Remember, only roughly 1 in a 100 is the real deal, but that doesn’t mean those with lower scores on the psychopathic checklist don’t play some of the same games…just not as well!
“So once hired, how can psychopaths mask their self-centered, manipulative, and irresponsible traits? The answer lies in their ability to create…the psychopathic fiction, a story about themselves that fulfills the requirement and expectations of the company…
The chameleon may mimic a leaf but does not turn into one. The resemblance is strictly on the surface and designed (instinctually in the lizard, cognitively in psychopaths) to offer protection while “hunting” and scanning for chances to take advantage of the situation.”
Psychopaths need to complete 5 tasks to fulfill their ‘potential,’ They also need a supporting cast: Pawns, Patrons, and Patties…
Task 1: Assess the Organization and Its Members
“…Corporate psychopaths use the early months of employment to study, understand, and ultimately penetrate organizational barriers by identifying key players, analyzing the personalities of potentially useful coworkers. They meet as many people as they can, spreading positive first impressions about themselves and collecting as much information about coworkers as possible…
Assess the power base…
When people’s value is based on where they fit into the organizational hierarchy is referred to as position power. Their technical abilities define the expert power, their access to information, knowledge power, and whether they control staff, money, and other assets, resource power. Another important type is informal power, which is the ability to influence what is going on without the official title to do so. Seasoned managers know who the informal leaders are in their organization and will often engage them in their own efforts to manage the entire group. Almost instinctively, corporate psychopaths find these individuals and build strong relationships with them with the intent of using them…
Being on the early part of the learning curve insulates new employees from organizational criticism as they move about freely… Relying on organizational naivete during this period, a clever and motivated psychopath can approach individuals in power whom others with more seniority are too timid to approach…Starting in the elevators and hallways, and landing eventually in their offices, psychopaths begin to introduce themselves to key managers and executives, brazenly disregarding the chain of command…
A talented corporate psychopath easily comes across to executives as an ambitious, enthusiastic player. To coworkers and peers, he comes across as a likable person, perhaps a bit narcissistic or manipulative, but friendly, open, and honest nonetheless. Whether one is an informal leader, a power holder, or a regular employee, it is quite refreshing to meet a charismatic new employee who expresses a desire to become an accepted member of the team or displays respect and admiration.
Psychopaths are not the only new employees who try to understand and make use of the sociopolitical structure of the company; of course, almost all new employees do. However, psychopaths do so with very little intent of actually delivering a work product to the company commensurate with the salary they receive. In addition, their emotional poverty does not support allegiance or loyalty to the company or their coworkers, although they can speak the necessary words to indicate intense loyalty to the firm.
Identify Pawns and Patrons
…The first goal in creating the psychopathic fiction is to identify potential ‘Pawns,’ or those individuals who have something the psychopath wants. There can be many pawns in an organization, all identified for the specific resources they can potentially provide…
Further down the road, when psychopaths need a resource, they will manipulate the pawns to get it or simply ask directly. Asking for favors of ‘friends’ and never actually replaying is a surprisingly common technique used. Many pawns are so enamored by the psychopath’s persona that they give him or her whatever is needed, however inappropriate or outrageous the request.
Psychopaths also cultivate support from a small group of high-level individuals with only limited dealings with the psychopathic subordinate, but who accept the persona they perceive and the reputation they only heard about in the grapevine. Despite the limited exposure, the psychopath orchestrates each interaction so well, and fosters such positive impressions, that these high-level supporters begin to advocate for the subordinate…Why would seemingly astute business people take such a strong position in favor of a lower-level employee when they admittedly had only occasional interaction with him or her? We believe that the fictional ‘ideal employee and future leader’ persona was so convincing that many members of the management team were readily charmed…
Patrons are influential executives who take talented employees ‘under their wing’ and help them progress through the organization. Once this patronage is established, it is difficult to overcome. With a patron on their side, psychopaths could do almost no wrong. Powerful organizational patrons (unwittingly) protect and defend psychopaths from the criticism of others. These individuals would eventually provide a strong voice in support of the psychopath’s career advancement.
