Friday 3 May 2019 2:50 pm

Is your boss a narcissistic sociopath? Here’s the five different types of office culture from conflict to collaboration


Luke is a Features Writer covering marketing, advertising, data & technology, and entrepreneurs.

Luke is a Features Writer covering marketing, advertising, data & technology, and entrepreneurs.

Is your workplace chronically chaotic, ferocious, and riven with conflict? Is it a command-and-control environment that you and your colleagues find threatening due to coercion and Machiavellian-esque collusion? Are you in a defeated culture, where everyone is looking at compromise – a sad race to the bottom? Or is it a workplace powered by collaboration and consensus?

There are many owners, chief executives, directors and managers who bully those working for them: “remember I’m the boss and ruler, and don’t you forget it”. By manipulatively managing their staff, they create anxiety, stress, and fear. Their internal politicking leads to chaos and conflict in the workplace. Sound familiar?

Those working for bullies who demand that “people do as they are told” know what it’s like to operate in such a vicious environment. Perhaps the most obvious traits of a conflict-driven culture are hostility and damaging arguments.

A conflict-focused culture means that disputes will lead to quarrels and dissensions, with some of your colleagues struggling against the enterprise for prolonged periods. You’ll recognise this when harmful confrontations due to incompatible opinions are central to most activities.

Conflict cultures are encouraged by narcissistic, sociopathic bosses who see themselves as a never-wrong ruler. They thrive on clashes and friction, believing that is better to divide and rule than encourage and engage with colleagues and employees.

Perhaps your workplace is less extreme, but there are still examples where pushing someone to do something using force or threats is the order of the day – a way of doing things which could be described as coercion culture. Oppression, harassment, compulsion, and manipulation are key leadership tools in these command-and-control environments.

When political power is more obvious but conflict and coercion are less prevalent, with different groups vying for control through secretive cooperation, collusion culture can be typified as a series of conspiracies in order to benefit members of a particular cabal without putting customers, other employees, or the enterprise first.

A culture where personal benefit comes from political intrigue tends to exhibit non-ethical activity, where people scheme and plot to gain power. Whatever happened to adding value for customers and shareholders?

You may be fortunate enough to be in a place where there are attempts to find the lowest common denominator for the sake of agreement. Such a compromise culture at least exhibits people listening to each other. But there will be slippage of moral and ethical standards, and principles will weaken.

There will not be a sense of coming together, more a pathetic recognition of mediocrity as everyone “races to the bottom” to keep the peace.


How would you describe your work environment: a chaotic, conflict-riven approach; rife with coercion; needing collusion to get anything done; a place depressingly focused on compromise; or a collaborative culture creating consensus?

How wonderful to work in a collaborative culture, where people, teams, departments, divisions, and the overall enterprise operate through generative dialogue following harmonious reflection and new ideas. Creating such synergy and concord out of conflicting opinions has to be one of the toughest yet most rewarding leadership tasks. And working in such an environment is oh so wonderful.

As we all know, content colleagues and a happy workplace drive an enterprise much more effectively. Most people are happier when they recognise that they are being listened to and included in how things are done.

If your office has a chaotic conflict culture, perhaps it’s time for change.

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