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6 mins

Don’t Become a Psychopath’s Pawn

They’re cunning, they’re charismatic, and they make up a chilling percentage of management candidates
by Caitlin Schiller | Nov 12 2014

Learn how to protect yourself from the corporate psychopath.

dont-become-psychopaths-pawn

We’ve already discussed the Office Asshole and how to tell if there’s one in your midst. As bad as the Asshole might sound, however, there’s a worse evil that may lurk a few desks away. Meet the corporate psychopath.

What makes dealing with corporate psychopaths especially complicated is that you’re probably going to like meeting them, too. Psychopaths have a special gift for making you feel like you’re the only person in the room – but it’s all with a goal: the psychopath needs pawns.

In Snakes in Suits, psychologists Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare explain that when they enter a new workplace, a psychopath’s first order of business is bonding with pawns that can provide them with useful resources: money, information, expertise, or influence.

Psychopaths target people who are well-liked and whose opinions are valued. A canny psychopath might, for example, bond with a secretary to stay up on company gossip or to spread glowing rumors about himself. And because they’re so charming, a psychopath will get a pawn believing their lies, allowing the psychopath to take credit for their work, and accepting blame for things the pawn didn’t do.

Through their charisma, psychopaths convince pawns that they are their trusted companions, and out of loyalty and enthrallment, the pawns serve the psychopaths’ agenda. Unsurprisingly, this almost never ends well for the pawns: the psychopath will manipulate the pawn, steal their work, exploit their resources, and then drop them. What can you do to protect yourself against psychopaths at work? Here’s what Babiak and Hare say:

1. Build a positive reputation. Often, psychopaths will undermine you to get what they want, spreading nasty rumors and stealing ideas. If you cultivate a good reputation with others, you build a solid defense against whatever the psychopath may say about you.
2. Know the rules. Bone up on your company’s formal processes, such as your personal obligations and the best channels to voice concerns. Know your options for filing a formal complaint against an abusive boss or co-worker.
3. Put it in writing. Try to get hard copies of things like work assignments and performance feedback. Even if your boss isn’t a psychopath, this approach ensures that you’ll have a mutual (documentable) understanding. And when you do see things like your performance review on paper, make sure it’s detailed and clear and always ask for justifications.
4. Stay calm. A favored psychopath trick is to deliberately push your buttons and make you explode at a moment that will make you look bad. If attacked, defend your decisions with reason and calmly state the facts.

Learn more about why there are so many psychopaths in management, how to identify them and how to neutralize them in Snakes in Suits. If you’re already dealing with a psychopath and need answers fast, read the 15-minute summary on Blinkist.

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