“When you are in workplaces where the person you report to directly is a psychopath, the key again is document, document, document”
Dr Ramani Durvasula
Current employee handbooks, codes of conduct and disciplinary procedures are not clearly enough defined to really effectively manage psychopaths in the workplace, who are masters of manipulation, exploiting grey areas, and throwing others of the scent with misdirection, lying and other tactics.
To effectively ward off psychopaths, workplace conduct policies need to be expressly written with an understanding of how they operate, and to precisely and thoroughly pin down more subtle methods of deceit and manipulation as misconduct.
This will leave psychopaths with far less room to maneuovre and far less grey areas to exploit. Having certain aspects of toxic behavior explicitly defined and pinned down will also make it easier to escalate disciplinary policy to manage psychopaths and other toxic personalities out of the company.
If very clear and precise rules about things like misleading, incomplete communication, lying by ommission and other subtle types of manipulation are clearly written down in company conduct policy, the psychopath has no defence when they are inevitably caught doing it. This makes it easier to escalate disciplinary action against psychopaths who are trying to covertly manipulate and undermine others for their own benefit.
An added bonus to this is that many psychopaths will simply choose to leave a company of it’s own accord when they realize there is a very clearly defined set of rules to clamp down on their attempts to manipulate and deceive.
They are predatory and parasitic characters and won’t change, but will instead go wherever it is easiest to cause trouble. If they leave for another company they are now someone else’s problem and morale in your own company will likely increase as a result.
An Introductory Workplace Policy For Managing Psychopaths
Here is a suggestion of certain rules and procedures which should be written into company conduct policy if it isn’t already, with very careful and precise language designed to capture the subtle ways in which psychopaths often manipulate.
This is only a “starter pack” of suggestions and we welcome any suggestions or additions in the comments or contact form. Our main aim is to close off as many avenues as possible for psychopaths to cause damage in the workplace.
Code of Conduct For Manipulative Behavior and Troublemaking
All of the following behaviors are considered unacceptable by company policy and are punishable by either warning (verbal up written then to final written), disciplinary, and dismissal if members of staff are found to be repeatedly engaging in them. All members of staff are encouraged to document all instances of the following so there is an appropriate record of misconduct.
1. Dishonesty and Lying – all forms of dishonesty and deception. For clarity we want to also offer subdefinitions of different forms of dishonesty to emphasize that all of these behaviors are unacceptable and punishable by the company’s disciplinary policy:
- Lying – straightforward lying to either colleagues or managers, saying things which are not true.
- Lying when confronted – lying when asked a direct question eg. “did you do/say X?” or “did Y happen?”. Giving false statements or information when asked such questions.
- Lying and deception by ommission – lying and misleading not only by what is said but also by what is NOT said. The withholding of pertinent facts regarding situations and people which unnecessarily causes conflicts, misunderstandings or otherwise negatively impacts the company. Also comes under the umbrella of so called “half truths“, where only some, but not all of the relevant information is revealed in a way which misleads.
2. Deception centered around communication – Any kind of misleading or deception of staff or superiors centering around a manipulation of communication. For the sake of clarity and precision we will again break this concept down into several sub-categories:
- Miscommunication – Communicating things improperly in a way which causes conflict, misunderstandings or other problems for staff or the company.
- Incomplete communcation – Communicating only part of the information that is relevant and required in order to complete an objective, understand a scenario, or any other context, which causes misunderstandings, conflict or other problems for staff and/or the company. Again this can come under the definition of “half truths“
- Lack of communication – Not communicating relevant facts or information to staff or superiors which causes misunderstandings, conflicts or other problems for staff and/or the company. For example, where relevant facts are not communicated to an employee which leads him to not perform a task, or perform it incorrectly.
NB. In these cases, motive may sometimes be hard to ascertain; the policy also fully acknowledges that unintentional errors in communication can happen from time to time. Nevertheless we will look at repeated instances of this kind of behavior from an employee, where they are engaging in patterns of communication which appear manipulative and nonsensical and continue to cause issues within the company.
3. “Gas-lighting” – The repeated denial and invalidation of the perceptions of another member of staff when there is clear evidence to back up their perceptions. This includes claiming certain things were done or said when when they were not (or vice versa), and claiming certain things happened when they did not (or vice versa).
Again staff members are encourage to document all relevant events and conversations using notes, saved texts, screenshots etc to allow management to take action against this behavior if reported.
4. Malicious Gossip and Troublemaking – This includes, but is not limited to, any kind of spreading of malicious gossip, false rumors or misleading information about colleagues or superiors which creates conflict, division, misunderstandings or has the effect of isolating one or more employees from their colleagues.
This also comes under the umbrella of any “smear tactics“, where employees engage in the constant covert or overt undermining of another employee’s reputation and credibility to other workers in an attempt to isolate them from any support in case any situations do arise.
A specific example of this is in provoking reactions from colleagues and then gossiping to other employees about these reactions in order to paint the target in a bad light to others and undermine their credibility and support.
Again all employees are encouraged to document all instances of any behavior they suspect to be malicious gossip, “smearing” and troublemaking. With correct documentation, accounts of gossiping can be easily cross referenced and it will become far easier to identify when employees are being manipulated and ser against each other. The troublemaker can then be quickly identified and dealt with through the company’s conduct policy.
5. Breaches of confidentiality – Includes any kind of divulging of information which is meant to be kept strictly confidential. This includes, but is not limited to, details of confidential formal and informal meetings, any minutes taken from such meetings, any concerns raised by employees where confidentiality is requested, and any other information where management request discretion and confidentiality.
We should emphasize that this policy is not at all written with an expectation that psychopaths will actually follow it. In fact, one defining characteristic of psychopaths is that they take pleasure in flagrantly flaunting rules and codes of conduct. It is their way of demonstrating power and staying in control, in their own mind at least.
Rather, it is designed so that when workplace psychopaths inevitably do break these rules, you have a much more clearly and precisely defined set of unacceptable behaviors which you can draw from to escalate disciplinary action against the psychopath to begin the process of managing them out of the company.
We have tried to write the rules in such a way that they capture some of the more commonly used (but also subtle) ways that psychopaths manipulate and cause trouble in the workplace. By pinning down toxic behaviors with more precise language and encouraging thorough documentation of events from your entire workforce, you can definitely make it easier to identify and deal with psychopathic troublemakers in the workplace.
However, it is also important that the company itself actually has an active interest in properly dealing with troublemakers. If there is instead a pervasive “look the other way” culture, where toxic behavior from certain employees is tolerated and overlooked because they are seen to be “doing a good job” or making a lot of money, then it is the company culture itself that is psychopathic as well as individual workers.
The best option in these cases for high quality employees who can see this happening is often to exit the company altogether at the earliest opportunity. See our article on psychopathic companies for more signs to look out for to spot these toxic workplace cultures, where you are often “swimming against the tide” trying to get troublemakers to be properly dealt with.
We welcome any further additions to this draft conduct policy from anyone who has dealt with workplace psychopaths and can further pin down some of the more covert tactics of manipulation they use. Let us know your suggestions in the comments or get in touch through the contact form.