linked with the decline in reading fiction as this teaches us to empathise, ie put yourself in others' shoes, in a manner that movies and electronic games cannot replicate.

. According to John Clarke (2007), some signs to be alert to in identifying psychopathic behaviour are

- guiltless (the workplace psychopath shows no remorse, no matter how much they victimize, back-stab or steal credit)

- charming: (they are very good talkers. They prefer to operate one-on-one and will avoid group meetings)

- manipulative (they bend the corporate systems and the rules for their own advantage. They prey on people's weaknesses, particularly low self-esteem)

- parasitic (they take credit for others' work)

- pathological liars (the workplace psychopath is not a good liar. However, when discovered, they can talk their way out of trouble)

- erratic (psychopaths only experience primary emotions - happiness, sadness, anger. They will also shift between emotions very quickly: one minute being happy, the next being angry, etc)

. Some suggestions for handling psychopaths at work are

- make it easy for staff to express concerns about colleagues, such as an anonymous tip line. As a psychopath's mask will often come off in front of staff, staff will identify the psychopath's game before management is able to

- thoroughly cross-check your impressions of the organisation's high-potential staff with other staff, as psychopaths will tell different stories to different people

- be self-aware, ie a psychopath will manipulate you by exploiting personal weaknesses


. There are 4 main types of alphas, ie business commanders, visionaries, strategists and executors. The key core traits are

"...dominant high achievers who want to take charge; they are charismatic, aggressive, competitive, bold, creative, persistent and tenacious. They also have a strong appetite for change, a far-sighted and spot problems..."

Catherine Fox, 2006h

. Furthermore, they possess

"...courageous leadership, goal-driven focus, their unwavering sense of responsibility, and all the other qualities they bring to bear when they roll up their sleeves and take charge. At their best, alphas are world beaters..."

Ludeman et al as quoted by Catherine Fox, 2006h

. On the other hand, they can be disastrous, ie

"...commanders try to win points and generate fear; visionaries are over-confident, ignore input and spin the truth; strategists being are opinionated, smug, arrogant and can't admit mistakes; and executors set unreasonable expectations, micro-manage and are overly critical..."

Catherine Fox, 2006h

An interesting case study of a group of alpha males are financial traders. Traders peer at their computer screens following & participating the money flow. They suffer from anxiety and testosterone-driven bravado. Based on the findings of neuroscience, there is a need to rewire these traders' brains so that their natural survival instinct is replaced by a probabilistic mindset that replaces their illusion of control with better judgment, ie

" is really hard from a biological stand-point being an alpha guy, to give up control. They need to recognise that you cannot control outcomes but you can learn to control the mind you bring to execute (trades). That's the edge..."
Rande Howell as quoted by Jonathan Shapiro, 2015
It can take years for a trader to understand this. Most successful traders are "steady as you goes" types and   realise the importance of emotional logic with knowledge, ie linking the left (logic) and right brain (intuition) activities. Also, the skills needed to be a good trader are not as being a good business person; in fact the skills needed to build a good business are a liability for trading. The key to trading is "disciplined impartiality" and patience, not action, while for business, it is taking action, making things happen and controlling outcomes.
"...We are emotional beings attempting to become rational, not rational beings managing's a belief of inadequacy, of not mattering, unworthiness and powerlessness, that is the core of performance problems..."
Rande Howell as quoted by Jonathan Shapiro, 2015
Need to try to turn anger and fear into curiosity, ie approach the situation with curiosity - not attack with anger and avoid with fear. Need to be able to trade with clarity of thought.

Narcissistic managers

. They have characteristics like the alphas (strategist and executor). Furthermore, they have an inflated sense of self that is reflected in feelings of superiority, entitlement and a constant need for attention and admiration.

. Narcissistic characteristics include not being good at self-assessment and liking celebrity status (including a strong belief in self-importance) as identified by

- length of their entry in Who's Who

- their prominence in press releases

- the frequency with which their photo appears in the annual report

- the number of times they use the first person singular in interviews

- the ratio of their cash and non-cash compensation compared with others in their immediate management team

· The term "narcissus-like" is borrowed from Ovid's myth about the beautiful young boy who falls in love with his reflection in a pool of water.

· There is still much debate about aspects of narcissism, ie

- do narcissists suffer from excess self-regard or insufficient self-love?

- does the condition derive from parents insisting their children are "special" or not reinforcing self-esteem?

· Freud expanded the concept by suggesting 2 kinds of narcissism, ie

- primary narcissism (the happy state in which the baby thinks it's the centre of the world)

- secondary narcissism (the problematic where instead of developing the capacity to direct your focus outwards, you reinvest it in yourself where it festers). This is further divided into healthy and unhealthy; healthy creates an ego which is a strength and unhealthy makes you a jerk!

