19. More Bad Behaviour in the Work Place

(office psychopaths, alphas, narcissistic managers, jerks, etc)


. Office undesirables or misfits include the following personality types

- psychopaths (cold & ruthless),

- alpha-males/females (domineering)

- narcissists (me, me, me types)

- machiavellis (compulsive game players)

- sadist (derives pleasure from humiliating and/or hurting others)

These are a very low % of the general population but higher % at the top of organisations

. Some traits associated with poor behaviour include anxiety, aggression, dominance, emotional instability, primal trauma, passive-aggression, type A behaviour, needful control, neuroticism, narcissism, paranoia, etc

. Some of the justifications for accepting bad behaviours in organisations are

- cliches like "winning is everything; it is the only thing; second-place means being the first loser"

- justifications such as "these people have extraordinary talents". Sometimes they are described as "talented jerk; brilliant bastard; a jerk but a superstar". It appears

"...if you are a really big winner, you can get away with being a real big asshole..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

. Alpha males are usually direct, aggressive, abrasive and intelligent. When pursuing rapid change, they do not suffer fools gladly. They demand accountability and can become intimidating if people don't get quick results. Sometimes they are physically big which can add to the intimidation impact. At the same time, they can be very compassionate and caring.

- they possess some characteristics of successful managers, ie

i) emotional detachment in decision-making

ii) remain calm under intense pressure

iii) they get things done, etc

Being a jerk will most likely not be beneficial in the long term, especially if you have to deal with the same people many times.

On the other hand, there are 4 situations where these characteristics are helpful

i) if their work involves once-only encounter in which reputational blow-back has minimal impact

ii) immediately after a group has formed but its hierarchy has not become established

iii) when a group's survival is in question & immediate action is essential, such as when Steve Jobs was invited back into Apple.

iv) an obvious benefit of this aggressive management style is that staff members often leave quicker and it is more cost effective, ie those who resigned due to the unpleasant workplace environment. It cost less to pay out than someone who takes redundancy or is fired.

. But bad behaviour creates an unfriendly workplace with a culture of fear and intimidation

. Past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour, ie if a bully now, most likely will be a bully in later life

Office psychopaths

. Psychopaths are very different in real life from how they are portrayed in movies, ie homicidal maniacs or sexual deviants, etc. Furthermore, they are not the manager who sometimes loses it.

"...psychologists make the distinction between states (fleeting feelings, thoughts, and actions) and traits (injuring personality characteristics) by looking for consistency across places and times - if someone consistently takes actions that leave a trail of victims in the wake, they deserve to be branded as certified assholes..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

We all have the potential to act like psychopaths etc when placed under pressure.

. They are estimated to comprise around 3% in the adult male population and less than 1% in the adult female population.

. They are hard to spot as they are like chameleons, ie have the cunning ability to act perfectly normally and be very charming while wreaking havoc around them. Their defining characteristics are

"...polish, charm, cool decisiveness, and fondness for the fast lane ‐ which are easily, and often, mistaken for leadership qualities. But along with their charisma come the traits that make psychopaths so destructive: they are cunning, manipulative, untrustworthy, unethical, parasitic and utterly remorseless..."

Gardiner Morse, 2004

They lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, victimize and destroy co-workers; all without any guilt or remorse

. Their quest for money, power, status and advancement at work operates without a conscience. They are very manipulative and show a lack of empathy, fear, guilt or remorse throughout their careers. "Breaking the rules" and "pushing the envelope" are acceptable human behaviours to them. Furthermore, they will do almost anything to undermine a colleague and in an underhand way that is hard to identify. As Robert Sutton (2007) observed some of the most common everyday actions that these offenders perform include

- personal insults

- invading one's 'personal territory'

- uninvited physical contact, threats and assaults

- intimidation (verbal and non-verbal)

- 'sarcastic jokes' and 'teasing' used as insults

- withering e-mail

- status slaps intended to humiliate victims

- public shaming or status-degrading rituals

- rude interruptions

- two-faced attacks

- dirty looks or glaring

- treating people as if they are invisible, ie the silent treatment

- obscene gestures

- swearing

- yelling and shouting

- temper tantrums

- vicious rumours and gossip

- sexist and racists remarks

NB Even though swearing is denounced as undesirable. Studies show

"...People who swear can seem more honest, credible and persuasive..."
Pilita Clark 2019

Context is important, ie swearing at a jammed printer is more acceptable than doing it to another person.

Swearing is not necessarily an obstacle to career success. Some examples

- JPMorgan Chase boss (Jamie Dimon)

- Boris Johnson (UK's Prime Minister)

- Bob Hawke (ex-Australian Prime Minister)

It is claimed that the average Briton swears 14 times a day

. It is felt that psychopaths are becoming more common in business as they are attracted to the pace and volatility of today's workplace, ie competitive behaviour, win-at-all costs attitude, risk taking etc. They tend to gravitate to positions of power. Furthermore, many organisations unwittingly nurture them

"...Organisational psychopaths thrive in the corporate world where their ruthlessness and desire to succeed is not only mistaken as ambition and good leadership skills, but is rewarded with promotion, bonuses and pay-rises......They say things like: ' you know you are the best, you are able to influence people, you are determined to win at all costs for the organisation'. These sorts of statements appeal to a lot of people, but are particularly appealing to the psychopath......They are all out for themselves..."

