The second book I read to try help me with my bullying boss – as recommended by my psychologist friend along with other books – was “Snakes in Suits” by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare.
To be honest, I don’t recommend reading this book because it is downright terrifying. The book delves into the very worst of workplace psychopaths, telling of numerous real life situations where intelligent charming too-good-to-be-true psychopaths manipulate their way up the corporate ladder, destroying the lives of those around them, and doing it so cleverly that they get away with it. After reading this book I never want to enter another workplace again! It very clearly shows that it is almost impossible for a normal person to escape unscathed if they come into contact with such a person, and as such, is a terribly depressing book to read and left me feeling miserable and without hope (it was after reading this book that I wrote the post “Should I Give Up?“, so I don’t recommend reading it while you’re in a bad work situation).
However, the book does have its merits. I found for example the below test interesting. It clarified that while my bullying boss is far from nice, she doesn’t classify as bad as a psychopath.
Domains and Traits of the Psychopath [from the PCL: SV]
(Scoring is on a scale of 0-24: if the person clearly has the trait its 2 points per item, if a trait only partially or sometimes applies it is 1 point, and 0 if not applicable)
The person is:
- Superficial 
- Grandiose 
- Deceitful 
- Lacks remorse 
- Lacks empathy 
- Doesn’t accept responsibility 
- Is impulsive 
- Lacks goals 
- Is irresponsible 
Has a history of:
- Poor behavioural controls [?]
- Adolescent antisocial behaviour [?]
- Adult antisocial behaviour 
A normal person will score under 3, I reckon my bullying boss scores about 10, average score for criminals is 13, and a score of 18 indicates a psychopath.
Snakes in Suits certainly does a good job at explaining the tricks a psychopath uses to manipulate people, how people believe the lies and get conned, and makes fascinating (albeit terrifying) reading.
It made me aware of how some people will do things like tell one person one thing, and another person something else, so that each person is manipulated into thinking the other is the problem rather than realising that the psychopath is actually causing the trouble in between. It makes it obvious how honest hardworking people are easily manipulated because we don’t expect people to be so brazenly dishonest.
Reading this made me more cynical about some of the ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘miscommunication’ in my own office, and wonder if my boss is consciously orchestrating disharmony and division amongst our team. Previously I’d given her some of the benefit of the doubt thinking she was just confusing, forgetful, inconsistent, but now I wonder if its more devious than that.
For example, on our floor at work we don’t have enough desks for everyone who works with us, and mostly its okay because some people work from home some days and there are enough meeting rooms and what not that the people who are only in part-time can shuffle round without a permanent space. But my boss told a new staff member, Sarah*, when she started that she would sit on floor eleven by herself; twice my boss told my assistant, Kat*, that Kat and I would move up there by ourselves – while not once mentioning anything to me. No one has been moved, there have been no ‘public’ conversations about this, it just sounds like misinformation and mind games to confuse and isolate people. My boss has also been asking Kat to do things without telling me, then I am confused when Kat has worked on something she really didn’t need to do and was a waste of her time because it was already covered. Kat herself told me the other day that she thought these things are our boss’s way of trying to make me think Kat is a source of misinformation, and to make her look bad.
There are lots of things that have happened in the office that I used to think were another colleague being difficult that I now think my boss may actually be behind, seeding misinformation and creating division. And normally you would go “that doesn’t make sense, why would anyone do that, its just stupid,” but there are people out there who love to cause disharmony and find that it helps strengthen their own position and helps them in their career to create these problems for others.
As such this book really opened my eyes to the extra layers of manipulation that are at work in my office, beyond the obvious ones I was already conscious of.
On the whole I’d say this book is probably of more practical value to organisations looking to safeguard themselves from hiring the wrong person and minimise their vulnerability by improving their workplace culture and proceedures. Individuals like myself will just feel even more vulnerable and helpless because ultimately these psychopaths are such talented liars and manipulators that we can’t hope to beat them.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.