Do you ever find you are pandering to the psychopath; either at work or home? We can be intimidated or worn down by their behaviours to comply with their demands. According to David Gillespie, in his book Taming Toxic People, we are doing this more and more. The 21st Century is creating the ideal world for the psychopath to thrive. As the focus is increasingly on profits, ‘greed is good’, the end justifying the means; and the breakdown of communities for individualism, we are creating a fertile breeding ground for psychopathy. Judging by the number of requests we get to help people deal with these toxic situations in the workplace, I would agree with the findings.
DEFINING THE PSYCHOPATH
Thanks to Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho and series like Killing Eve, our view of psychopaths has been distorted to the criminal variety. Not all psychopaths are serial killers and not all serial killers are psychopaths. Far more common is the everyday psychopath we may find in our workplace or home life. This is defined as someone who predictably is:
- Devoid of any sense of right or wrong.
- Unable to feel emotion and so cannot empathise with others.
- Charming (charismatic) when you are of use.
- Self obsessed – narcissistic – egotistical.
- A fluent liar.
- Emotionally manipulative – knows our vulnerabilities and can push our buttons.
- Completely lacking in remorse or guilt so will take no responsibility for their actions.
- Highly controlling.
- Aggressive and intimidating.
- A good mimic of ‘normal’ behaviour when required.
Does this remind you of anyone? Recent estimates suggest that about 1 in 80 of the general population and as many as 1 in 5 senior executives are psychopaths.
Of course, we may be the psychopaths or at least somewhere on the empath-psychopath spectrum. It takes a brave person to look in the mirror and ask the question. If you are a true psychopath, you would deny it anyway, because you are perfect in your eyes!
IMPACT IN THE WORKPLACE
The psychopathic boss or colleague can have a highly damaging impact in the workplace by destroying trust and self-confidence. They like to be controlling and micromanage. They can cause disruption and fuel misunderstandings, uncertainty and blame. Psychopaths are serial bullies. If you are working for one, you are likely to be bullied once or twice a week. You can pander to them by calling them by lesser names such as bully, sociopath or narcissist, but they are psychopaths.
Recent studies have shown that those working for psychopathic managers will be almost twice as likely to take sick leave as those who have a normal manager.
Jim Collins in Good to Great highlights examples of the damage ‘charismatic’ leaders can do to a company. When they are totally focused on progression and self-glorification, they do a great job in increasing profits at all costs in the short term, but once they leave the company, things fall apart. They become even more dangerous when they are in high political roles!
“Wherever you get power, prestige and money you will find them”
Dr Robert Hare, University of British Columbia
MANAGING THE WORKPLACE PSYCHOPATH
The most important thing to remember about psychopaths is that you will never cure them. They are self-serving and suffer from an irreversible failure of socialisation, which prevents them co-operating with fellow human beings.
You have to develop coping mechanisms to contain them, otherwise they will cause damage to the business, to you and eventually to themselves. In very simplistic terms this means:
- Don’t hire them – beware they are very good at interviews.
- Be alert to their presence – check sick leave and staff turnover. Listen to whistleblowers.
- Psychopath-proof your business through a culture of strong values, honesty and integrity, openness and transparency, decentralised decision making and teamwork in achieving goals.
SURVIVING THE PSYCHOPATH
Whether it is your boss, colleague or customer, do not confront them or try to understand them. If your organisation is doing nothing about them, then you may choose to leave. If this is not an option, then you have to cope with your reality and survive them.
- Accept the reality that you cannot cure them. It is their disability not yours.
- Know this time will pass, either they or you will move on.
- Be polite and respectful.
- Safeguard your privacy. Don’t share information on social media or round the coffee machine. Information is power to them. Entrapment is their tool.
- Be honest in everything you do and say. Do not give them any leverage. Stick purely to facts.
- Check everything they say. You cannot stop them lying, but you can choose not to believe.
- Be compliant and follow their demands, but record and verify what they asked for.
- Don’t show your emotions even if they pretend to be emotional. They are doing that to get a response and your empathy. However hard, avoid losing your temper. That’s exactly what they want. Imagine you are in a bell jar and untouchable. Create a psychological screen to protect you from them.
- Use your support network to allow you to off load away from the situation and keep your sanity and self-esteem.
- Keep a detailed record of events, what has been said by whom and when. You may need this at a future date. If it isn’t recorded it didn’t happen.
Let’s choose not to pander to the psychopaths; and as leaders, do what we can to contain them. I recommend reading David Gillespie’s book for sound, practical and detailed advice on how to do this in work and home life.
If you would like to discuss any of this further, please let me know.