A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?



T's and C's

This is what I'm doing at the moment, isn't it? I'm walking through all of the things that I know, hoping for some kind of "satori." What I do know is that sociopaths attack the T's and C's as I've listed them here. I think this could start to make people believe that I'm an authority on this problem. But what about being an authority on the solution? Is seeing that these methods of manipulation are being used a step towards being able to counter them? I surely hope so.

Timing - socipaths always create time pressure. "We need a quick response". Deadlines, deadlines, always deadlines. The deadlines are often completely arbitrary. One sociopath that I've worked with recently would blithely (there goes that word again) give the poor people who worked with her 3 or 4 times more work than they could do in a give time period. See how that works? Immediately, you're putting the loser (and remember, that's who's being targeted here, someone who attaches huge value to their competence) on the back foot.

Competence - sociopaths always attack your competence. Sometimes outright, sometimes more subtly. "This was due to bad planning." "If you were any good at your job, you'd be able to tell me how long this is going to take." "Maybe you guys aren't the right team for the job, maybe we need to get someone else to do it."

Consistency - "Why didn't you say something before? " (I wonder if there's a separate thing about rhetorical questions). The answer of course that you didn't know before, or you only had a sneaking suspicion - why are you saying something now? Because you've learned something. But the human urge for consistency is so powerful that if you're not careful a ruthless sociopath can use it to shut you up, even if events and circumstances have totally changed.

Consistency is also the label you might give to what maybe the most powerful human urge, not the urge to survive, but the urge to do what everybody is doing. If you try to tell the truth in an organisation, and I'm not talking here about anything dreamy and Hollywood, I'm talking about just being slightly more truthful than is the norm, then you're still going to cause a lot of trouble, and it's fairly easy to shut you up. Because all a sociopath has to do to shut you up is to look around him at all the other people who aren't telling him the truth and say "Are you calling all of these people LIARS." (this is what it's like taking a pint back in a local pub - the beer stinks of piss and washing up liquid, but when you take it back to the bar the landlord says "I don't know what you're talking about - all these locals are drinking it." - and you look along the line of brain-damaged idiots at the bar). This also the problem with whistle-blowing.

This is where the marvellous/terrifying "I never have any problems getting estimates from my other teams [pause] of course they're always wrong." comes from. Also the "I've just dragged a crazy person in off the street and he says that he can do the work you're claiming will take six months in 10 minutes.

As I'm writing this, I'm realising that my boss got me with this one just yesterday.

Commitment - sociopaths use time pressure and competence to manoeuvre you into committing to a plan. Once you've committed to a plan, then they have you. Because if you don't deliver on that committed, you are not a man of your word, you are a bad person and a liar. YOU ARE A LIAR!!! Once you're feeling bad about not being a man of your word, you're more manipulable. But also, very helpfully, if you didn't deliver when you said you were going to deliver, then you're not competent either. YOU ARE A LIAR AND YOU ARE BAD AT YOUR JOB!!! What do you mean that you want more money to finish the project?

Clarity/Legibility - always ask for more detail. When you're provided with detail, say you don't want to be bothered with the detail. Sociopaths want clarity - and surely, if you're a professional, you should be able to give it to them. When you try to make it clear that some things are unknown, they'll attack your competence as a way of getting you to back down. They will push and push for a "clear plan." If at any point you cave and give them answers, they'll take them as a commitment, and off them off we go.

Related to this is "presentation." Presentation is making things that are illegible appear legible e.g. "A clear plan for delivery." Presentation is also about covering stuff up that is legible, but unpalatable. A true story. Me and another colleague go to the boss and say "only 10% of the project is finished." And the sociopath boss's face clouds. He asks a bunch of questions and gets out of us about about 40% of the project is in testing. "Oh well then," he says. "That stuff is nearly finished - I'm sure if you guys are competent there won't be many problems with it - we can report the project as 50% finished." Three months later "You keep telling me that everything is finished, but the it's taking months for these things that you claim are finished to clear testing!".

Negativity/Positivity This isn't a T or a C, but it kind of fits. I'm still smarting from an exchange I had maybe two years ago where I estimated that three bits of work that involved interfacing with some outside body would take three months (based on the estimates of the people who were going to do it). A cloud came over my bosses face and he said "I think this is a very negative attitude to this piece of work." I think we can say that all three of those things are going to take one month. They took nine months.

If you're a sociopath and you ask for clarity and you don't like the answer you get - then you can use a combination of positivity/negativity and competence to beat the losers into submission. "I think this is a very negative estimate - I have a lot of faith in you and your team. I think you're capable of a lot more than this.

In fact, I'm wondering if this is actually a glimmer of a way of defending yourself - when someone implies that you're incompetent, or inconsistent, rather than trying to deny it or accepting it, ask for more detail. Would that work?

SOCIOPATH: This project is late because of your bad planning. YOU: I'm very concerned to hear that you might think that. It's a possibility. What makes you think that our planning was bad - can you provide me with more details - with some specifics?