When your boss is almost a psychopath

Or your doctor wants to have sex or your caregiver weasels her way into your will…

by Julia McKinnell

When your boss is almost a psychopath

CJ Burton/CORBIS

Forensic psychiatrist Ronald Schouten defines an “almost psychopath” as someone who has an unusual amount of difficulty knowing how to treat people. “Long before you get to the full-blown diagnosis (of psychopathy), there’s lots of bad stuff that goes on.”

Schouten, who has degrees in law and medicine, assesses “almost psychopaths” in his daily work. He’s co-authored a guidebook, along with former defence attorney Jim Silver, called Almost a Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know) Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy? It helps identify the “almost psychopath” in your midst, whether it’s your boss, doctor or caregiver.

Schouten estimates 10 to 15 per cent of people exhibit psychopathic traits, “traits that may actually help an individual become a well-regarded member of society,” the authors write. “A superficially charming and engaging personality combined with a ruthless willingness to do ‘whatever it takes to get the job done’ can be extremely useful in high-stakes pressure-filled environments.”

If you’re wondering if your own charm and ruthlessness places you somewhere on the psychopathy spectrum, the authors explain it’s not likely. “If last week you took credit for a co-worker’s success and in retrospect feel guilty about it, you are probably not an “almost psychopath”. Emotional discomfort is not something a psychopath would feel. An “almost psychopath” would likely feel deserving of the unwarranted praise and would see the hapless co-worker whose thunder he stole as a weak person who isn’t worthy of the credit anyway.”

“Almost psychopaths” are drawn to power “like sharks are drawn to chum.” They target the vulnerable and show a profound lack of empathy for others’ feelings.

Watch out at work, the authors warn. On the phone from his office in Boston, Schouten describes the real life case of “Greta,” an “almost psychopath” whose science degree and M.B.A. landed her a job at a top consultancy firm where “she ‘managed-up’ very well, winning over the senior partners of the firm.” Greta’s underlings were less charmed. She treated support staff terribly, made unreasonable demands, and pointed out her superior education.

The authors recommend confronting the person and stating your issues assertively. Avoid using apologetic words such as, “Maybe I’m too sensitive, but . . . .’ ” That language “always puts you one down in addressing a conflict, and for an “almost psychopath,” that show of weakness can be like blood in the water to a shark.”

If confrontation fixes nothing, file a report with human resources. “Framing your concerns in the context of the welfare of the organization rather than saying, ‘She’s picking on me,’ goes a long way toward establishing your reasonableness.” The key point is to get your concerns on the radar of management. “Even if the conclusion is that nothing can be done right now, there will be a track record and eventually it will catch up with the Gretas of the world.”

For the “almost psychopath” doctor, the end goal is usually sex with a patient. “If something sort of tingles and you go, ‘Hey, wait a second!’ you owe it to yourself to pay attention to that,” urges Schouten. He advises patients to research a doctor’s medical credentials. Next, check the diplomas on the doctor’s wall. “If the diploma says they went to Harvard but the web page says they went to the University of Southern Wherever, there’s a problem.”

The elderly are particularly vulnerable to the “almost psychopathic” caregiver. “In the cartoon version, the patient has died and changed their will in the last four weeks. They’ve cut out the charity, left a pittance to the family, and left it all to the young housekeeper,” the authors write. “It’s funny in the cartoons but it really does happen. Tell a relative or friend, ‘Hey, there’s this new person in my life and suddenly the relationship is ramping up. Now she’s bringing her daughter around and I’m becoming an industry for the entire family.’ ” In the end, “there are no great answers,” laments Schouten. “Get other people involved.”




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When your boss is almost a psychopath

  1. This comment was deleted.

    • Go buy an ad.

  2. Agreed. People think psychopaths are axe-murderers….but they can just as easily be CEOs or bankers or doctors….and never get ‘caught’, even though they do tremendous damage.

    As this article states their mental state actually helps get them ahead in our society.

    • It says a lot about what’s wrong with our society, doesn’t it?

      I personally think anyone who wants to be in any position of public authority or trust – government, doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc. – should have to be thoroughly tested for these personality traits and permanently denied any of these types of jobs. They should also be permanently branded with their diagnosis so that any future employer, friend, etc., can easily find out about it.

      That might sound expensive and complicated to do, but I guarantee that it’s cheaper and less complicated than dealing with the financial and social costs of having them run around unchecked.

      Figuring out how best to deal with psychopaths and almost-psychopaths is one of the major challenges that we face as a society. The answers might not be pretty, but the damage these people do is too great for us to ignore it.

      • Yeah, competitive to the point of illness is not a good kind of society…..and I also agree we need to test for these things. We don’t even follow up on things we do notice….like someone who abuses animals….harming the powerless, and yet we’ve seen the progression to harming humans many times.

        Mental illness…and this lack of empathy….is our biggest problem really, yet we do nothing to solve it….certainly giving someone a jail term doesn’t do anything.

  3. Dimon, Blankfiend, etc etc…. It doesn’t really matter if you do your own wet work like a Whitey Bulger, the key here is that a total lack of empathy allows these creatures to kill at will- whether it’s killing a wittness or stealing pensions the result is the same.

    The fact that total psychos have a leg up in such a sick society should be news to no one.

  4. Actually there is one simple solution… run away!

  5. Snakes in suits is another good read, but it does focus on psychopaths in the workplace

  6. The threat of psychopaths is often overhyped in the media. You know what usually happens to people who have no conscience or fellow feeling for others? They spend their time doing drugs and drawing dicks on things, and usually wind up in prison. If you don’t have a social conscience and feelings of obligation or guilt, most of the time you don’t amount to anything.

    Shark-like and predatory yes, but hardly masterminds.

    • No, that’s what usually happens to dumb people without conscience or fellow feeling. And smart or dumb has no correlation to conscience/fellow feeling.

  7. You have to get good at identifying almost psychopaths at work. The only way I’ve been able to do it is see how they treat the “weak” people in the office. The best thing to do is avoid them, if you have to interact with an almost psychopath be direct, keep your sentences short tell the nothing about yourself and don’t take what they say to you personally. Always keep your calm. ALWAYS. Then get out of there as fast as you can.

  8. a good read on this is Snakes in Suits: When psychopaths go to work

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