Human Relations

, Volume 52, Issue 6, pp 745-773

First online:

What's Playing in the Organizational Theater? Collusive Relationships in Management

  • Manfred F. R. Kets De VriesAffiliated withRaoul de Vitry d'Avaucourt Professor of Human Resource Management, INSEAD

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This article takes as its point of departureconcepts derived from couple therapy to betterunderstand collusive relationships in organizations. Aswe examine these dysfunctional workplace relationships— these interpersonal “gridlocks” —four main types of collusive superior subordinateinteraction patterns are identified — thenarcissistic, the controlling, the paranoid, and thesadomasochistic — and the consequences of each such dyad in organizationsare explored. In conclusion, the paper presents a numberof recommendations on how to recognize the presence ofsuch collusive arrangements (taking leadership behavior as a point of departure) and suggestspreventive steps that can be taken.

superior-subordinate relationship leadership behavior projective identification narcissistic collusion controlling collusion paranoid collusion sadomasochistic collusion folie a deux transference identification with the aggressor