Run, don’t walk, if you work with a ‘Subclinical Psychopath’

Angry bossWe want to share one of the most popular blogs from our sister company, InclusIQ Institute, with you. If you’re ready to develop inclusive leadership in your organisation, you’ll benefit from our monthly bulletin InclusIQ Illustrated.

We routinely work with clients who ask how to manage manipulative bosses or colleagues. There are often ways to get people onside, but depending on the evidence they have, the truth is that if you are working with a psychopath, they are unlikely to change.

At a distance, these people can be fascinating to observe – which is why they are often portrayed in films and books. Think Gordon Gekko of Wall Street or ‘Talented Mr. Ripley’. However, to avoid them scuppering your career, it’s best to leave the situation as quickly as you can. Things won’t get better and you’ll have difficulty progressing. In fact, the higher you go, the more likely you are to find them! A study by Babiak in 2010 entitled ‘Corporate psychopathy: talking the walk’ published in Behavioural Science and Law showed senior American executives are four times more likely than the general US population (4% vs 1%) to be classified as subclinical psychopaths. So how can you tell if your boss is just tough or if you work with a subclinical psychopath? Do you see several of the following traits:

  1. Superficial charm
  2. Grandiosity
  3. Repeated lying
  4. Manipulation
  5. Lack of remorse
  6. Superficial emotions
  7. Lack of empathy
  8. Failure to accept responsibility
There is even a gendered slant to some of their favoured tactics. Oliver James’ wrote in his latest book ‘Office Politics’ that male psychopaths sometimes make sexual jokes or put-down female colleagues out of fear of being exposed. If they feel threatened, ‘stripped bare’ or powerless by the presence of a strong woman, they are likely to attack. James, originally a psychologist by trade, explained: ’most often they have no idea of their unconscious motivations for stripping the person and will make a joke of it and accuse her of ‘not being able to take a joke’.
Essentially, psychopaths are projecting the powerlessness they feel. One of the key signs you have been with a psychopath is the unaccountable discomfort, dissatisfaction or depression they leave with you afterwards. The work place is a setting where jokes should be welcome, but if they are mostly degrading to others; watch out  you may be working with a subclinical psychopath. You are best off leaving the situation as James explained:
‘psychopaths do it more often and are more likely to be compelled to commit the emotional rape of forcing their unwanted emotions onto others rather than look at the source of their anger.’
If a psychopath stands between you and your next promotion, look to move before they can undermine your chances …and your confidence.
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