When chameleons come in human form, they appear to be the sincerest of sincere, the most absolutely believable and credible anyone could ever be.
The problem is, without a continuous, integrated and solid core self, they have to mirror their environment. That’s you or whoever the ‘you’ is with whom they’re relating in the moment.
So, when with you, they’ll mirror your beliefs, your values, your attitudes… and, because of that, create fantastic rapport with you. You’d think they were your best buddy. Ten minutes later, they’re with some-one else and… what do you know? Now they’re mirroring that someone-one else’s beliefs, values and attitudes and, because of that, creating fantastic rapport with them.
In the office, a chameleon is a Grade A menace!
In a group, they’ll mirror the general consensus of beliefs, values, norms and attitudes. They’ll go whichever way the wind’s blowing so as to maintain their likeable front and serve their own particular agenda. The problem is that, as part of a group, once alone with an individual they’re blowing hot and cold again according to that individual’s take on things.
And, with Machiavelian tendencies, they’ll be divisive and destructive, often opposing the leader, or setting themselves up as ‘better’ than the leader, and/or stirring up trouble in subtle and underhand ways.
Call them on their behaviour and they’ll flare up defensively, question your judgement and downright lie. Only, it’s not a lie to them. They believe they have integrity, if that’s what you’re calling them on. They believe they have strong moral values, if that’s what you’re calling them on. They’ll believe they said ‘white’ in the face of undeniable evidence that they said ‘black’. They will bombard you with rationalisations and excuses to maintain their position, whatever that happens to be at the time.
Never give a chameleon the benefit of doubt!
Because, due to this psychological personality flaw, they’re eminently untrustworthy… with themselves, as well as other people. They can talk the talk and even look as if they’re walking the walk because they’re very good at acting out a role, convincing themselves as well as others.
So, it’s not surprising that a regional director with whom I recently worked, doubted his own judgement and sanity, when the chameleon, who had been so plausible. was exposed. Because, if they stick around in one place for long enough or long enough periods… and, often, they don’t… they’ll get caught out through inconsistencies and incongruent behaviours. They will always, always trip themselves up eventually.
And when they do, their usual way of resolving things is to get on their high horse, have a big falling out with who-ever’s calledl them on their behaviour and walk out/leave in high dudgeon. Which is exactly how my client’s ‘chameleon’ behaved with him. No performance management there, then!
The only way I know of managing a chameleon is having them ‘fall in love’ with you. So besotted do they become with you that they’ll follow your lead, i.e., clone themselves in line with you. However, that lacks integrity and is manipulative… which mirrors the chameleon’s behaviour wonderfully.
So, your comments on chameleons, in general, and if it’s possible to manage them in an ethical way would be most welcome!