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Rules of Verbal Self Defense against Corporate Psychopaths

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Communication with Corporate Psychopaths Communication with Micromanagers Negative Politeness Groupthink Humor Etc

There are some commonsense rules of communicating with corporate psychopaths.

  1. The less you talk the longer you survive.  Overtakativeness is a mortal danger when dealing with psychopathic boss.  And typically it is a sign of deeper problems with the person. Those suffering from this problem might also suffer from poor self-discipline or poor self control, or even impulsivity (tendency to act without thinking.). The same is true about excessive use of email or social networks. While extraversion is  generally pro-social, overtakativeness is not and here such a trait is huge liability. Terms as "talk too much",  gossipy all suggest that people devalue those who talk beyond normative levels and that that can create hostile attitude to you that the boss can skillfully utilize to isolate you.  Probably around 10% of office population can be classifies as "talk-prone".  McCroskey and Richmond (1995, sited from even developed "talkabolic" scale. And this is far from benign diagnosis. Compulsive talkers are typically passed over promotions.
  2. Establish and maintain a safe distance. Active listening and empathy with corporate psychopaths ( giving a bully a sympathetic ear ) will perpetuate the abuse. Don't trust anything communicated to you by such a person, don't complain, don't ask for a favors. Practice "Negative Politeness". The main focus for using this strategy is to impose a distance between you and the opponent by showing that you do not intrude into their private space and expect them the same. Establish some social distance by using
  3. Check everything he/she said for truthfulness. Learn to differentiate  manipulation, especially manipulation using guild or pity --  a typical trick by women sociopath. Remember that you deal with very talented actor/actresses and able the  pity play is high  on the list of sociopathic techniques. It's okay to pity someone who has gone through difficult times, but if you find yourself feeling sorry for someone's sad story, make sure the story is true. If we are talking about females, the pity play should be a warning sign to all of us as this is a very typical tool for female sociopaths. ):

    Protect your boundaries. Always remember between the main difference between manipulation and motivation:

  4. Never trust such a boss, especially his good intentions ("good cop" manipulation attempts), they are all phony.  The next time he/she will be different ("bad cop").
  5. Use silence as a weapon. Many people feel uncomfortable with silence and are tempted to fill it with their next question or comment. However, your silence could induce the other person to keep talking. Try it with a friend; avoid the temptation to jump in as quickly as you normally would, and see what happens. Silence can be a powerful motivator for sociopath to treat you differently. They tend to attack such persons more rarely. 
  6. Try to deflect the attacks. Ignore negative criticism and do not allow them to wound your self-respect or exploit you by emotional blackmail. Expect the following accusations:


  7. Carefully watch the adjectives you use to describe the thinking/behavior/situation you are criticizing.
    1. Refer to incidents and examples of manager behavior as observations you have made, not to as things that the manager has done. Always ask for feedback.
    2. Say 'I am aware of' or 'I have noticed a trend' rather than 'You did' or 'When you'. When things go wrong, a positive attitude means a lot to people who work with you, including your boss.
    3. Communicate questions or suggestions for solutions, rather than complaints.
    4. Volunteer suggestions to mitigate the problem, and don't be offended if they're not always implemented.
    5. Avoid sarcasm: this is like putting salt into wounds of low self-esteem people.
    6. Never say never ;-) Avoid "always" and "never" language. Since exaggerated language is rarely true, the whole statement is negated by the listener. ''You always leave a disaster behind you." ''You never get your payroll in on time." Avoid non neutral or offensive working as well as working the presuppose direct demands: Prohibited phases or approaches include but are not limited to.
      • I think you overlooked
      • You made a mistake
      • You don't know
      • Do you know
      • You cannot
      • You should
    7. Avoid stating how the boss behavior emotionally affects you. For example correct communication is "I have difficulties to achieve this objectives without timely responses on my request" vs. incorrect "You always ignore me! You make me so angry!"  (see below on avoiding too broad generalization like "always and never" language. Never say never ;-)
    8. When offering criticism, it’s wise to concentrate on possible solutions not statements related to facts. If you did not ruff the feathers of manager some of them might be accepted.
    9. Do not make generic critical remarks or exaggerate the problems. Such managers are loaded with venom and anger that won't enable your direct criticism to be heard. Instead of saying, "Your expectations are completely ridiculous, you'll never get your work done,"...try, "I analyzed by year workload spreadsheet and it looks like those timeline expectations need to be worked at a little bit further"
  8. Study shallow language of negative criticism produced by managers and learn to distinguish typical "blows under the belt" and traps. Phychopatic managers are prominent masters of negative criticism which leaves manager's slaves feeling hurt, defensive, and afraid about being criticized more. You should understand that manager produces negative criticism like cow produces milk. This is not personal, this is just a manifestation of manager psychopath core. Also they repeats the same tricks again and again:
  9. Speak at least twice slower then you normally do. Each time you want to say something avoid traps and check five things:
  10. Manage your anger. Don't overreact to the manager outbursts. Keep your cool. If you become too simmering with anger especially during another outburst of manager, try to stay cool. This guy is just a jerk after all and does not deserve strong emotional reaction. Force yourself to concentrate on the message instead of the manager tone or accusations. Message can be and often is quite different and more connected with manager internal problems and insecurities then you think.

