All posts by David Gillespie

Are YOU The Office Psychopath?

Just how certain are you that you’re not the office psychopath? Perhaps you should review the psychopath checklist.

Image: Rudall30/Shutterstock

The office psychopath is not the bloke found inconveniently near every unexplained axe-murder in your office.  He or she is just a normal person, who just happens to have no empathy whatsoever.  This little deficit means that they are completely incapable of co-operating with others for a common good.

And since modern business depends on groups of people doing exactly that, having them in your office can be seriously wealth endangering.  But are you certain that you aren’t the office psychopath?

Psychopaths are not all the same. Just like the rest of us, they vary in lots of important ways. Some are very intelligent and some are not. Some are good-looking and some are not. Some are men and some are women. Psychopaths are no more immune to cancer than we are and they are no better at football than I am. Well, all right, most of them probably are, but that’s not because they are psychopaths, it’s because I am uncoordinated.

But one handy thing about psychopaths is that their behaviour is predictable.  It’s so predictable that psychologists have developed a checklist which they use to determine whether someone is a psychopath.

The checklist is made up of twenty personality traits. Each of these twenty traits is scored by a psychologist, after a face-to-face interview and review of records, as a 0 (not present), 1 (present but not dominant) or 2 (dominant). The maximum score is obviously 40.

The average person scores between 3 and 6. Non-psychopathic criminals score between 16 and 22. A total score of 30 or over in the United States (or 25 or over in the United Kingdom) is regarded as a positive diagnosis of psychopathy.

Just to give us a sense of how these criteria might be applied, I’ve used my non-existent training in psychology to score James Bond on these criteria and now you can use your non-existent training in psychology (unless you are a psychologist of course) to score yourself.

Case study: James Bond
PCL-R James Bond
Facet 1: Interpersonal
  • Glibness or superficial charm
2 – Is it possible to be more charming than James Bond?
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
2 – A ‘secret’ agent who uses his own name all the time? – yup.
  • Pathological lying
2 – Aside from his name, he does seem to lie an awful lot.
  • Cunning or manipulative
2 – Obviously part of the job.
Facet 2: Affective
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
2 – James has killed over 350 people on screen so far and it never seems to trouble him in the slightest.
  • Emotionally shallow
2 – I’m sure he really does love all those women he sleeps with.
  • Callous or lack of empathy
2 – Has he ever seemed to experience another person’s emotions? There was that one time when he cried in the shower with Vesper Lynd . . .
  • Failure to accept responsibility for their own actions
1 – Every now and then he does take the blame for stuffing up.
Facet 3: Lifestyle
  • Need for stimulation (easily bored)
2 – We never see him sitting around much, do we?
  • Parasitic lifestyle
2 – Everything seems to be on the expense account.
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals
2 – Does he have any long-term goals?
  • Impulsivity
2 – He certainly struggles to contain his impulses when it comes to killing and seducing women
  • Irresponsibility
1 – Occasionally he does things for king and country
Facet 4: Antisocial
·       Poor behavioural controls 0 – He is in control most of the time.
·       Early behavioural problems 0 – We don’t know so let’s go with 0.
·       Juvenile delinquency 0 – Once again, we don’t know.
·       A history having conditional release from prison revoked 0 – We don’t know.
·       Criminal versatility 0 – His crimes are sanctioned by his 00 status.
Other Items
·       Many short-term marital relationships 1 – He’s never been married but he has had many relationships that might have ended that way (had the other half not been killed off).
·       Promiscuous sexual behaviour 2 – Is it possible to give more than 2?
Total 27

People who score highly in Facets 3 and 4 are more likely to be found on the wrong side of a prison wall. People who score highly on Facets 1 and 2 are more likely to be your workmate, your partner, a family member or, apparently, a secret agent.

Mr Bond managed a score that makes him a psychopath in the UK but not quite one in the US. The unflappable, focused, but erudite and charming killer that Bond represents is not a million miles from what I would describe as an office psychopath (without quite so much killing).

