Working With Monsters

Of the books I’ve read and reviewed on the topic of bad bullying bosses, Working With Monsters by John Clarke is my favourite so far. Where Working with Mean Girls was orientated around “bitchy” behaviour, and Snakes in Suits  was about hardcore workplace psychopaths – and both of these books gave a very grim portrayal of being able to do anything about bullying bosses – Working With Monsters works on multiple levels to give what seems a very reasonable, balanced, realistic point of view with also some helpful advice I hadn’t seen in either of the other two books.

While Working With Monsters focuses on ‘psychopaths’ in the workplace, it also makes the point that calling someone a ‘psychopath’ is not necessarily helpful in a workplace environment and it may be more productive to phrase it as ‘bullying’ behaviour. Similar to Snakes in Suits the author explains what a psychopath is, how they behave, how they manipulate others and get away with it. However in Working With Monsters the author goes another step and identifies four different types of psychopath: The organisational psychopath; the corporate criminal psychopath; the violent criminal psychopath; and the occupational psychopath. The Organisational Psychopath is the one relevant to my workplace bullying situation.

Organisational Psychopath

  • manipulative behaviour
  • unethical behaviour
  • intolerant
  • unpredictable behaviour
  • undependable and failure to take responsibility for behaviour
  • workplace bullying
  • seek increased power and control in the company
  • create conflict between organisation members
  • deceitful/devious/frequent lying
  • intimidating behaviour
  • displays no remorse or guilt for their behaviour
  • rapidly shifts between emotions to manipulate people or cause high levels of fear
  • accuses a person of making mistakes or not completing work when the accuser knows what they are saying is unfounded
  • refuses to accept responsibility
  • uses the threat if job loss, disciplinary action a s a way of intimidating others
  • sets unachievable tasks for employees to set them up for failure

The reason why its important to recognise the difference between types is that they are motivated by different things and as such behave and respond differently.

In the 1970s an American researcher trained three groups of people (non-psychopaths, criminals who were not psychopaths, and criminal psychopaths) to perform a specific behaviour in order to avoid experiencing a negative event. There were three possible negative events; an electric shock (physical punishment), the experimenter would say ‘wrong’ (social punishment), and the loss of money (the experimenter would take away some money that had been given to the subjects for every incorrect response). Non-psychopathic subjects learned the behaviour very well in the face of all three negative events. Non-psychopathic criminals did not care about the social punishment, but learned quickly when the money was taken or they were physically punished. The psychopaths only responded to the money being taken, not to the physical or social punishments. 

While Snakes in Suits talked about how organisations could try to minimise psychopaths in the workplace by better hiring practices etc, Working with Monsters goes the step further by discussing how an organisation can motivate changes in psychopathic behaviour by understanding underlying motivations. Psychopaths have in likelihood had a lifetime of being rewarded for their bad behaviour (if they bully and intimidate others they get their own way; if they lie and cheat they progress up the ladder and earn more money), so an organisation that suspects they have a psychopath in their midst can restructure rewards and punishments to ensure that bad behaviour results in loss of benefits while good behaviour towards peers is rewarded. 360 degree reviews ensure that people who interact with the psychopath at every level (above, equal, and below in the hierarchy) gives feedback on performance for a well-rounded perspective that minimises ability to manipulate and deceive.

This move (restructuring the reward and punishment cycle)  is done alongside changes to provide all staff with the support they need. An anti-bullying education program, life coaches, team bonding exercises, stress management, providing employees with the support they need to identify, report, and gain moral support when they see bullying practices.  The author gives examples of where this has worked. It doesn’t change the workplace bully into a lovely person, but it reins in their bad behaviour whilst also protecting and fortifying the wellbeing of the team working with the psychopath.

For me this was a much more constructive and positive outlook than that offered in Snakes in Suits. Working With Monsters goes into details of the ‘cost’ of psychopaths and bullying, how victims are affected whether they realise it or not and how this affects the organisation.

The Human Cost of Workplace Psychopaths

Victims are often paralysed by the following feelings:

  • shock and disbelief
  • anger
  • fear and anxiety
  • stress
  • shame and embarrassment
  • fear of not being believed
  • guilt and confusion
  • feeling powerless, out of control, or ‘going crazy’
  • lack of trust and a fear of people
  • flashbacks
  • sleep disturbances and nightmares
  • relationship problems
  • depression

The way this information is structured clearly conveys why every business should think about the topic and also provides clear step by step information about how to hire an independent assessor to conduct 360 degree evaluations to ascertain if these problems exist in your workplace – regardless of whether there is a ‘psychopath’ there may be unnecessary stress and division and protect against it. I feel like giving this book to my boss’s superior! Maybe I should highlight some bits and send it anonymously and hope she takes the hint. This book offers suggestions that are more practical and realistic than “I hope they fire my boss”, when reigning her in would suffice.

Also worth noting, Working with Monsters, like Working with Mean Girls, warns against unfairly ‘labelling’ people as a psychopath or problem person, and identifies a number of different situations where a person isn’t a psychopath even if you have difficulty working with them.

This a balanced, well researched, informative, helpful book that I highly recommend.

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Categories: Book review | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Working With Monsters

  1. Pingback: The Stresses of Work | Dirty Looks

  2. Pingback: the 3 forms of influence: rewards, indoctrination, and punishments « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  3. I am just having a novel published which was inspired by a grandson’s plight at the hands of bullies in school. I also delved into the workplace problem which to me is an even bigger problem. I enjoyed your blog and it is giving me ideas for a follow up. Thank you.

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