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Next victim for sociopath boss and sidekick?

Dear Office-Politics,

I work for a sociopath. He is entertaining, persuasive, an expert in all areas, but he is also arrogant, domineering, a manipulator, a liar, and operates on paranoia. His agenda is self serving yet his position is the general manager. He has one personal confidante for all company decisions. This one individual is a young, inexperienced and an attractive women. She also has one agenda and that is to move to the top at all cost.

Both of them together have terminated about one dozen employees who have challenged their plans to run the show as a team of two despite the consequences. Most of the employees have been with the company for many years and have a lot to contribute. Yet their concerns or input are not only dismissed they are taken as a threat or insult to the general manager. He will actually say, ‘I am the General Manager and you are my subordinate’. His paranoia absorbs most of his time as he listens in on telephone calls and reviews emails or watches employees activities in the office. The other part of his time is spent behind closed doors with the young female confidante. It is believed they spend the time collaborating on how to terminate their next victim.

The working conditions are not acceptable yet many of us have worked together for years and formed friendships. We also work for a company with goods benefits and a decent salary. That is very hard to replace.

What are the safest options for us to stop the bullying without being terminated? The last few who complained managed to bring some attention to Human Resources, however, they hired a coach who worked with the GM, befriended him, and basically told the employees we need to give him a chance. However, the GM shifted to revenge mode once the coach left.

What do we do?


Next victim?


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Mother Teresa (next victim),

We’re calling you that, since it sounds like you and others are being forced to behave like saints with the charitable giving and selflessness that you are providing the company under the shadow of a sociopath and his “mini-me” playmate.

Just remember that you are choosing to remain “in the habit,” because you are receiving something back (“good benefits and a decent salary”). We hope the purely financial aspects are indeed worth the abuse since it certainly isn’t the entertainment value keeping you there (although you’ve called your GM entertaining).

But he is clearly also what we would call an Overly Political style, as he exhibits many of that posture’s traits: unethical, arrogant, corrupt, and power drunk— and also capable of being verbally articulate, charming, and expert at maneuvering and working the system to protect himself. Above all, never trust him or Mata Hari since the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. You WILL NOT CHANGE HIM.

Beware. If he really is a sociopath, by the way, fueled not only by his power-tripping and political destructive tendencies, but also a tinge of paranoia and pathological thought patterns, you now have a perfect storm. A sociopath is a character-disordered sick individual who lacks a conscience. One who sees a cat in the middle of the road and will swerve to try to run it over. So know that’s what you may be coping with and behave accordingly. Unless you are actually a cat and have nine lives, we doubt that there is any way to stop the bullying and still have a job. At least not as an individual (witness the “dirty dozen” who have been railroaded out for whatever misguided reasons).

The only possible routes you can ever hope would work are to work in a group like a class action suit does, but even then the still low-odds steps would include:

1) Returning to HR as a group to provide feedback of dissatisfaction with the results, potentially aligning with another executive coach who is more savvy than the first to persuade the first of his being duped; naturally, the first coach could easily have been charmed by the GM’s skills and spells, or simply is suffering under his conflict of interests given he’s being paid by management;

2) Strength in numbers is what unions are about and while we have no idea whether your labor environment is organized, that’s what such groups are for, to prevent abuse of all kinds;

3) Consider organizing carefully and anonymously writing top management about the level of discontent and how it is interfering with company productivity and costing them dearly each time there is a firing. It typically costs several hundreds of thousands to replace an IT person, a manager, a professional, etc. (you can Google such figures), so document the millions the dynamic duo has probably cost the company, not to mention the intangible costs in morale, motivation, and performance drains. Of course, there is always the threat of a harassment law suit that sometimes provides a wake-up call.

It’s important to remember the sobering fact that if such abuse has been allowed to continue, it’s either the outcome of a serious top management political blind spot and denial, or the concentrated power of the GM is the result of collusion by the GM with top management. There is rarely an accident when this kind of unethical behavior is going on. The only other difficult step, therefore, is to try to calculate who in the company is powerful enough and ethical enough to care enough about doing the right thing. Aim high, even going for the board level. Remember, you may need to go into secret communications modes. But your sociopath ‘Son of Sam Samurai Supervisor’ should be treated very carefully. Consider hardball, but only in very small circles of trusted confidantes, with great documentation, including from some of the previously axed victims, and potentially with expert legal advice.

Finally, remember that you always retain choice. If you choose to stay, fly low under their radar and keep in mind how miserable their lives must be to have become such poor examples of human beings. If you believe in corporate karma, theirs will come eventually. And so will yours.

You have our sympathies! Sometimes the story has no happy ending… but maybe the next book will be more promising. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Warmest regards to a good person!

