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When Psychopaths go to Work

Snakes in SuitsMany of my closest friends and colleagues know that I had a very terrible experience leaving an employer of mine a while ago. Some people may wonder why folks can’t simply move on after something like that. When that employer is a very large organization it tends to repeatedly come back and remind you. Unless you actually leave the city, you continue to hear the ‘word on the street’ on what happened after you left. Leaving the industry isn’t an option – this is what I do for a living.

When you are the type of person who does not separate work from home and you pour everything you have into your job – a situation like this is difficult to leave behind. For those of us who have left, we’re all in agreement on what happened. But some of the folks that left have scars so deep that they can’t even bear to go to lunch and talk with the rest of us. Imagine how traumatic a situation has to be to damage a person like that.

I’m a pretty happy guy. I love my job and I love what I do. But when I’m reminded of that time in my career, I can’t help but wonder why the person responsible is still out there and still doing damage. Dozens of great people are gone, the department that won awards prior is in shambles now, and performance of the company is waning because of it. Yet… the person responsible remains. This is really a mystery to me.

I picked up a book at Borders yesterday: Snakes in Suits, When Psycopaths go to Work. I read through the preface while waiting for some friends and decided to buy the book. It was really out of curiosity more than trying to explain what had happened to me. I truly wasn’t trying to put two and two together. But then I read this:

“Not everyone liked Helen, of course, and some of her staff did not trust her. She treated the junior colleagues with disdain and a measure of contempt, often deriding their abilities and competence. To those she found useful to her career, however, she was gracious, engaging, and fun. She had a talent for presenting her good side to those she felt mattered, all the while denying, discounting, discarding, and displacing anyone who did not agree with her decisions.

Helen developed a reputation for telling the corporate staff what they wanted to hear, stage-managing meetings with the executive team as if they were Hollywood productions. She insisted that her direct reports follow the agreed-upon scripts, deferring any unexpected or difficult questions to her. According to her peers, Helen was a master at impression management, and she successfully manipulated her boss, intimidated direct reports, and played up key personalities important to her.”

These two paragraphs literally sent chills up my spine. I’m not sure this book will help me to forgive and forget what happened to me and many other good people, but perhaps it will help me understand it better. I still don’t hear from leaders in the organization and the corporation that were once my respected colleagues – quite the opposite, I am absolutely not allowed to have contact with them.

Perhaps they can pick up this book, read it, and put two and two together. No doubt, they will come to the same realization that I am now coming to.

They may be working with a psycopath.

2 Comments

  1. 1

    Interesting post, thankfully I have not had anything that bad happen to me yet!
    Have you ever read about the concept of “artificial harmony”..
    In some companies the problems are not confronted we get along because we have to, to earn a crust. So in social settings you would not even talk to a particular person but at work you are forced to. Just thinking outloud but supressing this over long periods of time may cause psycopathic tendancies.

    • 2

      As another victim of a horrible departure, I am very sympathetic to Doug’s situation, and can appreciate how long it takes to heal. I, too, still here gossip of what’s happened since my leaving, and though the memories have faded, I will never completely get over the damage done to me (for those who’ve not experienced it, you are lucky – being the victim of work a-holes, either untrusting co-workers or those in a higher up position, feels like you’ve been raped, robbed, beaten, and left for dead). One recourse is to say “their loss” and “I feel sorry for them.” I also think “the jerks who made my life so unbearable for all those years must really have some self-confidence issues to work so hard at making a positive contributor’s life such hell.” All those thoughts have helped me heal…perhaps they would help you, too, Doug.

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