My Readers Ask: How Do You Negotiate with a Sociopath?
Above: Tony's last session with Dr. Melfi
I told you my feelings, every day is a gift...It's just - does it have to be a pair of socks? Tony Soprano, Episode 74
I know what type of negotiation answers people are searching for because my blog's "back end" lists the search terms people use to find me (thanks LexBlog!) This morning, someone was searching for an answer to the question "how do you negotiate with a sociopath?"
One of the central "in" jokes of the hit and late lamented HBO series The Sopranos is that you cannot successfully love (Carmela) treat (Dr. Melfi) nor negotiate with (the entire cast) a sociopath (Tony). You can only stop denying that you are dealing with one -- something it took even the psychologist Dr. Melfi six full seasons to accomplish.
All I have to add to the injunction "don't" is that you not be too quick to label the people you don't like or understand as being unreachable, untreatable or unteachable.
“I don’t think I feel things the same way you do.”
The man sits at the table in the well-fitted attire of success—charming, witty, and instantly likeable. He is a confident, animated speaker, but he seems to be struggling with this particular point.
“It’s like… at my first job,” he continues, “I was stealing maybe a thousand bucks a month from that place. And this kid, he was new, he got wise. And he was going to turn me in, but before he got the chance I went to the manager and pinned the whole thing on him.” Now he is grinning widely. “Kid lost his job, the cops got involved, I don’t know what happened to him. And I guess something like that is supposed to make me feel bad, right? It’s supposed to hurt, right? But instead, it’s like there’s nothing.” He smiles apologetically and shakes his head. “Nothing.”
His name is Frank, and he is a psychopath.
In the public imagination, a "psychopath" is a violent serial killer or an over-the-top movie villain, as one sometimes might suspect Frank to be. He is highly impulsive and has a callous disregard for the well-being of others that can be disquieting. But he is just as likely to be a next-door neighbor, a doctor, or an actor on TV—essentially no different from anyone else who holds these roles, except that Frank lacks the nagging little voice which so profoundly influences most of our lives. Frank has no conscience. And as much as we would like to think that people like him are a rare aberration, safely locked away, the truth is that they are more common than most would ever guess.