This is a crucial point to make that would have made so many people’s experiences with psychopaths in the workplace make more sense if they had known it at the time and not afterwards. Psychopaths are constantly working, from day one, to undermine and target those they see as a threat in the workplace.
A great two sentence summary on this comes from the an excellent article on psychopaths manipulating on the lovefraud.com website. Here is their way of putting it:
“Psychopaths smear their accuser/target.
If that’s you, they ruin your credibility, often starting the smear campaign long before you even realize what they’ve done to you. When everything blows up, you have no support.”
This is a fantastic way of summarizing one of the main manipulative tactics of a psychopath. Any high quality person who enters a company and works with or under a psychopath can be assured that they will have clocked you as a threat right away from day one, and will be working overtime, right from the start, to undermine you. In obvious ways and subtle, in overt ways and covert ways.
In the words of another fantastic essay on psychopaths and parasitic personalities in general, “They have secretly bookmarked a long list of your would-be infractions to deftly and ruthlessly use against you when the time comes”
This can be difficult to grasp for many of us who are basically kind and good natured people and want to assume the same about everyone else. We don’t make it our mission in life to scheme against others and would not like to think others do either. Sadly, these people exist and will be working from day one to smear and undermine anyone they see as a target or threat.
Sadly, when a situation does blow up and you find management and colleagues siding with the psychopath and not with you, then you will realize the game they have been playing all along, subtly undermining you in the eyes of others, putting ideas in their head over a long period of time so that you have no support or credibility left if something does blow up.
The difficulty good people have in believing that people are motivated in this way, plus the very clever two faced act that psychopaths often put up to deceive you – see below for more on this – means that we too often don’t realize what has been going on until it is far too late and there is no coming back. You cannot win playing politics against a psychopath who has been practising manipulating all their life and has been scheming against you since day one behind your back.
“It’s called the smear campaign and it started even before your breakup or the blowup in a work situation…What they’re doing is provoking reactions from you and then sneaking around the sharing those reactions with people to slowly show this person is going “crazy”….
That smear campaign is about turning people against you, even your own friends, so you have no support after it’s done”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here
Common Tactics of Manipulation
It is all very well saying the psychopaths are out to target those they see as a threat in the workplace from day one, but how exactly do they do this? Here are some of the more common tactics they will use to undermine and smear an employee to other colleagues to isolate them and undermine their credibility over time:
- Telling lies – just simply sayings things which aren’t true about the person, including spreading false rumours and gossip, saying things happened or were said when they didn’t. Psychopaths are often brazen and have no problem telling flat out lies.
- Misinformation and deception – more subtle but using a combination of tactics which may not be outright lies but paint a false picture of the person to others. This also includes however deception by omission – painting a false picture by only providing certain information or feedback but conveniently omitting other relevant facts. Deception by what is not said as much as what is said – half truths, misleading accounts, incomplete information and so on.
- Constant exaggeration and misrepresentation of facts, conversations and events regarding the target which again paints a false picture of the person to other workers. Making a big deal out of small non events and turning them into big dramas. Exaggerated accounts of how the person was “kicking off” or “yelling” when they weren’t for example. The psychopath will relentlessly do this over time to try and paint the person in a bad light to others.
- Giving false or biased feedback to higher level managers regarding the person which paints and inaccurate or misleading picture of them to upper management. This is setting them up so that if something does blow up, the upper management are less likely to side with the target, since the psychopath has been putting ideas in their head about the person from very early on.
- Layering on top of all this manipulation a brazen two facedness, where they are beaming, kind and warm to the target’s face, whilst they are engaged in all this scheming behind their back. This throws the unsuspecting victim off the scent so they don’t realize what has been going on until something blows up and it is far too late to fight back, since the psychopath has so badly damaged their reputation in the eyes of others.
See also our draft workplace conduct policy for protecting against psychopaths, where we have written a conduct policy with the purpose of very precisely capturing and pinning down some of these more subtle manipulative tactics psychopaths use, so that action can be taken against people you catch using these methods to undermine others.
What To Do About It
For some solid advice on this, and on the topic of psychopaths in general, we can really find no better resource than the MedCircle series of videos on the topic, most especially the one on workplace psychopathy by Dr Ramani Durvasula. There is a subscription charge involved to get access to these videos but the cost is well worth it in our opinion as Dr Ramani is an excellent resource on the topic.
One excellent quote from Ramani puts the entire issue of psychopaths in the workplace in perspective – they are always well ahead of the game in terms of manipulation, backstabbing and bad mouthing you to others. Here is how she puts it in episode 4 of the premium series:
“What you don’t want to do is gossip about the psychopath because they’re better at that than you are. They’re already stabbing you in the back…way ahead of you. They’re going to play this game way better than you so you’re best off trying to play a clean game rather than trying to beat them at their own game”.
Dr Ramani Durvasula
So here she is echoing the quote we used at the top from lovefraud.com – the psychopath is well ahead of the game in terms of politics, backstabbing and infighting so “don’t even go there” is the most common advice from the experts. You will never out-manipulate a lifelong manipulator.
Here are some of the other good points Dr Ramani makes in the series:
- Too often toxic characters are tolerated, allowed to fester and even protected in workplaces because they are seen to be making a lot of money for the company.
- Before attempting to confront or report a psychopath in the workplace, it is very important to assess the culture of the company, decide where your concerns will actually be listened to and acted on and pick your battles wisely. If the entire culture of the company is toxic and not just one individual then it is best to leave altogether.
- Psychopaths thrive under division, infighting and backstabbing – it diverts attention away from them.
- The idea of the “clean workplace” which properly deals with these toxic characters no matter how profitable they are unfortunately doesn’t hold true much of the time.
- The most toxic companies will make the entire process of reporting and confronting a workplace psychopath traumatic for the person, adding to the distress they have already experienced working under them. Sometimes it may not be worth it.
- Never “get down in the mud” with psychopaths and complain about them on social media or other public spaces. This can get you in trouble. Relates to the point above about a psychopath being ahead of the game in terms of backstabbing.
- Simply document everything in terms of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct and work on finding somewhere else.