Psychopaths eventually establish large networks of personal and, when possible, intimate relationships, all supporting the fictional persona of the ideal coworker and future leader. During this phase, the psychopath identifies the pieces on the playing board as pawns (those the psychopath will manipulate) and as patrons (those who will unwittingly protect the psychopath).
Task 2. Manipulate Management and Coworkers
The Manipulation phase forms the great bulk of the daily organizational existence of psychopaths…
The ultimate goal of their game is to set up a scam within the organization’s structure that can fulfill their need for excitement, advancement, and power – all without concern about harmful outcomes to others. The fast-paced manipulation of coworkers, executives, vendors, or customers satisfies the psychopath’s thrill-seeking and game-playing. Winning almost always involves financial, and power rewards, such as a steady paycheck for work rarely completed and promotions into increasing levels of authority. It can include derailing the careers of coworkers up to and including their unjust termination.
Manipulation Hearts And Minds
Many psychopaths appear to be masters at understanding human psychology and at finding and exploiting the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of others.
For example, this can include getting the coworkers to do their work and to give them access to useful information and powerful individuals – executives PAs, for example…
Psychopaths identify and use informal leaders to support their quest for status and power.” They will both get access to and use a company’s rumor mill.
“Interestingly, those who believe they are smarter and more talented than others are the most surprised to learn that they have been psychologically manipulated….this really plays into the hands of the psychopath…
Low-utility Observer: The Extras
Not everyone whom psychopaths meet interests them. Many coworkers and managers have little to offer in the way of influence, assets, or potential support. By virtue of being ignored, these individuals are in a good position to see what is really going on. One group, the Extras, worked with or near the psychopaths and noticed inconsistencies, lies, and distortions of the truth. They were able, on some level, to see behind the mask; the psychopathic fiction failed to take them in. Unfortunately, few brought their concerns to the victims or to management; they did not speak up. Reasons for this silence most often included ‘I’m minding my own business,’ ‘No one would listen to me,’ and ‘It’s not my place to intervene.’ In rare cases, some expressed the attitude that ‘if management is dumb enough to fall for this, they deserve what they get.’ Others stated that the individual was far too influential for them to cross; these observers preferred to stay out of the line of fire.
‘I think none of us wanted – to call her on her lies. For a time, she was entertaining.’
Organizational Police: The Antagonists
Every organization has some policing roles: HR, Security, Auditing/Finance, and Quality Control. “They are necessary to the smooth running of any organization, but they pose a threat to corporate psychopaths, who try to avoid them as long as they can. Although they were few in number and rarely interacting on a daily basis with the psychopath, we found that these staff members were particularly astute when it came to their suspicions… We believe that by being on the lookout for deceitful and possibly illegal behavior, such as lying, cheating, bullying, and stealing, these individuals have the ability to uncover psychopathic manipulation early on. Unfortunately, in at least some of the cases we reviewed, the organizational police were unable to effect much improvement. Beyond making known their observations, collecting information on violations of company policy, and raising issues about ‘questionable’ interpersonal behavior, some could not influence management decisions… Without top management support, organizational police are often unable to uncover and handle the corporate psychopath’s sub-criminal behavior.
Red Flag: Discrepant Views
The most striking thing about these and other cases was the mixed reactions of the corporate psychopath’s coworkers. In every case, we found a strong discrepancy in the perceptions between those who viewed their actions in a very positive, favorable light and those who saw them in a negative light. …the psychopaths were effectively balancing the discrepant views of their coworkers, and relying on consistent charm, occasional intimidation, the basic trusting nature of people, the frequent organizational changes to maintain their psychopathic fiction in the eyes of those who mattered most. On one side, the supporters (labeled Pawns and Patrons) felt that they were valuable contributors to the success of the organization, that is, team players and solid corporate citizens. On the other hand, detractors (labeled Extra and Organizational Police) reported all manner of underhanded, deceitful, manipulative behavior by the same individuals…
Clearly, the detractors despised these individuals, and the supporters almost worshipped them. It was as if employees were describing two entirely different people to us. In a great number of these situations, it seemed that the psychopath could switch from warm and friendly to cold, distant, and almost hostile depending on with whom they were interacting.
