Psychopaths are everywhere: how to deal with them at work

Behavourial pychologist Charlotte Austin-Talbot hosted the latest NABS Tuesday Club Talk at Facebook London. She gives her view on how to work well with psychopaths.

One in 25 people is a psychopath
One in 25 people is a psychopath

Usually when we hear the word psychopath it conjures up ideas of violent killers, criminal master minds and sinister characters. But how often have you used this word to describe a colleague, someone you like, or even love? I know I’ve rolled my eyes behind his back and called my husband a ‘psycho’ more than once!

Psychopaths manipulate, lie and change their story a lot

The confusion surrounding the disorder is largely due to misrepresentation, where the term is used as an equivalent to ‘insane’ or ‘crazy’. Actually the word ‘psycho’ is common in much of our daily language. We use it so often to describe people who are unlike us, or who we perceive as being morally questionable, difficult or just an arsehole. 

Not all psychopaths are arseholes and not all arseholes are psychopaths

Everyday psychopaths are everywhere. They’re business people, parents, policemen, lawyers. Some experts believe that one in twenty five people is a psychopath and our industry is crawling with them.

But what is it that attracts them to the marketing and media industry? Everyday psychopaths tend to flock towards industries where they have control of people or interact within a fast paced space, as they can easily hide and their erratic behaviour seems more acceptable.

Remember, when they are shouting at you, manipulating or upsetting you, it has got nothing to do with you

There are many traits that contribute to making someone a psychopath; pathological lying, a lack of empathy, superficial charm and a parasitic lifestyle are just a few of these.

These negative traits can be a burden for those who have to work with, and under these psychopaths. Understanding how you can deal with these people can often be key to your mental health and wellbeing at work. So what can you do when confronted daily by the prospect of being the victim of a psychopath?

How to deal with psychopaths

The first thing to remember when dealing with a psychopath is not to take their behaviour personally. They behave the way they do because they lack the ability to be reasonable and rational. So, remember, when they are shouting at you, manipulating or upsetting you, it has got nothing to do with ‘you’. When you realise they would be doing this to whoever happened to be in front of them at the time, it will help you to remain emotionally detached and it will be less upsetting. 

Build your resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult situations. It means being flexible and adaptable to change and uncomfortable circumstances. The more often you can set yourself little challenges which cause you to move outside of your comfort zone, the better. This will mean that you will become desensitised to being outside of your comfort zone, so when a psychopathic boss throws a challenge at you, you will be used to feeling out of your normal comfort zone and you’ll be able to adapt and respond quickly. 

Psychopaths manipulate, lie and change their story a lot. So ask them to be specific with their examples e.g. When they say "You don't have a clue what you’re doing" or "You’re an idiot" ask them to give a specific example of what they mean or an example of how they would prefer you to act.

How to communicate with psychopaths

They will be forced to focus on facts, which they find difficult to do. Communicating with psychopaths in this way causes them to attempt to become rational… and you will have peace of mind, knowing that you behaved in a reasonable way toward someone who has psychological and emotional challenges.

When we can genuinely understand another person, then we can learn how to live and work with them in the most peaceful and productive way possible, even if they’re a psycho! 

Whenever I catch a whiff of a psychopath, I always go back to a famous quote from Abraham Lincoln; "I don’t like that man; I must get to know him better".

NABS hosts monthly Tuesday Club Talks for the advertising and media industry, which are free to attend for NABS Partner Cardholders. For more information, please visit nabs.org.uk/partner-cards/tuesday-club-talks.html

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