How did you go?


David Gillespie will present a session on Taming Toxic People at the Sydney Big Ideas Summit on Tuesday 30th October.

If you’d like to join us at the event in Sydney, reserve your seat here: http://www.bigideassummit.com/big-ideas-sydney

If you can’t make it to Sydney but would like to follow the action as a Digital Delegate, sign up here: https://www.procurious.com/big-ideas-summit-sydney

Five Rules For Dealing With A Toxic Workmate

There are five key things you should do that will make life a lot easier when you work for, or with, a toxic person…

Toxic People exist in almost every workplace.  You are much more likely to encounter one than not and the further you progress towards the top of your organisation, the more likely it is that you will be working alongside, or for, one.

They aren’t toxic in the radioactive, life endangering sense, rather they are toxic in the career limiting sense – specifically your career. They delight in finding minor fractures in the social structure of your workplace, driving enormous wedges into them and sitting back to watch the fireworks.  They enjoy bullying those they manage and emotionally tormenting those they work with. They will lie constantly but somehow no mud ever sticks to them while those all around them fall on their swords.

A workplace containing a toxic person will be riddled with distrust and fear.  Productivity will be at rock bottom and staff turnover will be through the roof.  They care nothing for the good of the organisation or anybody in it.  Their only motivation is cheap thrills and personal gain at all costs.

When you find yourself in such a workplace, there are things you should do and there are things you should definitely not do. A 2016 study of Australian workplaces plagued by what the researchers called ‘toxic leaders’ found that the following strategies were not a good idea. This was because they resulted in prolonging stress and fear of the leader:

  • Confronting them
  • Avoiding, ignoring or bypassing them
  • Whistleblowing
  • Ruminating on the wrongs done and reliving the feelings of anger and frustration
  • Focusing on work
  • Taking sick leave (as it provided short-term relief only).

Instead, you must leave your passion for your job at home. You must become a well-mannered, honest, polite, compliant, precise employee who does whatever they are told no matter how pointless. Here are five things you should do that will make life a lot easier when you work for, or with, a toxic person.

Rule 1 – Accept reality

The most important rule is acceptance.  You must accept that you are working with a toxic person with psychopathic tendencies. They are not wired the same as you and regard you as a tool for achieving their aims in much the same way that you might regard a photocopier.  They don’t care about you at all and nothing you do or say will change that.  Every time you try to interpret their behaviour using rules which would apply to you or any other normal person, 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 they behave.  Your options are survival and find somewhere else to work (or hope they do).

Rule 2 – Be businesslike and polite

Before you open your mouth in the presence of the toxic workmate, 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 3 – Maintain privacy

A toxic workmate will pump you for information they can use against you and others. You can defend against this by not disclosing anything to them and making sure you understand the privacy settings on your social media. Do not discuss anything that is not entirely business related.

Rule 4 – Be honest

Always be honest even when it is against your interests. They 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 they make 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.

Rule 5 – Be prepared

Document every verbal request they make and seek clarity on every instruction. If you are asked verbally to do something immediately follow up the request with a confirmation by email. Retain a copy of the email in printed form. If you are not sure exactly what you are required to do, seek written clarification. If you don’t get it, send a follow-up email saying you didn’t get it, and how you interpret the task. Voluntarily provide regular written updates on your progress. In other words, behave as a competent but compliant slave that documents everything publicly.

In short, you must become an emotionless machine (while at work) if you plan to stay in that workplace. Accept reality and remove all emotional responses from the way you interact with that person. Do everything they ask of you and ensure you document everything. Don’t take anything personally and make sure you have a good support network outside the workplace. Work will become a place you go to perform mindlessly (while you look for another job), but as long as you don’t become vested in that complete waste of your time and talents, it won’t kill you.