    Corporate psychopaths are often petty sadists who like to vent out their problems by torturing other people.  Ask yourself: "What is he or she actually saying and what actual problem might be behind all this outbursts.

     Always remains within the boundaries of office etiquette even in case of acute provocations. Later carefully document this particular outburst as another case of abuse. Inform superiors about this behavior using anonymous feedback provided by your company, were your anonymity will (formally) be protected.

  11. Learn to listen between line and analyzing the real meaning behind the words
    1. Keep analyzing what the speaker's saying as he talks. Mentally sum up what's been said. manager are pathological liars. Weigh the evidence by considering whether the facts are accurate and the viewpoints are objective, or whether the manager tries to misinform you.

    2. Listen between the lines. Concentrate not only on what's being said but also on the attitudes, needs and motives behind the words. Remember that the manager words may not always contain the entire message.

      The changing tones and volume of the speaker's voice may have meaning. So may facial expressions, gestures and body movements.

      Being alert to nonverbal cues increases your total comprehension of the message.

    3. For example, sometimes the message and behavioral cues differ considerably.

      For example if the manager says he's excited about an idea or project, his lack of spontaneous movement, wandering or downcast eyes, unanimated tone of voice, masked face or hunched posture may indicate he feels differently.

  12. Remember about manager patsies. Forget about BS of "establishing trust". The first thing manager destroys is trust and you need to be aware that he tries to entice your weaker colleagues to spy on you. In such environment a weaker personalities often adopts the role of patsy as a self-protection mechanism and might even comply and even try to provoke you to "frank talk" which will be reported to psychopathic manager. The environment a psychopath creates is characterized by old Latin quote "Homo homini lupus est" ( Man is a wolf to his fellow-man.). They build up a power base and because they are paranoid, they turn all subordinates into paranoia wrecks: everyone becomes afraid of everyone else and the work culture begins to reflect the personality of the leader. Team soon became resemble a pack of frightened dogs.
  13. Maintain safe distance from your boss and his patsies all the time... Show formal, cold respect. Even if your boss definitely does not deserve your loyalty and assault your self-worth, by the fact that you are employed in the organization he or she is still entitled to your formal respect in conversations.
    1. Remember to keep your business relationships strictly about business. Do not try to get too close.
    2. Keep your feelings of resentment and anger to family and friends outside the work environment. Your interests will be easier to protect if you haven't left yourself wide open to others. Never try to communicate the problems about your boss with colleagues who often contact with her/him unless you definitly want that s/he knows about your feeling without the necessity of speaking directly.
    3. Never lose you guard and get into "please tell me the truth trap". Try your utmost to conceal your real feeling and your real level of anger at this jerk both to him and his patsies; maintain the illusion of productive working relationship while trying to protect the remnants of freedom that remains. Do not trust abrupt changes (sometimes demonstrated during the same meeting) when previously hostile boss (playing bad cop) in a moment turns into good cop and try to demonstrate friendliness before you or even the whole group. manager are usually an excellent actors, real chameleons and can wear many masks. The guys who recommend "assertive communication" with phychopatic manager are on crack.
  14. Avoid stepping on manager insecurity. Incompetent manager who are driven by fear and instantly counterattack any attempt to challenge their positive image:
    1. Avoid directly questioning their absurd orders or opinions. Try politely deflect them if they are really stupid citing some kind of external insurmountable difficulties or possible adverse reaction of other groups.
    2. Avoid direct attacks on manager competence for example by openly challenging his/her technical opinions. This is tantamount to suicide, especially if you like the firm as a whole. They can and will make your life a living hell. Save you energy and mental health by using such assignments as an opportunity to work on areas relevant to some certifications. After all if the direction of really absurd your level of efforts does not matter: failure is guaranteed.
  15. Learn "CorporateSpeak" and masquerade complains and demands under the fog of career development with heavy doze of Corporate bullshit. CorporateSpeak" -- a sort of industrial pig-Latin. Full of acronyms, it has become the means of choice to lessen the level of hostility inherent in modern workplace by mislabeling the common terms. Learn to translate all complains in corporate speak ("career development" language to be more precise). Consider this your new programming language that requires time and effort to master but quickly provide payoff. Always try to communicate your dissatisfaction with status quo in purely "carrier development" terms and in a positive and respectful way. Refusing to use while working for manager is a professional suicide.
  16. Give honest feedback about the progress of the project and other work related situations but sugarcoat and camouflage in "positive" buzzwords your message. For example you should always use "considerable improvement" instead of "improvement" ;-) Honesty is the best policy but temper your honesty with diplomacy.

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