Is Your Boss A Psychopath? How To Spot The Signs

"In any Anglo Saxon-dominated workplace there are probably more psychopaths than people with red hair."
Wildly unpredictable behaviour is one of the common signs.
Wildly unpredictable behaviour is one of the common signs.

Think of the term 'psychopath' and no doubt an image of Christian Bale's maniacal blood-soaked businessman Patrick Bateman comes to mind.

But not all psychopaths are murderous. In fact, they are far more common than you think. At least this is what David Gillespie would have you believe in his new book 'Taming Toxic People: The science of identifying and dealing with psychopaths at work and at home'.

"Psychopaths are real people. They work with you, and for you, and could easily be your boss," he writes in a chapter titled 'How to Manage a Workplace Psychopath'.

"In any Anglo-Saxon dominated workplace there are probably more psychopaths than people with red hair (no, they are not the same people -- well, not always)."

Gillespie's attitude to psychopathy in the workplace shares some common descriptions, but is distinct from clinical psychopathy, or antisocial personality disorder as it's labelled in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5.

Gillespie's psychopaths are everywhere, though in his estimation it doesn't make them any easier to deal with. In fact, he told HuffPost Australia it was his own traumatic experiences with psychopaths in the workplace that prompted him to write the book in the first place.

"I tend to write and research about things I find interesting," the author of the controversial 'Sweet Poison' books said. "And I've had the misfortune of working with a lot of people who were psychopaths.

"Curiosity got better of me and I decided to write this book."

When pressed for more detail, Gillespie declines.

"One of the problems with psychopaths is they are terribly vengeful people," he said. "Let's just say I have worked with quite a number of them in my career."

How to spot a psychopath in the workplace

Unpredictable behaviour

According to Gillespie, there are a number of ways to identify a psychopath in a work environment, the first being unpredictability.

"You can't predict their behaviour, to the point where you start thinking perhaps something is wrong with you, perhaps you're getting things wrong," Gillespie told HuffPost Australia. "Because you're absolutely certain they told you to do things a certain way, then publicly shamed you for following their instructions.

"It's a perpetual state of confusion and anxiety, and it makes work hell."

Feel like you can't do anything right? Start confirming your task specifications in writing.
Feel like you can't do anything right? Start confirming your task specifications in writing.

Gillespie also states psychopaths are prone to sudden changes in personality.

"When you first met this person, they were probably one of the nicest people you had ever met," Gillespie said. "Charming, lovely, easy to get on with.

"After knowing them for just weeks or months, you might find they suddenly have a completely different personality, and different sides of that personality can appear multiple times a day.

"In one meeting with one person they might be lovely and charming, then in a meeting alone with you, they're tormenting you.

Lack of empathy

Gillespie says how a psychopath treats you could be described as workplace bullying, only it differs in frequency and approach. The reason? A total lack of empathy.

"A garden variety bully might bully you once a month, whereas a psychopath will do it two or three times a week," Gillespie said.

Relentless bullying is another sign.
Relentless bullying is another sign.

"They completely lack empathy. Remembering what empathy is, which is the ability to understand and share someone else's feelings, they have none of that.

"One of the reasons we have empathy is it stops us from hurting each other, as social animals. So what stops me from hurting you is I will feel your pain and discomfort. But to a psychopath, hurting you is like kicking the chair, it doesn't matter.

"As far as what they're concerned, they're just doing what needs to be done."


"They lie constantly," Gillespie said. "To them, the truth is irrelevant. Honestly is irrelevant. They''ll say whatever needs to be said at that moment in time to achieve what they want."

What to do

Gillespie is of the opinion that anyone working with a psychopath will no doubt be better off looking for a new job. In saying that, however, he recognises it's not always possible for people to just up and quit, or at the very least it could take time.

As such, he has cultivated some tips for how to manage a psychopath in the workplace.

Managing the relationship

  1. Give them what they want. "Absolute obedience, no questions asked," Gillespie said. "Do what they ask you to do, when they ask you to do it. No matter how stupid it is, as long as it's legal, do it.
  2. Confirm everything in writing. "If they want you to move dirt from pile A to pile B and back again, make sure you confirm it in writing. Not an emotional response, no sarcasm, just a clarification of the task that has been asked of you."
  3. Flatter them. "This is a key thing. And they will believe every word of it. They believe they're the best person in the universe."
  4. Take notes. "Do exactly what James Comey did with Donald Trump. When you walk out of a meeting, write down exactly what happened."
  5. Maintain your circle of friends and relationships. "Have people who know what you are going through. Because if you come home upset and say 'he made Mary finish my report,' people are going to think you're crazy. What they have to understand is it's part of a nonstop chain of events."

Gillespie is keen to stress, however, that the above are purely coping mechanisms to be used in the short-term, while you assess other options.

"These are all coping strategies," he said. "You're not going to get rid of [the psychopath] while working in the same place. These are just to get you through."


'Taming Toxic People: The science of identifying and dealing with psychopaths at work and at home' is on sale now.