David Gillespie is a guest speaker at the Big Ideas Summit in Sydney on Tuesday 30th October 2018, where he’ll help delegates understand how to deal with toxic people in the workplace. Interested in attending? Register here: http://www.bigideassummit.com/big-ideas-sydney

Is Procurement Full Of Psychopaths?

If one in five procurement managers are psychopaths, how should you manage them?

A recent study of senior managers found that one in five procurement managers are psychopaths.  No, this doesn’t mean they are likely to wear clown makeup and brandish a chain-saw.  But it does mean the organisations which employ them need to exercise caution if they value their reputation.

The study, published in 2016, was conducted by Simon Croom, a professor of supply chain management at the University of San Diego in collaboration with two researchers from Bond University on the Gold Coast. It consisted of a global survey of 261 supply chain managers working in industries with an average price negotiation budget in the range of US$50 million.

The survey was based on a questionnaire widely used to identify psychopathic personalities.  If found that 55 (about 21%) of the procurement managers surveyed had clinically significant ratings in traits which would classify them as psychopaths.  That’s about the same levels as similar surveys produce in prison populations.

Largely thanks to Hollywood, most of us think of a psychopath as a violent serial killer. And while some of them probably are, there is a much more dangerous version that we are more likely to encounter every day in the workplace. You might call them bullies, or micromanagers, or narcissists, or sociopaths.  I don’t feel particularly charitable towards them, so I go with psychopath.

They all share a common set of personality characteristics.  They can be among the most charming people you’ll ever meet.  They are also fearless and focused.  So far so good, but then it gets tricky.  They take big risks on impulse, feel absolutely no remorse, are callous, lazy, have a very high opinion of themselves, will always take credit for good outcomes and blame others for bad outcomes.

Psychopaths are drawn to careers that give them power over others, so jobs towards the top of an organization are inherently attractive to them.  And they will find those jobs easier to get because they are extrabodily good at telling employers exactly what they want to hear and will happily lie about everything including their experience and education.

If you want a go-getter procurement manager who could charm a dog off a meat wagon, then you might be wondering what the downside is.  A psychopath will shoot first and won’t even bother to ask questions later.  They are completely amoral, will lie and cheat compulsively and will leave nothing on the table. They are deal-makers. You might even be thinking these characteristics make psychopaths fantastic assets in the cut and thrust world of supply chain management.  Given that, the surprising thing about this study is not that 20 per cent of procurement managers are psychopaths, it’s that 80 per cent aren’t.

A psychopath may well be fearless but they will only look after themselves. Yes, they will face down a mugger but they will not protect you against that danger unless there is something in it for them. Yes, they will charge into battle but military units depend on every soldier being able to trust the man beside them. You cannot trust a psychopath to act in your best interests, only their own. They won’t be taking a bullet for anyone, no matter how fearless they are.

And this applies just as strongly to your corporate reputation.  A psychopath does not care how your company is perceived in the market unless it directly affects the deal he has on the table today.  They will not plan strategically and they are motivated by nothing but self-interest.  If he behaves dishonestly and trashes your reputation then that is your problem, not his.  If you are in an industry where you will only ever do one deal with any other counter-party and none of them ever speak to each other, then I guess you could get away with employing psychopathic procurement managers.

But reputation matters.  Yes, you could be the fisherman that takes every fish out of the sea, but if you want to be able to do that next year, you’d better leave a few behind.  There is always short term gain to be had from counter-parties in a weaker position, but if you let a psychopath exploit that party because they can, your reputation will be mud and you will miss out on the longer term gains that fair dealing and honesty can deliver.

If your procurement manager is in the 20%, then for the sake of your own long-term welfare, make sure you have strong systems in place to ensure they act fairly and honestly or you will ultimately be paying the price.

David Gillespie is a guest speaker at the Big Ideas Summit in Sydney on Tuesday 30th October 2018, where he’ll help delegates understand how to deal with toxic people in the workplace. Interested in attending? Register here: http://www.bigideassummit.com/big-ideas-sydney

How To Tell You’re Working For A Psychopath

Psychopaths are present in every workplace. And the higher you go in the organisation, the more likely you are to encounter one.

