Years ago… I worked with a Psychopath.
I didn’t realise it at the time of course, I merely had a vague gut-instinct that I was dealing with someone who was unpredictable, calculating and dangerous. The kind of someone who had to be watched very closely for sudden movements; I… the small darting fish, they… the oh-so-slithery, smooth-talking eel.
I heard them before I saw them.
They came click-clacking down a long hall-way, their stilettos ricocheting off concrete walls like an army of I-mean-business soldiers. This was all well-and-good, aside from the fact that we were working in a far removed, hot and dusty rural location, where boots, flats and wide-brimmed hats were par-for-the-course. Nobody, read nobody, wore heels.
Though I hadn’t met the stiletto-wearer yet, I was due to cross paths with my newly appointed Team Leader that very morning. Somehow I knew those fast-talking heels were firmly attached to said Team Leader, and that that very body was headed straight for me.
A lacquered face peered around the door.
‘Are you Tamara?’
‘Yes! Hello. You must be (insert name of terrifying person here)..!?’
‘I am. Yes. Your Team Leader.’
Those last two words unfurled off the tip of her tongue like a stiff banner of officialdom.
She smiled with war red lips, bearing perfectly whitened, greedy-looking teeth.
I had no idea what was ahead of me, but I had just met my first-ever Psychopath, disguised as a well-meaning leader in the workplace.
She was ever so charming. Full of questions, reassurances, and enthusiastic planning. During the course of our meeting it became apparent my new Team Leader was unaware that I was due to attend a professional conference in a couple of month’s time; a detail I’d negotiated with the Big Boss before accepting my contract of employment.
I felt extraordinarily awkward, even apologetic, to bring this detail up. I was new to the role, and but an early-20 something in my second year out of University.
“I’m not sure if you were aware – but I’m due to attend a conference. I’m sorry to bring this up with you in our first meeting; I just wanted to make sure this information had been passed on and I’m not putting anyone out..?’
My new TL nodded effusively,
‘Yes yes of course! I’ve been told about the conference. I’m so glad to see you are committed to your own Professional Development..! You must come back and share all of your learnings with us!”
Phew! I was so relieved she was supportive. Maybe my gut-instinct was off and my newbie nerves had thrown me …
Before parting, the TL left me with a detailed (convoluted?) check-list of all of my goals, reporting-requirements and absolute must-dos before we met again.
Cool. I was new. Checklists were good… right?
A mere hour later, hidden in the bowels of a stationery room adjacent to the staff kitchenette, I heard the same Team Leader clip-clop into the area. She ran into a fellow (senior to herself) manager.
I was busy, vaguely aware of their chit-chat, until I over-heard my name;
‘Yes, I met my new team member, Tamara this morning. And do you know she ‘TOLD me rather than ‘asked’ me, that she is attending a course I knew nothing about..! When I made it clear the timing didn’t really suit, and I wasn’t supportive of her attending, she said, ‘too bad, I’ve already paid.’
I felt my gut drop.
The subject (re: conference) was correct, but the tone and content of our conversation was the exact OPPOSITE to what she had communicated.
Was I going crazy?
Had I misread the entire encounter..? Did I think I’d been polite and conciliatory, when in fact I’d been rude and demanding..? I replayed and replayed our exchange in my mind, including, particularly her response;
I recalled her face and smile clearly in mind; my TL had been supportive. She had welcomed the news. She had advocated my attendance. She had never mentioned bad timing.
Something was up.
And then, with a big intake of breathe… I got it. My TL was telling Porky Pies…!
I didn’t even know Adults getting around ‘Adulting’ were capable of that…!?
I was utterly confused, completely dismayed… and felt bone-crunchingly indignant.
It was all I could do not to fly into the room to right the wrong; ‘You are LYING!!” Why would you tell me one thing, and then tell your manager another…?!?’
But something rooted me to the spot.
In fact, I had a small glimmering of a force far wiser than myself endowing me with necessary insight:
‘You’ve overheard this exchange for a reason. This person is not to be trusted.’
I held my tongue that day… but in the same breath, I walked away with clear eyes about who I was working with.
Overtime, this seemingly beguiling, ‘unendingly competent’ person, dismantled an entire team around her. Staff retention rates plummeted. Team culture bomb-dived. The person herself went on to sue the entire organisation for a contrived offense against herself.
We were all on a terrifying steam train headed for a forgone and brutal conclusion; flames, fall-out and fractured femurs.
Like that small darting fish, I managed to work industriously where I could, duck for cover when the eel appeared, and plan my permanent exit through a confusing pulsation of anemone. I survived, relatively unscathed. Those further up the ladder who posed more of a threat to this character didn’t fare so well.
The whole experience was ugly. Yet it was also a stunning example of what can happen when a single, well-disguised Psychopath enters the workplace….
Have you ever worked, lived or been in a relationship with someone you believed could have been a ‘psychopath’..? What were some of the behaviours you found hard to put your finger on… but suspected was just plain ‘off’…?
PS… What are the signs and the symptoms of a Psychopath? And what are the differences between a psychopath, a sociopath and a Narcissist…? I’ll reveal all next week… but if you JUST CAN’T WAIT, you are welcome to head over to my website to read the full article now…
This memory of my encounter with a Psychopath was triggered by listening to a Mamamia podcast with David Gillespie about his recently released book, ‘Taming Toxic People.’ http://www.mamamia.com.au/podcast/no-filter-david-gillespie/ Find more on David Gillespie here: http://davidgillespie.org/