How to Deal with Paranoia in the Workplace


In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people-issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.

Your own manager may be able to fill you in on what factors have led to this state of affairs. Sometimes dysfunctional behaviors are a consequence of corporate politics, but also consider that there may be some other much more benign factors in place. We all go through life stresses. You may be catching someone as they are trying to handle his “day” job while also dealing with demanding family situations that would make anyone stressed. Another possibility is that the person himself is legitimately taking medication for some medical condition that results in behavioral side effects. Employees obviously have a right to privacy, but sometimes managers are made aware of these issues by HR so that the company can be as supportive as possible.

The best organizations consider the needs of their employees and try to provide a workplace that is conducive to success and productivity. Even in the best organizations, you may encounter difficult personalities. Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with too many people who are truly paranoid, but you will probably encounter at least a few colleagues during your career who seem remarkably distrustful, blame others, and seem to believe that they are being persecuted. These situations are never easy and your best approach is to try to communicate effectively; if possible you should understand his position while explaining your needs, too. When possible, reach out to your own resources from your manager, and, in extreme cases, to HR. I know of one case where an employee who was on medication was actually physically threatening other employees.

The workplace must be free of hostile and disruptive behavior from both a legal and business perspective. Feel free to drop me a line if you come across challenging situations that you would like us to address in future articles. The best work environments are both productive and respectful of their employees and, with good communication, you should be able to navigate successfully even when confronted with some difficult personalities.


[1] Harry Stack Sullivan, Personal Psychotherapy Early Formations, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972

[2] Meyer Friedman, Type A Behavior: Its Diagnosis and Treatment (Prevention in Practice Library). Springer 1996

[3] Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley, Why Teams Don’t Work – What Went Wrong and How to Make it Right, Peterson’s Pacesetter Books, 1995

[4] Aiello, Bob and Leslie Sachs. 2010. Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World. Addison-Wesley Professional.

[4] Byrne, Donn. 1974. An Introduction to Personality: Research, Theory, and Applications. Prentice-Hall Psychology Series.

[5] Appelo, Jurgen. 2011. Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. Addison-Wesley Signature Series.

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