Working for a psychopath is no holiday. Here’s how to tell if your boss is one, or just a garden variety bully.

A human resources manager is more likely to know them as sociopaths, micromanagers or workplace bullies. I call them psychopaths, not to insult them or even to suggest that they might be chopping people up for fun, but because they share a common set of character traits with all those personality types and also with criminal psychopaths.

1. They are two-faced

A workplace psychopath has a two-faced nature. One face oozes charm and charisma, while the other is viciously mean. They work very hard at flattering those that have power over them, but present a very different face to the people that work for them. To most of their team they are manipulative and controlling. People who work for a psychopath see this face most of the time.

2. They have a pawn

Psychopaths will also recruit a pawn or two. These are people who the psychopath won’t attack, so long as they do their bidding. Frequently it is the pawn delivering the latest piece of manipulation rather than the psychopath themselves. This allows them to put distance between them and their victims and build in automatic plausible deniability if it goes pear-shaped. “No, Terry-The-Pawn was acting on his own initiative, it was nothing to do with me.”

3. They are excellent liars

They are convincing liars and they lie compulsively, often for no apparent reason. The truth to them is whatever needs to be said at that moment. It is whatever they judge their audience wants to hear. And they will have no compunction aggressively assuring you something happened which you know didn’t, often to the point where you will doubt your own memory.

4. They treat employees as dispensable livestock

They treat most people who work for them as dispensable livestock. And this usually causes the cattle (that would be you) unprecedented levels of stress, frustration and fear. When one victim burns out or leaves, they just move on to the next. They damage the health of individuals and the reputation of the organisation without any regret or shame. The workplace under a psychopath is in constant turmoil. Factions are rife, sick leave sky-rockets, staff turnover becomes endemic and productivity drops like a stone.

5. They can’t take criticism

They react to any criticism with aggressive denial or retaliation. If those aren’t options, usually because the critic has more power than them, they will feign victimhood or blame the victims of their actions. Punishment and threats have absolutely no effect on them. They will keep doing things their way, regardless.

In short, they are the classic malevolent workplace bully. This is not to say that all bullying in the workplace is done by psychopaths. Bosses can be mean but it is the frequency of bullying-type behavior that sets psychopaths apart from an everyday horrible boss.
In 2008, UK researcher Clive Boddy from Middlesex University set out to determine exactly how much workplace bullying was caused by psychopaths.

Boddy took a psychopathic checklist and embedded it in a management survey of Australian middle and senior managers. Almost six per cent of the respondents were working with a corporate psychopath as their current manager and thirty-two percent had worked for a psychopath at some time.

A further eleven per cent of respondents were working with managers who showed some psychopathic traits but were not rated at maximum in all categories.

The respondents also revealed how many times they had experienced bullying. Under normal managers, employees encountered bullying less than once a month (nine times a year), but the moderately psychopathic managers bullied employees more than twice a month (on average twenty-nine times a year), accounting for a twenty-one percent of all bullying. If that manager was a psychopath, the employee experienced bullying more than five times a month on average (64.4 times a year) and this accounted for twenty-six percent of all reported cases of bullying.

This means that, as an employee, you can, and probably will, be bullied in the workplace. If your boss is normal, bullying will happen once every six weeks or so. If you are working for a psychopath it will happen once or twice a week, or more. If the behavior described above is happening all the time then your boss is a psychopath. The bad news is that there are not many good options for solving it.

The exit beckons, but while you wait for the right opportunity, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself and improve your position. Those strategies are the subject of the next part of this series.

David Gillespie is a guest speaker at the Big Ideas Summit in Sydney on Tuesday 30th October 2018, where he’ll help delegates understand how to deal with toxic people in the workplace. Interested in attending? Register here: http://www.bigideassummit.com/big-ideas-sydney