Task 3: Abandon the No-Longer Useful – Patsies
Because psychopaths no longer need to maintain the façade for individuals whose utility is spent, they generally will abandon them…. In both the social sense – the psychopath no longer associates with them – and the psychological sense – the friendship generated as part of the psychopathic bond turns cold. Nevertheless, because the psychopath is working in an organization and cannot run away from the scene of the crime, abandonment becomes starkly obvious to those affected, as well as to those around them. This dramatic shift from friendly coworker to cold, dispassionate stranger affect victims in predictable ways: they frequently question their own behavior first, blaming themselves for the changes they are now sensing in the psychopath. ‘what did I do?’ is a common self-doubt. Although victims may not yet understand what happened, they begin to see glimmers of the true psychopathic personality – a realization that we understand is ‘chilling.’
Eventually, pawns realize that they have been patsies all along. They feel cheated, defiled, and often incredulous that the person they liked and trusted betrayed that trust. Moreover, we found, it was not always over major things that the truth dawned. It was sometimes only a small incident that changed their perception enough so that the true nature of the ‘snake’ in their midst became evident. However, embarrassment and shame often keep them from coming forward….This response, of course, plays into the hands of the psychopath…
Task 4: Confrontation
Over time, the constant need to manage the growing discrepancy in the views of them by a large number of fellow employees challenges the manipulation skills of psychopaths. We believe that a breakdown begins to occur when the psychopath’s web of deceit and manipulation becomes unwieldy and too many people have had glimpses of his dark side. Eventually, someone tries to do something about it. Former pawns might challenge or confront the psychopath and perhaps even try to bring the situation to the attention of higher-ups. Unfortunately, by this time, the psychopath has positioned himself so well through the influence networks already established with the power hierarchy that he turns the tables on the complaining employee: their credibility is ‘managed’ and their attempt to reveal the psychopath preempted.
This has an intimidating effect on bystanders in two ways. Those working with the defeated employee see the demoralizing effects up close and conclude it is not worth fighting the psychopath. Others may assume that the company has selected the psychopath for future leadership roles and can do no wrong, and is therefore immune to attack. They have come to believe that this person cannot be challenged and is protected by upper management. Some might conclude that the management team is not as astute as once thought… As the psychopath neutralizes rivals and detractors, he is free to continue operations unchallenged.
Given the above scenario, one might predict that eventually, the psychopath would fail, that they would be uncovered, that they would offend the wrong person, and that the organization would remove them before they did great psychological and financial harm. This did not happen. Most of the ones we have studied over the years still enjoy successful careers in their original organizations. The few exceptions have left their companies for larger jobs in other companies – some of them competitors. Unfortunately, the companies reorganized many innocent victims out of their jobs, derailed their careers, or had them leave in disgust.
Task 5: Ascend
Corporate psychopaths are able to build careers that lead them to increasingly higher-level positions in the organization. This need not be the CEO’s job, of course, but one position that often is immediately attractive is one occupied by their patron.
The Ascension can take place once the psychopath’s manipulation network has expanded to include the whole power structure of the organization and all key players are in his or her corner. Almost simultaneously, and seemingly overnight to the victim, the entire power structure shifts its support away from the patron and over to the psychopath, who moves up into the now-deposed patron’s position. The one high-power and high-status patron, who protected the psychopath from doubts and accusations, and who facilitated fast promotions…finds himself or herself betrayed. Sadly, the patron becomes the patsy, losing organizational status and often his or her job to the psychopath.
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