John Clarke has quoted by Hazel Parry, 2007

"... a psychopath shows an abnormal lack of empathy, combined with strongly amoral conduct, masked by an ability to appear outwardly normal..."

Fiona Smith, 2010l

. They psychologically destroy their victims by befriending them and at the same time undermining them. For those targeted by psychopaths, the consequences can be devastating, ie

"...they take away people belief in themselves and their abilities. They take away their trust in other people......the victim becomes cold, cynical, bitter and almost unable to function..."

John Clarke as quoted by Hazel Parry, 2007

Furthermore, it is very hard to change psychopaths; attempts to rehabilitate them invariably make them worse.

"... they don't care. They don't think of themselves as psychopaths. They don't think they're doing wrong. They just think they are smart and if everyone else had the same intelligence, they would do the same thing......when you rehabilitate them, you teach them social skills and show them how to deal with people appropriately. They will then use these social skills to better manipulate people..."

John Clarke as quoted by Hazel Parry, 2007

. Psychopaths are characterised as people without fear, conscience or empathy; they are manipulative ego-centrics with superficial charm, anti-social behaviour and a lack of remorse. There are functional and dysfunctional psychopaths.

. Psychopathic personalities are suited to some professions that require the ability to be calm under pressure and to make decisions without the complications of emotions ‐ for example, surgeons, firefighters, soldiers, many senior managers, etc. Surgeons feel no compassion for the patient they are operating on; it is a luxury they cannot afford, ie

"... In the theatre I am reborn, as a cold, heartless machine, totally at one with scalpel, drill and saw. When you are cutting loose and cheating death high above the snow line of the brain, feelings aren't fit for purpose..."

Dr James Geraghty as quoted by Kevin Dutton, 2013

. Profiles of hero populations show that they all rank higher than normal on fearlessness, emotional attachment and dominance.

. The business world also rewards psychopathic behaviour. Many top managers display more psychopathic traits that inmates in psychiatric wards!!!!! It appears that some combination of these traits can help with success in business, ie emotional detachment in decision-making, remain calm under intense pressure, etc and they get things done.

. Some researchers (e.g. Dutton, 2012) people think that the world is becoming more psychopathic. This is linked with the decline in reading fiction as this teaches us to empathise, ie put yourself in others' shoes, in a manner that movies and electronic games cannot replicate.

. According to John Clarke (2007), some signs to be alert to in identifying psychopathic behaviour are

- guiltless (the workplace psychopath shows no remorse, no matter how much they victimize, back-stab or steal credit)

- charming: (they are very good talkers. They prefer to operate one-on-one and will avoid group meetings)

- manipulative (they bend the corporate systems and the rules for their own advantage. They prey on people's weaknesses, particularly low self-esteem)

- parasitic (they take credit for others' work)

- pathological liars (the workplace psychopath is not a good liar. However, when discovered, they can talk their way out of trouble)

- erratic (psychopaths only experience primary emotions - happiness, sadness, anger. They will also shift between emotions very quickly: one minute being happy, the next being angry, etc)

. Some suggestions for handling psychopaths at work are

- make it easy for staff to express concerns about colleagues, such as an anonymous tip line. As a psychopath's mask will often come off in front of staff, staff will identify the psychopath's game before management is able to

- thoroughly cross-check your impressions of the organisation's high-potential staff with other staff, as psychopaths will tell different stories to different people

- be self-aware, ie a psychopath will manipulate you by exploiting personal weaknesses


. There are 4 main types of alphas, ie business commanders, visionaries, strategists and executors. The key core traits are

"...dominant high achievers who want to take charge; they are charismatic, aggressive, competitive, bold, creative, persistent and tenacious. They also have a strong appetite for change, a far-sighted and spot problems..."

Catherine Fox, 2006h

. Furthermore, they possess

"...courageous leadership, goal-driven focus, their unwavering sense of responsibility, and all the other qualities they bring to bear when they roll up their sleeves and take charge. At their best, alphas are world beaters..."

Ludeman et al as quoted by Catherine Fox, 2006h

. On the other hand, they can be disastrous, ie

"...commanders try to win points and generate fear; visionaries are over-confident, ignore input and spin the truth; strategists being are opinionated, smug, arrogant and can't admit mistakes; and executors set unreasonable expectations, micro-manage and are overly critical..."

