Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Personality Disorders and Committee Activity

Personality disorders are inflexible, maladaptive patterns of personality and behavior, particularly in relation to other people.  They can be thought of as extremes in personality that result in distress to the diagnosed person or to others.  The American Psychiatric Association distinguishes these on Axis II of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.  

It is rather paradoxical that, although personality disorders are defined partly in terms of how a person relates to others, there has been no systematic categorization of how personality disorders impact on that most human of social enterprises: the committee.

In some ways, we can hypothesize that committee work had its antecedents in the primordial male bond, originally functioning to hunt large game, with the resultant sharing of its fruits: a largesse of meat, increases in esteem of the participants, and possibly opportunities for sexual congress afterwards, (or so we can hypothesize).  Some present-day committes just simply screw things up.

Anyway, bless 'em or damn 'em, we got committees.  Up to that unspecified geographical feature, the wazoo! 

Now committees have their fans and their nay-sayers.  Consider these old saws:

"A camel is a horse designed by committee."

"A committee is where minutes are kept and hours are wasted."

So, what kinds of personality disorders intersect with committee activity?  I'll venture these:

1.  The passive-aggressive personality disorder -- The person with this personality disorder revels in dilatory tactics because he perceives them to be annoying to others.  As a result, meetings do not go as planned by the moderator; they drag out ad infinitum.

2.  The histrionic personality disorder -- Thhis participant engages in attention-provoking behaviors, taking up a lot of extra time.  He or she may do something unexpected, or dress inappropriately for the setting, or just plain repeatedly interrupt so as to be noticed.  The result is that the focus is drawn away from the ostensible business to whatever this person is doing.

3.  The narcissistic personality disorder -- Unlike the histrionic person, this person is his or her own cheering section.  He does not deal well with ideas not his own, but tries to bludgeon his through the committee process irrespective to other committee members' contributions.  In effect, they are relgated to an amen corner of sycophants.

4.  The obsessive-compulsive personality disorder -- In this one, the diagnosed person is caught up with minutae, and metaphorically cannot see the forest from the trees.  This type of person tends to split hairs, seeing his or her role as being sure everything is done in proper form.  While this person does not intend to frustrate others, she or he does.

5.  The antisocial personality disorder -- This personality disorder is characterized by "a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood." (American Psychiatric Association).  Now that can fit several examples of committees, from groups of playground bullies to Congress (think of Netflix's series House of Cards).

6.  The paranoid personality disorder -- This type is characterized by paranoia, a generalized distrust of others, and excessive suspicion.  Some committees and groups based on conspiracy theories may be affected by this type of personality disorder.

It is presently premature to speculate on whether the proposed self-defeating personality disorder may impact on committee functioning, unless the committee chair is of this type.

I hope this analysis may be of some value to you in conceptualizing committees.  It is worth noting that these personality disorders may be characteristics of key members only, or the group in general.

However,most of the time committes don't work because of everyday, nonpathological reasons, such as:

1.  Having a committee chair who is indecisive or not firm enough to keep everyone on the subject;

2.  The committee not having a specific obect or agenda;

4.  The committee not having enough time or resources to do its function;

5.  The committee members not being sufficiently committed to its objective.


Duckbutt said...

Conspiracy theory groups abound in paranoia! The old time antiflouridation people and the present day UFO types, not to mention the Trilateral Commission.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Committes are hard enough, without nutjobs gumming up the works! Committee meetings lasting more than an hour seldom work.

Bilbo said...

Another of my favorite saws is this one by Sir Barnett Cocks: "A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and quietly strangled." I see all of these personality types in meetings every day, which is why I fear for my own sanity on a daily basis.

Deena said...

I love the drole picture!

Mike said...

All 4 of your 5 reasons are close to being exactly nail head hitters.

Grand Crapaud said...

Some people regard committees as occasions to socialize.

Sinner Bob said...

As astonishing as it might be, I was once on a committee that got logjammed over barbecue sauce.

Clarissa said...

You are absolutely right about committees!

John Hill said...

Btw, it's okay to be paranoid when everybody is out to get you!