Anti-Social Personality Disorder

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Identification

The American Psychiatric Association describes anti-social personality disorder (“ASPD”) as a “Cluster B” Personality Disorder, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. This can manifest in many ways, but the goal here is to narrow our view to the negotiation context specifically. The author acknowledges he is thoroughly unqualified to diagnose anyone, but if you can identify a few behavioral elements, the DSM-5 cheat-sheet provides an educated guess on how to deal with the situation and perhaps, prevail in a negotiation. One may challenge this as being not a tactic, but a condition. But it is a “tactic” because it is often faked or imitated[1]. The person may not be exhibiting these traits as a disorder, but as an act on the stage of negotiation to obtain a result. As a deception, this tactic helped the actor obtain positive outcomes in the past, so why stop? We tend to repeat behavior that rewards us. The DSM gives various elements:
  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
  4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations; this can be seen as inability to perform or honor signed contracts
  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.
The elements which the author often sees in negotiations include deceitfulness, theft, or serious violation of rules. Some inexperienced negotiators think that, by default, “this is a negotiation and no rules apply.” So once these traits appear in a negotiation, how do you deal with them? Negotiators will find themselves having to do business with someone who is rude, verbally cuts you off, breaks the rules, disregards things outside their immediate interests, is unprepared to defend deals they voraciously pursue, breaches contracts with abandon but demands trust, is unable to empathize, and is totally indifferent to your asks in a negotiation. Frustration, speechlessness, and temple kneading are all too common when at the negotiation table with opponents exhibiting this behavior. Is this a “tactic,” or something else? Psychologists help us understand the most difficult negotiation situations. One recurring theme is the “difficult person” syndrome or category. This behavior is part of humanity and, therefore, it is part of negotiation. It is frequently and unfairly labeled as something only “others” exhibit in desperate environments. Many professional negotiators exhibit these traits, but it is universal to the human condition in varying degrees. Indeed, it is discussed in the DSM-5 as culturally prevalent with males in low-income urban settings as a survival strategy. Before we think this is an urban poverty issue, know that this is not true. Many highly successful C-level executives, actors, politicians, and non-profit executives also exhibit these traits.

Example

We have all been in negotiations or other situations where we have encountered others who seem worse than rude: they are outright offensive and abusive. Violation of others’ rights is the hallmark of negotiators with ASPD. Most negotiators, such as police officers, encounter this “tactic” often, as disregard for the law is a hallmark. But you need not be a violent type; behavior such as breaching legal agreements and contracts, or justifying non-payment of bills for goods and services received, also fall within the spectrum of behaviors associated with ASPD.

Solution

There is no doubt that this is a very difficult negotiation style to work with, so if it can be avoided, spend your time and money elsewhere. If you have no options, unfortunately, you have a tedious path ahead of you. Sometimes, a person suffering from ASPD may respond to rewards for appropriate behavior and apply negative consequences for bad behavior. “Teeth in the transaction” is a way of applying a hurt point which discourages ASPD-linked behaviors. With this type of dynamic, naked concession-making is totally inappropriate as there must be a balance of give and take. Incremental planning and rule-setting prior to the negotiation is a start. But knowing that rules don’t matter to various forms of ASPD, you may be saying, “Why bother? You just said they don’t follow the rules.” Rule-setting at the outset or when this behavior first appears will allow you to walk out with authority and terminate the negotiation. If the symptoms are hidden until mid-negotiation, you may present a one-strike-and-you’re-out rule: “If you do that again, this negotiation will be terminated.” Preparing for an encounter with a known ASPD-afflicted individual can be convoluted. At the outset, you may agree to take issues off the table one at a time as an accord is reached on each, but even then, an ASPD sufferer may not close even if 19 out of 20 issues are agreed upon, and attempt to change the rule for an all-or-nothing. That is why reward and consequence must be meted out incrementally, and you must follow up on taking the rewards away in the event they do not honor the rules. Again, “put teeth in the transaction. Intervention from unbiased intermediaries (third parties, lawyers, mediators, arbitrators, judges, etc.) may work. But there is a big qualification: they must be skilled and knowledgeable about the ASPD dynamic. Weak-willed intermediaries fall in line with ASPD tactics and become compromised, as the ASPD influencer will love any target-rich environment. The right intermediary is essential for any potential solution. If you have history with the individual and suspect they are faking it based on their behavior in other settings, call them out and ask why they are not acting like themselves. Otherwise, carrot and stick, step by step. Meting out the negotiation this way is tedious, but is the only way to progress.

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