Diary of a Bully – Corporate Psychopaths

imagesWorkplace bullying is an insidious beast. It is not always physical bullying, although it can be that too. It can subtle, unseen and extremely manipulative. Of course workplace bullying can take many forms. It can be harassment or discrimination. It can be verbal abuse or physical abuse. While no bullying is good, in some ways the more obvious bullying can be easier to deal with. For example physical bullying can leave physical damage and can be witnessed. In this way there is evidence that forces action. The bullying that is hard to deal with is the subtle, conniving and systemic psychological abuse.

Typically such psychological abuse is carried out by managers in offices but it is not limited to these places. In many workplaces there are what is known as corporate psychopaths. Mckenzie Friends describes corporate psychopaths as, “ …deceitful, cold hearted manipulators bent on obtaining power for its own sake. Devoid of empathy they are reckless and leave a trail of corporate destruction, wrecked careers and a legacy of fear.” More alarmingly Mckenzie Friends claims that one in ten managers are corporate psychopaths. [1]

Friends provides a vivid description of the corporate psychopath; “Corporate Psychopaths are typically articulate, charming and confident, and thrive in businesses with autocratic management cultures where they can curry favour with peers and superiors while causing misery for those who report to them. Corporate Psychopaths get rid of good productive staff, claiming them to be deadwood. Because the psychopath is a glib non performer he must remove anyone who could recognise him for what he is. He will introduce meaningless reforms and endless reviews to cover up lack of productivity. It is typical that the psychopath will leave a position before the damage they have done is revealed.”

When one meets a corporate psychopath for the first time they often will find them typically charming. They smile at you and are warm and welcoming. They might introduce you to the workplace as if you are their new best friend. They might even have a slap bang lunch for you to introduce you to your new workmates. At the start they make the new worker feel like a million dollars.

If you have a disability the corporate psychopath will often preen over you like a doting parent for a while. Your every need is their command. No stone is left unturned. The motive of the corporate psychopath is not as pure as it seems. They have an ulterior motive and that motive is to protect themselves from any sort of complaint that could unhinge their otherwise perfect world. Paul Babiak calls this the façade.[2] Of course not all managers are like this. Most are just decent people who want to make sure that you are set up for work.

The other motive might be that they want the person with a disability to feel indebted to them. Because the corporate psychopath has ensured the worker with a disability has their workplace needs met they expect a certain amount of gratitude. They see having invested the time to set up the support as a sort of power game. From that time on they expect subordination. They have “helped” and the worker with a disability is now forever in their debt. Babiak believes this behaviour is common in the corporate psychopath, mainly a grandiose sense of their own worth.

Of course sometimes the support that is needed might actually be provided by the manager. For example for a worker who is deaf and uses captioning or Auslan interpreters for large meetings taking notes is difficult. If one of the tasks is to minute meetings then assistance is required. Some managers, if they are part of the meeting, might offer to take notes that the worker can later type up as minutes.

But the corporate psychopath is conniving. They might actually resent having to take notes. It’s another responsibility that they would rather not have. They might use the assistance they are providing as a means to control the worker who is deaf. Requests for the completed notes so that the minutes can be completed might be ignored. There may be several requests for the notes and the manager might say that they, “just need to tidy them up” What actually often can happen is that the notes are deliberately provided at the last minute so that the deaf worker is frantically scrambling to get them out on time. The corporate psychopaths then blames the worker who is deaf for the lateness and berates them for being disorganised. It is a sly game that they play.

The worker with a disability is often simply excellent at their job. So good, in fact, that their manager is taken by surprise. The worker with a disability might actually have enormous influence and be promoting positive change. Rather than embrace and celebrate this influence and success the corporate psychopath feels inadequate. How dare this disabled upstart kick goals that the manager cannot get credit for. How dare they have influence that might actually involve spending money. God forbid that the manager will have to argue for and explain this expenditure to their superiors.

Babiak explains that many corporate psychopaths are hell bent on causing damage, they prey on people that they think are weak and vulnerable. They try to keep these people down in the pecking order. If these people look like making waves the corporate psychopath will seek to keep them in their place, even if this prevents positive progress.

This can manifest in different ways. The corporate psychopath may take credit for work that actually isn’t theirs. They will purport to be the author of plans and papers when in fact these documents were largely developed by their ‘victims’. This is how they curry favour with their superiors. Such behaviour can make the victim feel undervalued and worthless.

Sometimes a corporate psychopath may bully by consistently refusing to read the ‘victims’ work or suggestions. Sometimes the corporate psychopath may seek to demoralise the ‘victim’ by refusing to approve funding or give permission to carry out certain tasks. They may refuse to offer these approvals for months at a time making it virtually impossible for the ‘victim’ to meet deadlines. In delaying these approvals the corporate psychopath offers no apologies nor will they acknowledge the difficulties that long delays in these approvals is causing. In this way they single out and isolate their ‘victims’.

The corporate psychopath often comes across as helpful and supportive but they are anything but. There may be times that other work colleaagues are acting unprofessionally. For example workers may simply stop responding to emails for weeks and months at a time. They may constantly cancel meetings. Or they may ask for things within a short time frame, even though they have had plenty of time to requests these things.

When such unprofessional behaviours are raised with the manager who is a corporate psychopath such managers simply refuse to address or acknowledge the behaviour of others. They will place the responsibility and blame on the ‘victim’ rather than address the offending behaviour. When deadlines are not met and projects are not completed on time, because other workers did not follow through as promised, the corporate psychopath will blame their ‘victim’. The corporate psychopath will demand unrealistic time frames for completion of tasks even though they know these tasks cannot be completed until other people fulfil their responsibilities. In this way their ‘victims’ are made to feel incompetent.

And sometimes the corporate psychopath simply sees their ‘victim’ as not worth the effort anymore. It does not matter what the real story is or how good the ‘victim’ might be at their job, the corporate psychopaths sees the ‘victim’ as a threat. Such managers may see their ‘victims’ as a threat because the ‘victim’ simply refuses to comply and sticks diligently to their principles. The corporate psychopath, knowing that they cannot get rid of the ‘victim’ on performance alone, seeks to cast doubt in the ‘victims’ mind. In private meetings such managers might suggest that the skills and attributes of the ‘victim’ might be better utilised in a different job. They might even offer to be the ‘victims’ referee and suggest jobs that might be worth applying for. They do so to make the ‘victim’ feel unwanted in the hope that the ‘victim’ will resign on their own accord.

And all of this behaviour is really hard to prove. The bullying is largely done behind closed doors. It is so subtle that it is hard to detect and prove. When challenged, the corporate psychopath will deny any wrong doing. Indeed many work places, in the absence of any physical evidence, simply refuse to address the issue. Indeed such workplace bullies like corporate psychopaths are largely protected from any action and rarely held to account. Evelyn M Field states that workplace bullies such as corporate psychopaths are rarely:

  • Investigated from a historical perspective (previous bullying or previous jobs).
  • Investigated from a systemic perspective (who else is being bullied by them at work).
  • Have their performance appraisals compared to their staff relationships.
  • Checked against witness reports or videotaped.
  • Referred for a psychiatric/psychological referral (unlike their targets).
  • Given coaching to change [3]

And so they continue on their path of negative destruction until either their ‘victim’ resigns or is psychologically damaged. How this psychological damage manifests will be discussed in the next instalment of The Diary of a Bully.


[1] http://www.mckenziefriends.com.au/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=27

[2] http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/november-2012/the-corporate-psychopath

[3] http://www.bullying.com.au/workplace-bullying/the-workplace-bully.php


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