Career

The Rules For Dealing With A Psychopath Workmate

When you hear the term ‘psychopath’ you probably envision the bad guys in horror moveis. But the stats suggest 10 percent of people are psychopaths. Which means, well, they walk among us – in fact, research suggests they’re frequently found in the top tiers of business and politics. In other words, they could be your boss, or your colleague.

In this excerpt from David Gillespie’s Taming Toxic People, we share five of his 10 rules for dealing with a psychopath colleague.

Rule #1 – Accept reality

The key to executing this strategy is knowing and accepting that you are the victim of a psychopath. Every time you try to interpret their behaviour using rules which would apply to you or any other empath, you will be confused, dismayed and potentially targeted.

Do not under any circumstances suffer under the misapprehension that you have changed, or can change, anything about the way the psychopath behaves.

Rule #2 – Remember this is temporary

No one can work for a psychopath long term and survive. This strategy is a temporary survival strategy. It is designed to give you time to look for a better (or just different) job.

Rule #3 – Be polite

The psychopath does not, and never will, respect you. You are a possession who is only worth keeping around as long as you deliver value.

One of the values that all psychopaths prize is the adoration of those beneath them (to them, this means everybody). A psychopath will value you more if you defer to them in every way. In their mind, you are a mindless, stupid beast ruled by your emotions. You cannot change that, but they are much happier to have you around and less likely to attack you if you acknowledge them as your superior on a continual basis.

An easy way to do this without going over the top and coming off as a flattering fool (although you will be surprised how obvious you can be and still have them believe you) is to follow the rules of polite conversation. To implement this, adhere to the rules in The Politeness Maxims and, in general, regard yourself as being in a conversation with a harsh and arbitrary old-school headmaster who will tolerate no aberrant behaviour from unruly students such as you.

Never talk back! And never become sarcastic or rude. Play a completely straight bat. Before you open your mouth in the presence of the psychopath, always ask yourself ‘Am I being polite and professional?’.

Do your best to avoid unnecessary contact. This does not mean give them the cold shoulder. It just means you don’t drop by their office for a chat. Whenever you speak to them, do it within the confines of your role and for an explicit purpose.

Rule #4 – Maintain privacy

A psychopath will pump you for information they can use against you and others. You can defend against this by not disclosing anything to your psychopathic boss and making sure you understand the privacy settings on your social media.

Do not discuss anything that is not entirely business related. But even when you do this, they may find something they can use. Beware of entrapment. If the psychopath suspects you are not wholly in their control, they will send a pawn in to good cop, bad cop you. Do not disclose anything to anyone at work, no matter how friendly they seem.

Rule #5 – Be honest

Always be honest even when it is against your interests. The psychopath will offer you an opportunity to fudge a bit. They might allow you to claim more expenses than you are otherwise entitled to. They may ignore you pilfering from the firm. They may allow you to take credit for something you did not do.

No matter how much the psychopath makes it seem like you’re all in this together, make no mistake, they are gathering dirt on you and they will use both that dirt and the weakness you displayed to manipulate you in the future.

Learn to say no – and mean it – when anything slightly dodgy is being proposed. Otherwise they will use your weaknesses of character against you. Your best defence against this kind of manipulation is to simply apply the front page-of-the-paper test.

If what you are about to do (or not do – remember you can lie by omission too) would look terrible on the front page of the paper, don’t do it. This also means avoiding backstabbing and gossip. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. Anything you say can and will be used against you.


This is an excerpt from Taming Toxic People: The Science Of Identifying And Dealing With Psychopaths At Work by Australian lawyer and best-selling author of the Sweet Poison books, David Gillespie. Release date: 25 July 2017