Antisocial Personality Disorder

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Particularly challenging traits exist in some negotiators, and it is helpful to have a general understanding of how best to respond. Within what is loosely termed but no longer used in diagnosis is the term “sociopath,” there are four subgroups: antisocial traits (traits exhibited in different periods in life such as behavioral disturbances, delinquency, criminal conduct); interpersonal traits (inflated self-importance, actively manipulating and deceiving others, persistent lying, superficial personality attractiveness); affective traits (callowness, blaming others and not taking personal responsibility, no guilt or regret, absence of emotional responsiveness); and lifestyle traits (impulsive behavior, need for constant stimulation, grandiose life expectation, reliance on others for financial and material support). Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is the most encountered in negotiation according to the experience of The Persuasion Lab. Negotiating with NPD sufferers can be frustrating to persons who have certain expectations of behavior. The one thing professional negotiators must learn to expect is variability. APD behavior in a negotiation goes beyond confidence and bravado, slipping into fits of all-powerful, all-knowing entitlement, disregard for personal boundaries, and little concern or total blindness as to how their behavior impacts others. Lack of remorse, impulsivity, and lack of planning can also be part of the diagnosis. (See, DSM-V, 301.7 (F60.2)) The Persuasion Lab is unqualified to diagnose any personality trait, as is anyone other than a licensed psychotherapist.  


Common Features of APD in a negotiation. The first is the incapacity for the emotional responses which would usually interfere with the modes of manipulation and conning. This is not to say they will not outwardly display warmth, empathy, or compassion, but these traits are feigned to reach their objectives. A stoic negotiation style is powerful, but this is different. Domination or humiliation are also traits that are acted out, sometimes in the hall, on a private call, in public email, on social media, or at the negotiation table. There may be contempt for others’ feelings of distress and the tendency to take advantage of it. Also look for risky negotiation behavior, verbal outbursts, excessive brinksmanship, or a “gambler’s” attitude toward the transaction. They may show abusive and erratic behavior in various forms: rage, small expressions of caring, and kindness turned to negativity or generally rude and hateful interactions. There is no shame, remorse, or guilt displayed regarding the impact of the negative behavior on others. They are unreliable.


We hear general instructions for us to "not negotiate with sociopaths." Unfortunately, the reality is not that simple, as APD is common in politics, business, and even personal relationships. There are interesting ways to deal with the APD dynamic. Although you can’t make a formal diagnosis, if you determine that the behavior is off, keep these seven things in mind that have proven successful in various circumstances:
  1. Fear Not. This is a power game. Feel and do whatever you need to “get the power” – get informed, strike a power pose (the popular remedy in the early 21st century in the research), use anything (legal) that helps you be or appear powerful. Vulnerability will be exploited.
  2. Stop the Stimulation. Toddlers like attention, negative or positive. Remember that less information is more. SNS users are very responsive to inputs, so as with any adversarial proceeding, the more information you give a sociopath, the more successful they are at manipulating you. You will not be better off sticking to facts and not emotions, as they have no empathy. This is just more grist for the mill.
  3. Know What Drives the Behavior (if possible). Get “behind” what they want – what is the motivating need to manipulate (if not pure manipulation for the sake of it)? Question them. They may be nibbling at your offer not because it is unacceptable, but because they want to feel powerful, so over-inflate the impact of a concession you made: “You are killing me with this concession. You win.” This may work, but know your limit, as a concession may be the very stimulation needed by an APD negotiation style practitioner that keeps them going for more.
  4. Get an Intermediary. Attorneys, mediators, social workers or other third parties can be a manipulation buffer, but know that the intermediary must have experience with the APD type or they too will be manipulation fodder.
  5. Nice Persons Finish Last. With the APD type, a nice guy will finish last - absolutely. Use more logic and stick, no empathy or carrot. Set boundaries and stick to them.
  6. Stop the End Around. Inform your team of the APD vibe and warn them of end-around. The APD type will often have sidebars and voice insincere concern or wonder “how experienced” the lead is or if “they know what they are doing.” This is pure back-door manipulation.
  7. Detailed and Practical Deals. Deals must have no wiggle room. Each obligation must have a consequence if not followed.
It may be easiest to avoid the interaction with these individuals entirely but this may not be possible with key persons in your transaction or dispute. Again, intermediaries may be needed: psychological and psychiatric counselors, lawyers, mediators, arbitrators, and judges. Evaluate the utility, necessity, and your personal well-being in maintaining a dysfunctional relationship - more often than not, you have options and a graceful departure may be best.

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