One test of narcissism is the number of times people use the personal pronoun. Some Australian CEOs (AFRBoss, 2013) were ranked during Q&A sessions with analysts (Macquarrie Graduate School of Management).
- Marius Kloppers (BHP) (11)
- Clyde Cameron (NAB) (39)
- Alan Joyce ( Qantas) (52)
- Gail Kelly ( Westpac) (59)
- Ian Narev ( Commonwealth Bank) (73)
- Elmer Funke Kupper, (ASX) (86)
- David Attenborough (Tabcorp) (95)

Other personality types that can cause damage include

. Passive/aggressive (characteristics include passive resistance, covert actions, angry, controlling, undermining and manipulative behaviours, resistance, stubbornness and inertia)

. Inflexible (characteristics include rigidity, sameness and routine, neatness and attention to small detail, narrowness, inflexibility, self-righteousness, stubbornness, excessive control and blaming of others)

. Demanding (characteristics include abandonment, disillusionment, fear, rejection, payback, possessiveness and jealousy)

. Bullying (see earlier)

. Jerks (characterized by "worker incivility" or "interpersonal mistreatment" such as the snide remark; interrupt; pass off others' ideas as their own; keep secrets and withhold important information; make derogatory comments about others behind their backs; belittle others, etc)

Factors to consider when calculating the cost of bad behaviour to your organisation

. Damage to victims and witnesses

i) distraction from work tasks, such as the considerable effort devoted to avoiding unpleasant encounters; coping with them; avoiding blame

ii) reduced "psychological safety" and associated climate of fear that undermines staff performance, suggestions, creativity, risk-taking, learning from failures (yours and other people's), healthy discussions, etc

iii) loss of motivation and energy at work

iv) stress-induced psychological and physical illness

v) possible impaired mental ability

vi) prolonged bullying turns victims into jerks

vii) absenteeism (including phantom)

viii) staff turnover as a result of abusive supervisors and colleagues (including time spent looking for a new job while at work)

. Characteristics of jerks

i) victims and witnesses hesitate to help

ii) retaliation from victims and witnesses

iii) some staff cooperate with jerks and give them bad news on others

iv) failure to reach potential in the organisation

v) humiliations are the norm

vi) long term career damage

. Consequences for management

i) time spent appeasing, calming, counselling or disciplining jerks

ii) time spent handling staff and other stakeholders (customers, suppliers, etc) who are victimized and/or affected by the bad behaviour

iii) time spent reorganizing things as a result of damage caused by jerks

iv) time spent advertising, interviewing, recruiting and training replacements for departed jerks and their victims

v) management burnout that leads to decreased commitments and increased distress

. Legal and HR costs

i) anger management and other training to reform jerks

ii) legal costs for inside and outside counsel

iii) settlement fees and successful litigation by victims

iv) settlement fees and successful litigation by alleged jerks, ie wrongfully terminated, etc

v) compensation for internal and external consultants, executive coaches, therapists, etc

vi) health insurance costs

. Negative impacts on organisations

i) reduced improvements in established processes and systems

ii) reduced innovation and creativity

iii) reduced collaboration and cohesion

iv) reduced discretionary effort

v) dysfunctional internal collaboration

vi) cost of victims' retribution towards the organisation

vii) impaired collaboration from outside organisations and people

viii) higher rates charged by outsiders to compensate for working with jerks

ix) impaired ability to attract the best and brightest

An estimate from USA (Robert Sutton, 2007) states that a jerk, etc can cost an organisation around $US 160,000 per year

It is claimed that people who continually behave badly have 3 major blind spots

i) many succeed despite, rather than because of, their bad behaviour. They incorrectly conclude that their nastiness is crucial to the success. Remember:

"...most people look for and remember facts that confirm the biases, while they simultaneously avoid and forget facts that contradict their dearly held beliefs..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

ii) people confuse tactics that help them gain power, ie nastiness, intimidation, etc and tactics that are based on leading a team or organisation, ie gaining trust and collaboration from all stakeholders

iii) delusions of effectiveness, such as victims using mechanisms that shield the jerks, etc from realizing the damage they inflict, eg only report good news and remain silent about, and even hide, bad news (shoot the messenger of bad news concept); staff learned how to survive by depending on protecting themselves from blame, humiliation and recrimination, etc rather than doing what is best for their organisation. Furthermore, jerks, etc did not realize that many people they alienate remain silent and wait for the day when they can seek revenge

Some ways to handle the alpha males, psychopaths, bullies, jerks, narcissists, etc

. Psychometric testing - the use of psychometric testing has the disadvantage of someone filling out a form about themselves. On the other hand, by asking the same questions in a number of different ways can help identify inconsistencies which may indicate that the candidate is not telling the truth.

