Book review

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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Snakes in Suits

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 [0]
  • Grandiose [0]
  • Deceitful  [1]
  • Lacks remorse [2]
  • Lacks empathy [1]
  • Doesn’t accept responsibility [2]
  • Is impulsive [1]
  • Lacks goals [1]
  • Is irresponsible [1]

Has a history of:

  • Poor behavioural controls [?]
  • Adolescent antisocial behaviour [?]
  • Adult antisocial behaviour [1]

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.

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Working with Mean Girls

When I was in the darkest of moments, feeling hopeless about my work situation, not knowing what to do to get around my bad boss, a psychologist friend recommended some books to read to help me through it. She’d recently had a situation where a number of people from the one company were sent to see her due to stress, and she’d worked out that the problem was their manager. This manager had emotionally destroyed the staff working under her. My friend’s advice was for me to leave the job as soon as possible, as it sounded like my boss was a ‘psychopath.’ That word conjures up images of mass murderers so it’s not one I identified with, but I agreed that reading some books on the topic of bad bosses might help.

The three books I’ve read so far are “Working with Mean Girls by Meredith Fuller, Snakes in Suits by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare, and Working with Monsters by John Clarke. Each of these books had a very different impression on me, the first one dealing with more minor “bitchy” behaviour while the last two focus on “psychopaths” in the workplace. Working with Monsters was my favourite (and most recently read), I will review each of these over three posts beginning with:

Working with Mean Girls by Meredith Fuller

I was a bit disappointed when reading the first pages of this book, because it says it’s about exploring “bitchy” behaviour in the workplace rather than “bullying,” and there’s this weird angle to the book that implies bad women are worse for the fact that they are behaving badly to other women (mentions of betraying the ‘sisterhood’ etc). I find the frequent use of the word “bitch” in the book offensive, not because I’m really PC (I actually swear way too much) but because it offends me that this bullying behaviour is called being a “bitch” if its done by a woman where if it were done by a man they would be not be called that, and by calling it ‘bitchy’ rather than ‘bullying’ it seems to trivialise it even though its acknowledged that it wreaks all kinds of damage for the victims.

However, that aside, what was good about this book is how it defined eight different categories of ‘mean girls’ which helped to clarify the potential motivations of my “bitchy” boss based on her behaviour. The different categories are The Excluder, The Insecure, The Toxic, The Narcissist, The Screamer, The Liar, The Incompetant, and The Not-a-Bitch. The last one is a very important inclusion that I have huge respect for this author in including – it describes a person who may be difficult to work with but who is in fact just doing her job the best way she knows how, and therefore is ‘not a bitch’.

The author then gives some suggestions of how to deal with each type of mean girl, and even goes so far as to recognise that there are different considerations depending on whether this mean girl is your boss, or a colleague, or someone you manage.

I think my boss is a mixture of The Insecure, The Liar, and The Incompetent:

The Insecure
  • She wants to control you and ensure you are beholden to her, frequently reminding you who is the boss
  • She frequently interrupts you with new demands that are urgent and often unreasonable
  • She wants things done her way
  • Her rules must be followed, doesn’t trust anyone with a different view
  • She will not be clear about her objectives, expectations, or priorities
  • She turns nasty when you don’t meet her (often unclear) expectations
  • She is highly critical
  • She clings to what she knows even when its wrong
  • She fratenises with women who are similar to her – she struggles to trust people who are different
  • She doesn’t like compromise – she wants to be right, not partially right
  • She is not a good listener
  • She will blame others for things going wrong – whatever went wrong was not her fault.
The Liar
  • She is unreliable, and at first you’re not sure why you don’t really trust her
  • She avoids confronting reality
  • She always finds excuses for her poor work performance
  • She does not take responsibility for her work, blaming all and sundry for anything that goes wrong
  • She lacks empathy, sympathy, and concern for others
  • She can look you in the eye, keep a straight face and tell you another lie
  • She resents being cornered by the truth
  • She is ruthless in pursuing her own objectives, but shows disregard for those of the organisation
  • She causes you to waste time searching for files she insists were placed in your in-tray
The Incompetent
  • She has been promoted to a role in an area she hasn’t worked in before
  • She makes simplistic decisions due to lack of knowledge
  • She doesn’t understand the issues that are unique to your area
  • She often doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. She is only interested in the position for appearance; she’s not particularly interested in doing the job
  • She becomes impatient and annoyed when you try to painstakingly explain things to her.
  • She trades on your professional loyalty to get you to do extra work so that she looks good
  • She is suspicious of you and your intentions
  • She will portray you as the enemy
  • She is likely to follow the latest fad without thinking it through
  • She is likely to dump the senior specialist staff who know more than she does

After examining the eight types of mean girls to find out which one describes your problem person, Part Two of this book delves into four archetypes to also consider. The be honest this section of the book didn’t work for me at all, nothing fit my situation, so I’ve ignored it.

Thinking versus Feeling

Chapter 10 “Head versus Heart” is a break through chapter that talks about Thinking females versus Feeling females. I realised that in the workplace I often work more on a Thinking basis – I am task orientated, not big on the small talk, work rationally and deal with issues with a pragmatic problem solving framework – however after a lot of thought while reading this section of the book is seemed to me that my boss might be a bit more Feeling in her approach. For example, at work when a colleague sighed “That was a shit meeting” after a really negative draining team meeting, my boss berated her with comments like “You’re meant to be on my side”, “I thought we were friends,” taking it really personally rather than rationally.

It’s possible that I didn’t respond to my bosses early Feeling friendship advances because I was focused on the work at hand, and this might be one of the reasons why she now hates me. In all our meetings she has gotten personal (as in personal attacks!) and when I’ve responded with logic and reason, she has continued to attack from another angle, without reason, until she hits a sore spot or wears me down to where I reluctantly accept blame and become submissive.


Something I respect about this book is that all along the way it asks you to think about your own behaviour too, asks you to consider if “you’ve got it right,” and gives practical advice on how to work with people who have different styles to your own. It would be too easy to blindly demonise the other person, when the reader could in fact be as much of a problem as the person at work they are bitching about.

There is some information on how to manage stress, how to get help, and how to decide whether to ‘stay or go.’

What is depressing is that it yet again seems to strongly recommend getting a job elsewhere when you have problems with a bullying boss. It even goes so far as to say “Never say anything bad about the bitch at work,” not even in the exit interview as you never know if you’ll want to work with the company again.

So it seems pretty clear that these bullying bosses get away with their bad behaviour and we shouldn’t stand up to them because we’ll just be crushed. They move on and get promoted while we lick our wounds. Depressing 😦

More book reviews: Snakes In Suits

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