Catherine Fox, 2006h

An interesting case study of a group of alpha males are financial traders. Traders peer at their computer screens following & participating the money flow. They suffer from anxiety and testosterone-driven bravado. Based on the findings of neuroscience, there is a need to rewire these traders' brains so that their natural survival instinct is replaced by a probabilistic mindset that replaces their illusion of control with better judgment, ie

"...it is really hard from a biological stand-point being an alpha guy, to give up control. They need to recognise that you cannot control outcomes but you can learn to control the mind you bring to execute (trades). That's the edge..."
Rande Howell as quoted by Jonathan Shapiro, 2015
It can take years for a trader to understand this. Most successful traders are "steady as you goes" types and   realise the importance of emotional logic with knowledge, ie linking the left (logic) and right brain (intuition) activities. Also, the skills needed to be a good trader are not as being a good business person; in fact the skills needed to build a good business are a liability for trading. The key to trading is "disciplined impartiality" and patience, not action, while for business, it is taking action, making things happen and controlling outcomes.
"...We are emotional beings attempting to become rational, not rational beings managing emotions......it's a belief of inadequacy, of not mattering, unworthiness and powerlessness, that is the core of performance problems..."
Rande Howell as quoted by Jonathan Shapiro, 2015
Need to try to turn anger and fear into curiosity, ie approach the situation with curiosity - not attack with anger and avoid with fear. Need to be able to trade with clarity of thought.

Narcissistic managers

. They have characteristics like the alphas (strategist and executor). Furthermore, they have an inflated sense of self that is reflected in feelings of superiority, entitlement and a constant need for attention and admiration.

. Narcissistic characteristics include not being good at self-assessment and liking celebrity status (including a strong belief in self-importance) as identified by

- length of their entry in Who's Who

- their prominence in press releases

- the frequency with which their photo appears in the annual report

- the number of times they use the first person singular in interviews

- the ratio of their cash and non-cash compensation compared with others in their immediate management team

· The term "narcissus-like" is borrowed from Ovid's myth about the beautiful young boy who falls in love with his reflection in a pool of water.

· There is still much debate about aspects of narcissism, ie

- do narcissists suffer from excess self-regard or insufficient self-love?

- does the condition derive from parents insisting their children are "special" or not reinforcing self-esteem?

· Freud expanded the concept by suggesting 2 kinds of narcissism, ie

- primary narcissism (the happy state in which the baby thinks it's the centre of the world)

- secondary narcissism (the problematic where instead of developing the capacity to direct your focus outwards, you reinvest it in yourself where it festers). This is further divided into healthy and unhealthy; healthy creates an ego which is a strength and unhealthy makes you a jerk!

One test of narcissism is the number of times people use the personal pronoun. Some Australian CEOs (AFRBoss, 2013) were ranked during Q&A sessions with analysts (Macquarrie Graduate School of Management).
- Marius Kloppers (BHP) (11)
- Clyde Cameron (NAB) (39)
- Alan Joyce ( Qantas) (52)
- Gail Kelly ( Westpac) (59)
- Ian Narev ( Commonwealth Bank) (73)
- Elmer Funke Kupper, (ASX) (86)
- David Attenborough (Tabcorp) (95)

"...Sadism involves deriving pleasure through others' undergoing discomfort or paying..."
Wikipedia 2020

Sadists tended to display  aggressive, cruel behaviour including the use of emotional cruelty, purposely manipulating others through the use of fear and a preoccupation with violence.

There are 4 subtypes of sadism

i) spineless (basically insecure, bogus and cowardly; venomous dominance and cruelty; rely upon the group support; select powerless scapegoats)

ii) tyrannical (enjoys menacing and brutalising others, forcing them to cower and submit; intentionally verbally cutting and scathing; destructive; accusatory; abusive; inhumane)

iii) enforcing (hostility simulated in the 'public interest'; bossy; possess the right to be pitiless, merciless, coarse and barbarians; task is to control and punish; seek out rule breakers; authoritarian)

iv) explosive (unpredictable, precipitous outbursts and fury; uncontrollable rage and fearsome attacks; feelings of humiliation are pent up and discharge; subsequently contrite)

Frequently sadistic personality disorder has occurred with other personality disorders, ie co-morbidity.

More on Narcissism
"...narcissism is a shame-based fear of being ordinary..."

Brené Brown

...For the narcissist, positive views of the self are too essential to leave to the whims of actual accomplishments, for they are what prevents the individual from succumbing to shame and low self-esteem. Instead, narcissists come to experience a globalised 'hubristic' pride, characterised by the feeling of arrogance and egotism, which is distinct from the more achievement based and pro-social 'authentic' pride..."
Jessica Tracey as quoted by Brené Brown

The table below shows the difference between healthy and destructive narcissism

Healthily narcissism
Destructive narcissism
Self-confidence high outward self-confidence in line with reality grandiose
Desire for power, wealth and admiration may enjoy power pursues power at all costs, lacks normal inhibitions in its pursuit
Relationships real concern for others and their ideas; does not exploit or devalue others concerns limited to expressing socially appropriate responses when convenient; the values and exploit others without remorse
Ability to follow a consistent path have values; follow through on plans unauthentic values; easily bored; often changes course
Foundation healthy childhood with support for self-esteem and appropriate limits on behaviour towards others traumatic childhood undercutting true sense of self-esteem and/or learning that he/she doesn't need to be considerate of others              (source: Roy Lubit as quoted by Wikipedia, 2021)


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