How to recognise the enemy within

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am

One of the surest ways to protect yourself against the workplace psychopath is to learn to recognise them, says psychologist John Clarke. You can spot them by seeing if they conform to the following behaviour patterns and personality traits:

Guiltless The workplace psychopath shows no remorse, conscience or guilt no matter how much they victimise, back-stab or steal credit. They'll tell you what you want to hear and say sorry - but don't be fooled, it's only to get you and the problem off their backs.

Charming They're very good talkers. They can turn on the charm and talk their way out of trouble. They prefer to operate one-on-one and will avoid group meetings. This gives them the power to blame individuals and ensure no-one really knows who's at fault.

Manipulative They figure out the corporate systems and rules and how much they can bend them to their own advantage. At a personal level, they identify a colleague's weaknesses or insecurities. They prey on those weaknesses to get them to victimise other people and complete the psychopath's work for them.

Parasitic They'll steal other people's work and ideas and sit back and take the credit.

Pathological liar The workplace psychopath isn't a particularly good liar and their stories will often contain inconsistencies. However, they're such good talkers that people don't often spot the lies - and even when they do the psychopath can usually talk their way out of trouble.

Promiscuous According to Clarke, psychopaths are often promiscuous and will be the ones who are always having affairs with colleagues.

Intimidating Psychopaths only experience primary emotions (happiness, sadness, anger), but can mimic other ones. They also shift between emotions quickly and intimidate people by victimising individually.

Experts in impression management One way to identify a psychopath is to survey the people who work below, at the same level and above them, says Clarke. 'Where you have different opinions coming across, that's where you have impression management happening and you should start to look at this person and see what's going on there.'

Modus operandi They make friends with someone high up who can protect them. They undermine their boss, while at the same time being friendly towards them. They spread rumours. They tell senior people their boss is inadequate until the boss is forced to leave, or they're promoted to an equal position. This is how they advance, until they have enough power so there's no-one senior who can stop them.