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Previously I wrote a post about Organizational Fear. Organizations can be viewed as complex responsive patterns of people relating to the gestures of each others. Patterns of interaction form in the local interaction between people and there can be no individuals who could control all those interactions. These patterns can bring safety for the individuals but also insecurity and negative emotions such as anxiety and fear.

The patterns are unpredictable but also predictable at the same time. Because of the predictability, many individuals learn to interpret “what is going on” and how to influence the patterns. People can e.g. amplify the patterns that reduce anxiety and dampen the destructive ones. This is what most of the people usually try to do, even when they don’t succeed. But also the destructive patterns can have strategical value. These strategies often bring wealth and power for few individuals, while bringing problems for the rest of the organization.

Empathy and patterns of cooperation in the organizations

People are usually highly sensitive to the feelings of others. Seeing the suffering of others makes us feel bad also, and seeing happy people makes us happy also. This is the essence of empathy. Empathy is very important in societies that depend on cooperation and care. Because of empathy, patterns of ethics and trust are very common in our societies. We want to funcion in a way that increases our common happiness. Without great majority of people functioning this way, we would not have the kind of societies that we do. However, the commonality of these patterns brings also opportunities for people that are not “wired” for the empathy. This “dark triad” includes machiavellianismnarcissism and psychopathy.

There are certain types of people that specialize in the use of destructive patterns. Some of them are simply highly ambitious and rational, while having little sense of ethical responsibility for the welfare of others. They are willing to “play roughly” even if somebody gets hurt. These people are sometimes called Machiavellians. They can be mean and self-centered if it suits their purpose,  but they are capable of empathy also.

People suffering from narcissistic personality disorder might also have strong emotional life and capability for empathy. However, their view towards themselves are distorted so that they can not see others as equal with themselves. They are constantly feeling superior and/or lower than others. This view is so strong that they can not afford to let go of their own needs for the sake of others. Because of this they tend to use others only as tools for inflating their grandiose sense of self. Narssistic person might utilize destructive patterns and think that it is justified because he deserves it.

Psychopaths on the other hand have different kind of emotional structure than most of us. Some of the traits that describe psychopathy are internalized patterns of thinking and feeling. There might also be differences in brains and neurological structure. However, the most meaningful differences manifest in the patterns of behavior in social interaction. Psychopath lacks empathy. He is not capable of feeling what other people feel, but he can learn the patterns that are commonly related to negative and positive feelings. Because of this psychopaths might consciously deceive, lie and manipulate other people in order to reach his goals, no matter what kind of suffering it brings to others. This is why he might create and amplify patterns of conflict and fear around him in the organization.

It is not uncommon that the same person possesses the traits of both psychopathic and narcissistic personality disorder. It is also important to note that even if people have some of these traits, it does not mean that they have actual personality disorder.

Patterns of conflicts and fear in the organizations

Let’s think of an organization that has lots of conflicts between the employees. There are patterns of teasing, hurt feelings, bad behavior, political struggles, fear and cynicism. Where does this come from? It might be that there has been usual misunderstandings and conflicting opinions between people, leading to competition, power struggles, anger and resentments. This can happen in any organization, as we know. Perhaps in time the wounds will heal and people learn how to work together.

But what if the organization seems to recreate same kind of patterns of conflict and fear again and again? Conflicts arising around the same people year after year, “difficult people” leaving the organization, unresolved issues, oppression and threatning, increased amount of sick leaves, fear and avoidance of taboos. In this case, there might actually be members of the “dark triad” creating these situations.

Like I wrote previously, the function of fear is to reduce the possibilities for acting/thinking. Thus a person who consciously creates fear is trying to control people, so that they can’t function properly. The function of conflict on the other hand is to reduce possibilities for cooperation. When these patterns are dominant, the organization will paralyze. People are not able to cooperate and they are not able to act/think freely either. The only people who are not affected by the feelings of others and who don’t care about the cooperation. This is ideal situation for the psychopath.

Behavioral patterns of the psychopath

Robert Hare has studied psychopaths in organizations. He has found that they tend to repeat a pattern of “analyze-manipulate-abandon”:

1) Psychopath analyzes what kind of power different people possess in the organization and how he could use that for his own benefit. 2) Then he manipulates these people in order to win their trust, often selecting some powerful figure that could act as his protector when needed. These people will form his “court”. 3) When psychopath gets what he needs and people become useless he abandons and ignores them (like all the other people that are irrelevant for his purposes).

Psychopaths have no regrets. They can lie to people and abuse them whenever it fits their purposes. If they get caught they show no remorse. Instead, they continue like nothing had happened. This is such an uncommon behavior that most people simply don’t know how to relate to this. They might even question their own behavior and judgement, and eventually avoid contact with such a person. People with low self-esteem or tendency for anxiety or depression might react with mental health problems, which can lead to sick leaves.

It is important to note that e.g. narcissistic or codependent people might actually get addicted to these patterns of behavior. Psychopaths can inflate the grandiose ego of the narcissistic person with complements or attacks (paradoxically). This is because for the narcissistic person the most important thing is that they are in the center of what is happening – even if it would be negative actions. Codependent people, on the other hand, might be so used to being abused that they feel they deserve it. Either way, these people are good material for the psychopath’s court.

Then there are often those people who see what is going on and try to stop the psychopath. This is the rescue for the organization. Unfortunately these people are often reviled and used as scapegoats.

Patterns of courage and resistance

View of complex responsive patterns points out that we can’t fully control the interactions we have with others; these interactions are always unpredictable and predictable at the same time. Because of these predictability, people can still anticipate what will happen and affect the patterns.

Often these patterns are well-known “archetypes” of human behavior. When destructive patterns of interaction are internalized and repeated over and over again, we call it pathological behavior. Psychopaths can be sensitive to the emergent patterns in the global level, but at the same time highly insensitive to the patterns of feelings in the individual level. In certain environments this can bring them advantage. They are able to use patterns of conflict, fear and deceit for their own benefit, without any regard for the suffering it brings to others. But because this type of behavior is archetypal, people have learned to recognize it and develop patterns of resistance against it.

In order to succeed, psychopaths need people that they are able to manipulate, and people who they can catch in their court. Still, eventually more and more people will see through the repeating patterns of conflict and fear and notice where they come from. Psychopaths will be constantly in a position where they have to defend themselves. They can’t trust anybody. Even the people in their court are potential threats to them. They have no real allies as they lack the empathy required to participate and strengthen the patterns of trust and care.

The empathy rules. People who are able to relate to each other in a deeper level of feelings are also able to cooperate and find security from each others. Even if there are patterns of conflict, people can find meaningful relations and patterns of cooperation can emerge, which can dampen the patterns of conflict. The best antidote against patterns of fear are patterns of courage. Courage means that people expand their possibilities for action/thinking, which the fear suppresses.

Recommended reading:

Snakes in suits, Babiak & Hare

Complexity and Organizational Reality, Ralph D. Stacey

The Emergence of Leadership, Douglas Griffin