Nicholas Kittel and Sarina LockeABC
Fri, 02 Feb 2007 13:39 CET
Have you ever worked with an office psychopath?
Is your boss or a colleague making your professional life almost unbearable?
And if you are in this situation, how do you go about getting help?
If these are questions that you have often found yourself pondering then you should probably speak with Dr. John Clarke.
Following the success of his guide Working With Monsters Dr. Clarke produced a smaller book called The Pocket Psycho, which hopes to teach those who fear they may be working with a psychopath how to cope.
Dr. Clarke told 666 ABC Canberra that he had always been aware of the office psychopath but it was not until he started receiving feedback from his first book that he begun to understand just how endemic the problem is.
"I knew how many there were from before I wrote Working With Monsters, but after the response that I got I just couldn't believe how many people that actually wrote back to me and said look I've experienced one of these people, thank you for writing the book and probably the biggest thing that surprised me is these people said "I thought that I was going crazy but now I don't, because I know what to call these people."
Statistics show that just one per cent of workers are identified as having psychopathic characteristics, but a further ten per cent could develop them. However Dr. Clarke says there are defining characteristics that set the psychopath apart from someone who is just hard to get along with.
"The defining thing is an absolute lack of guilt, lack of remorse, they have absolutely no conscience whatsoever and therefore they will do whatever it takes to get what they want."
Dr. Clarke believes that the problem could lie within the hiring policies of some organisations, as psychopathic traits, such as lack of empathy or conscience and manipulative behaviors, may be seen as attractive personal qualities in some professions. However Dr. Clarke warns against letting these people into your business.
"They feel that they're the most important person, they're the best at whatever the task is that they're doing and you see in some job ads, you know, you're the best in your field, you're able to influence people... "you deserve higher rewards" - the psychopath believes that ... and then the psychopath gets in there. They're often very charming, very glib, very superficial, very good talkers and so they get the job and then once they're in there it's very difficult to identify them... and it's also difficult for lots of people who recruited them to admit "gee, we made a mistake and we've actually employed this person so they go on believing that they're this fantastic person they thought they were", simply because they don't want to admit that they were wrong."
Unfortunately by the time this occurs the damage has already been done - office moral falls, sales decline and resignations often increase.
So how do these people survive in an organisation?
Dr. Clarke says that psychopaths survive by marginalising a certain person or group and developing strong friendships or bonds with another person or group - they survive by living in the benefit of the doubt of their allies.
"The more intelligent psychopaths are smarter than that. They pick out a certain group of people in the organisation that they are going to victimise and everyone else thinks that they are this great person, so you've got these real discrepant opinions and that's where they hide - in that confusion between people - nobody knows whether they're good or whether they're bad and so they get the benefit of the doubt most of the time."
Dealing with or getting rid of a psychopath is a tricky business, but if you really want to resolve the problem Dr. Clarke suggests a couple of strategies that may be of help.
"If you work for the psychopath and you don't have the support of your company it's almost impossible. Then you need to start looking at "what are the costs of staying here to my mental health?" versus "what are the benefits?" ... However the biggest thing that you can do for yourself is you can educate yourself... if you know what you're dealing with then you can start to identify the strategies they use and you can start to circumvent those and what happens, you don't stop the psychopathic behaviour, but because you make yourself a harder target they're more likely to target somebody else. So, the second thing you can do as a company, as an organisation, is educate your staff members, but most importantly you build the strong teams of groups within the organisation so the psychopath cannot isolate and therefore cannot destroy the people because the team is so strong."
Andrew from Canberra writes:
"I've worked for the past 17 years as a tenured academic at 2 Australian universities. During these many years, a lot of my time and energy has been spent fighting what I now know to label the organisational psychopath. That intelligent but disturbed individuals are found at universities will come as no surprise to many. However, the real issue for me has been the failure of university management to address the problem. I've seen university departments weaken and corrode under the stranglehold of these psychopaths. Talented people move on and morale plumets. Its not uncommon for a senior troublesome university academic manager to be given a '"golden reference" and passed off to another university on a promotion! Dr Clarke's work addresses only one aspect of the problem. Organisational psychopaths can be nutured by organisations that are equally as psychopathic. My own experience is that I was one of a number of academics made redundant at the hands of one of these psychopaths a few months ago. While we fought for our jobs, the new workplace legislation has obliterated the notion of tenure, redeployment, or for that matter, any reasoned outcome. The university had one obejctive in mind, redundancy. Strangely enough, both this psychopath and the Director of HR at the university "found new career opportunities" at short notice and moved on once the redundancies were in place. I've come to the realization university managers do not care how they treat their staff and as Dr Clarke says, its always about the money. Unless you are in a position of power in these organisations, chances are that the problem will be ignored. Management does not want to hear of these things and may even go as far as an elaborate coverup, deception and implicitly condoning the psychopaths because the institution too has an agenda that has no place for people. This is the common feature of both individual organisational psychopaths and an institution that exhibits the same trait. I can see few barriers to individual workplace psychopaths thriving in our universities."
Emma from Sydney writes:
"This rings all too true. In fact, all too timely! I started a job in the last few months and it's turned into the equivalent of living hell. My boss is a workplace psychopath - diagnosed thanks to this appropriate ABC radio segment! I felt completely isolated until I discovered, by chance, that other colleagues in my department were suffering under the bullying, manipulative and downright nasty tendencies of our manager. I'm at a loss of what to do next... at least I can talk about it with like-minded colleagues. I'm not the only person going crazy over this."
"I sympathise because I have been victimised since I was 6. I'm 49. Psychos and bullies can pick me out very easily, but will not tell me how. They can pick weak or odd people the way a farmer picks sick lambs; but they choose bullying instead of assisting. I strongly recommend Jay Carter's book "Nasty People". It's very short and direct. We must stop tolerating bullies and psychos, and we must respond immediately and directly - just as we should with any bad behaviour."
Donald from Melbourne writes:
"We have two the CEO and the CTO. The CEO continually charming, but demeaning, sexist and racist uses the honey then stick approach to everything he can be lovely but has no issue putting people down about their work ethics and ideas and then stealing the ideas as his own. He's entirely superficial and expects loyalty without giving any. The CTO is even worst almost like a child yelling and backstabbing when he doesn't get his own way. Often he will berate an employee for not doing something he has asked but on analysis the employee was not clear exactly what he wanted. Loves to big note in front of customers and is also demeaning and charming depending on his need. Both display no empathy for their staff."
Michael from Newcastle writes:
"Statistics show that just one per cent of workers are identified as having psychotic tendencies, but a further ten per cent could be. However Dr. Clarke says there are defining characteristics that set the psychopath apart from someone who is just hard to get along with."
This para would leave many readers with the strong impression that psychopathy is a subset of psychosis. It is not. The conditions are diagnostically unrelated, as are the (very dubious) medical models of their causes.
A bit more care in avoiding the further stigmatisation of the mentally ill might be in order in future articles.
"Dr. Clarke says that psychopaths survive by marginalising a certain person or group and developing strong friendships or bonds with another person or group - they survive by living in the benefit of the doubt of their allies."
Hmm, perhaps Dr Clarke's next book should be about surviving psychopaths in parliament and the media."
"My question is: How can one detect the office psycho prior to starting a job!! What are the vibes that a person emanates that seems to make them a "victim" of the office psycho? I have an adult daughter who seems to attract these kind of people in most of her employment situations, causing her to leave and become financially and emotionally unstable as a result. Meanwhile it causes us a huge amount of worry to see her drawn into these kind of situations as there is only so much support we can give her."