When a Co-Worker is a Sociopath


Let’s talk about that special someone at your workplace or in one of those Zoom tiles whose blood runs ice-cold. These people are predators, and you could be a target at any time.

The sociopath waits for opportunities to impose her or his will upon you. They probably have a middle management title; they use that bit of leverage to manipulate you. The problem with these kind of monsters is that they are often very charming. Those who have not tangled with the sociopath will be surprised to hear (from you) that they’re dangerous. Ironic – now you look crazy.

While they know how to turn on the charm in front of the big players in the office, to you they are dismissive and condescending. They will tell you to do things and often cite company policy as a rationale for doing so. They believe they can lord over you, and you will comply. They believe that they are a walking employee handbook – superior to you –  and their title gives them the currency to tell you how to behave.

The sociopath will take every single opportunity presented to manage up, and suck up. They will throw you under the bus without hesitation. Example: you’ve worked with them on a project. Notice how they stay calm and even silent at meetings. This animal waits until the meetings break up, then corner people individually, stabbing your co-workers in the back, pushing you to agree with their take on the issue. They work most effectively one on one. They win by dividing people, then showing bystanders that they are the ones trying to bring factions together. Practically everything they say to you is a lie. They have no remorse over their actions.

The sociopath is usually extremely bright, even very talented at their position. I would guess that more often than not they are among the smarter people inside your work universe. Their smarts give them the ability to strategize how to be an effective hunter of humans.

Don’t take it personally. The executive suite is generally the only territory the sociopath cannot run in. Everyone lateral or below them could get it at any time.

How to deal? It’s not easy. You have a heartbeat and a conscience. It’s harder for you. Some tips:
Give them nothing to work with. Don’t direct any negative attention toward them if possible.
Be pleasant without being overly cheery. The monster cares only about him or herself.

  • Make sure in their presence you are not doing anything that’s “anti-company”…from lunch rules to dress code.
  • Ask for their advice occasionally. Feed their desire to be superior and all-knowing.
  • When asked to sabotage a team member, express amazement and surprise. Stay neutral. Ask a follow-up to seem interested. Don’t give them a sound bite – they will use it against you.
  • Sometimes the monster is going to win. It’s just the way it is. Try not to let it be a big win.

Stay close to the sociopath, especially if she or he is on your team. Like any enemy, keep them close to you. The late U.S. president Lyndon Johnson once said, “Better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.”

It’s a real thing, and it can be debilitating. John’s happy to help. Get to him here.

2 responses to “When a Co-Worker is a Sociopath”

  1. I re-read this from you…5 years ago! How did it work out? Did you win??

  2. My company recently hired a temp who is a sociopath. She is very charming, giggle constantly, and flatters people ad nauseam. As her trainer, she confided about her past dramas, including illegal activities, things that would be cause not to hire this person. I notified management. They did nothing on grounds that the illegal activities were not done at work. My view was that they might as well have been as past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior and do you really want to allow a person this cancerous or toxic to infect or compromise the company? Answer from management; yes!

    The little creep is a poor performer, but great at making people laugh, flattering, talking nonstop, being a distraction, manipulating people for her own amusement, and then laughing at her.

    I endured this as much as possible – until her antics got too much. She was also engaging in conduct detrimental to the company. I notified management who investigated and determined I was right. She was called out but remains. The detrimental behavior continued. Again, she got called out. Nothing changed.

    She is actually doing significant damage to the department, but because she is so funny, engaging, and flatters, bribes people, nothing is being done about her. She has an entire department eating out of her hand — including individuals who should know better. They allow her to manipulate and make fools of them while she pretends to be their friend. She has also poisoned them against me since I refused to be drawn into her antics.

    I don’t know what to do. I am not going to bother going to management again. They should have nipped this cancer in the bud a long time ago…but the amusement factor is too much for them. She is funny, ingratiating, and flattering of everyone — a master of love bombing and grooming, if you will. Dumb middle managers and coworkers are suckered in as if this level of stupidity is grounds to keep someone on as she destroys the company’s bottom line and continues to violate procedure that was implemented to achieve goals.

    I have concluded that I have done all I can and allow the sociopath to run rampant throughout the office, causing her usual mayhem. If the office finds value in her sociopathy, who am I to say otherwise? I have lost respect in my management and company for tolerating her as long as they do. I am giving her enough rope to hang herself, but if she ends up hanging everyone else, that will be of their own doing. She is right — that people are suckers. I saw through her the moment I met her. Everyone else chooses to be manipulated while she giggles and rejoices at how the entire office revolves around her. Productivity suffers as a result. Numbers are WAY down, and I am the bad guy for daring to call out the sociopathic narcissist.

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