. Use of high pressure scenario testing where a candidate makes decisions while being observed by a psychologist

. Check with recruitment research firm's network of contacts who can give a more objective assessment of someone's character rather than the friendly, nominated referees.

. Usually the offender is aiming his or her venom at people who are less powerful. They aim to make their target feel depressed, humiliated, de-energised or belittled, etc. The victim can have some of the following "irrational" thoughts

- "I will never get over this"

- "I must have done something wrong for this to happen to me"

- "everybody hates me"

Need to view these thoughts as hypotheses rather than facts and to develop a different, and more optimistic, frame for interpreting these encounters.

Some suggestions for handling these situations and developing a framework that protects mental and physical health, and enhances resilience include

i) confront the nasty person head-on, ie putting the person in his/her place and humiliating him/her. This approach is risky as it can be career changing and/or worsen the situation as it can engender more aggression. If you decide to use this approach, pick the right moment and be willing to take a chance.

ii) limit your exposure by physically escaping from the source of the stress, ie

"...First, by limiting how often and intensely you face their dirty looks and demeaning words, you suffer less direct damage. Second, anything that gains you even tiny bits of control can protect your sense of self, spirit and physical health..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

Using emails and conference calls can help reduce the face-to-face confrontations. On the other hand, this could reduce trust even further and increase mis-understanding.

Find pockets of sanity, such as rooms and/or people, where your exposure to bullying, etc is minimized. Some people form a network of like-minded people who meet regularly to support each other. This gives you a break from unpleasant behaviour. On the other hand, these networks do not have the power to stop the bad behaviour. Sometimes these networks can do more harm than good when they develop into "bitch sessions" as victims complain and feel powerless.

The ultimate escape is to leave the job or organisation, and work somewhere else that is more pleasant.

iii) change your mindset about what is happening to you, such as

- avoiding self-blame (realizing that the other person has a problem, not you; it is not your fault)

- hoping for the best but expecting the worst (need to be careful of unbridled optimism as it can be a recipe for continual disappointment as there is expectation that the attacker will suddenly apologize, or beg forgiveness, or at least start treating you with respect, etc.. Thus you are setting yourself up for repeated disappointment and frustration. It is claimed that if you keep expecting good things to happen but they never do, you will suffer constant unhappiness. The best way to handle this is to keep your expectations low but to continually believe that things will improve. As a result, you are not surprised or upset by your tormentor's nastiness)

- developing indifference and developing emotional detachment (passion can be an overrated virtue in organisational life and indifference is underrated. In many jobs, especially in unpleasant workplaces, survival and ability to provide for their families are top priorities with employees. To handle unpleasant workplaces, many people develop indifference and emotional detachment to their jobs and organisations)

- importance of small victories (the ability to gain control of the seemingly trivial things of your life can have a huge impact on self-esteem for those who work in nasty workplaces. Furthermore, choose your battles. Use a "small wins strategy" to enhance your feeling of control, make you feel better and to chip away at the vicious culture surrounding you)

- learning when and how to simply "don't give a damn"

- view the difficulties as temporary, ie do not allow the nastiness to pervade and ruin the other elements of your life

How to handle narcissistic people

· Don't pick a fight or argue with them, as this will only motivate them to prove you are wrong at all costs.

· Don't make any comments that will be seen as threatening their superior judgement, their inflated view of their expertise or their infinite awareness

· As these people hold grave doubts about their abilities and are often moody, criticism is unlikely ever to be viewed as constructive; an angry, highly defensive response is more likely.

· remember, they will "use and abuse" you as long as you are serving a function; once you are no longer of assistance to them, they will dump you

· They will employ all their charm and energy to manage upwards

· Flattery is the best way to handle narcissists as it disarms them. Tell them how fantastic and smart they are; make them feel special and unique; allow them to steal your ideas

· You need to be proactive and don't allow them to take control

(for more details, see Challenges under Ingredient 1)

(sources: Gardiner Morse, 2004; Fiona Smith, 2005c; Fiona Carruthers, 2005b; Catherine Fox, 2006h; Paul Babiak et al, 2006; Robert Sutton, 2007; Hazel Parry, 2007; John Clarke, 2007; Peter Wells, 2007; Fiona Smith, 2010l; Sally Patten, 2014; Tony Boyd, 2015a)


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