Rick and Marty

Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

  1. 11 Answers to “Next victim for sociopath boss and sidekick?”

  2. Dear Office Politics,

    I worked for an Executive Director as an Administrative Assistant three years ago, for a short period of 3 months. The first week I felt very strongly that something was not right with this person. The hair stood up my neck. I could never pinpoint what I was feeling. She was charming yet cut people down with a smile. She humiliated people in meetings (the list goes on). I knew I wanted out that very first week. She would try to make me agree with her when she commented about someone, which was never kind. I didn’t agree nor disagree, I just sat and listened. I also began noticing that she was paranoid. I tried to find out from my colleagues what they thought but they would not say anything, which made me second guess myself, having nightmares and sleepless nights but, somehow I knew I was in a dangerous work environment. Within a few weeks she stopped talking to me. She would invite everyone in her office in the morning, except me. She had me on ignore. I knew I had to get out and fast. I called a Director I worked with, for a period of 3 1/2 years and asked her to save me. She found me another Director who was happy to have me on her team. I later found out my new Director went through hell with this crazy person and took 3 months stress leave (it just so happened those were the 3 months I was there). She found work elsewhere because although people knew about this crazy person, nobody would step up and do something about it. This was my first experience with a sociopath and it’s just lately that I put a name to it because of my next encounter.

    I decided to change my occupation and started a new position as Project Officer in the IT world. My immediate supervisor was the nicest person you could possibily want to work with. She got promoted and left the department. It took a few months to find a replacement for her. They found one!! She’s been with us a month now and since the very first day my hair stood up (again).

    My Manager asked that I bring her up to speed and train her on an application, which she is the new process owner. While training her she kept interrupting me and would talk very fast, very plausible and charming. However it felt to me that I was boring her. Out of the blue she tells me that she has top secret security clearance and passed the lie detector test. All kinds of questions were asked about drugs and the many different ways they asked the same question. I asked her if they asked about marital affairs, she glared at me and walked away. (can sociopaths really pass lie detector test?)

    I was leaving on vacation for two weeks, after her first day at work, and during my vacation I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I found myself restless, concerned, had feelings of uneasiness. I decided to attribute it to her first day on the job.

    Upon my return from vacation I spent all day, every day sitting in her office explaining her work to her (two painful weeks). She does not want full explanations, looks bored, interrupts and comments negatively on everyone I’ve introduce to her, seeking affirmation (trying to catch me in her web?). I accompany her to meetings and see that she is agressive, authoritarian and rude with colleagues at her level. If I make a statement or have a question I am told to hold that thought. If she asks me a question she stops me before I could answer and moves on to the next question directed to someone else. She tells them she is new and that too much information is useless, they are to send the information by e-mail and that she will only read brief e-mails, long e-mails will be deleted. They have a bewildered look and seem annoyed.

    I attended a teleconference with her and she told the attendees that I was confused thereby confusing her. Since that direct attack on my person, when asked a question about a project, I put on a face like a deer in headlights and tell her I don’t know it’s all new to me (most likely digging myself a whole).

    Out of concern I decided to bring this to our Manager’s attention. He said he would discuss this with her and I pleaded that he not tell her that I was the concerned party because I’m afraid there will be retribution (he really didn’t like that comment).

    The last meeting I attended she conducted herself in the same manner, only this time Mr.X got frustrated and told her to stop interrupting. Without hesitation she bursted out that she is not stupid that she is actually quite intelligent (narcissim or grandiose?). Our colleague was shocked and told her that he was not questioning her intelligence. He apologized and her reply “that’s ok, I don’t take anything personnally, EVER”. (will not take ownership for her behavior)

    Since my Manager was a little annoyed with me because of my first complaint I decided to leave it alone and surely someone else would bring this to his attention.

    An hour went by when my supervisor came to my office in a hostile manner and asked what happened in that meeting. She asked me if Mr. X and I are in cahoots, that she saw us making eye contact (paranoid). Before I could answer (which I wouldn’t have any way)she asked if I wanted to attend meetings or not (a catch 22 question) I was blown away but, this validated the strong feeling I was having.

    I did approach my Manager later that afternoon because I was an emotional wreck. I didn’t tell him that I was certain he hired a sociopath (it’s better left unsaid) however I told him that I can’t work with this person. My Manager thinks there is something wrong with me and that I am only focusing on the negative and it’s all due to my exceptional relationship I had with my previous supervisor.

    As of this week I am on stress leave and I’m going to see a psyhcologist. I need to put this into perspective. No one believed me (except the Director that gladly took me on her team) the first time I experienced it and same thing is happening again.

    There are many more things that happened, but again, I find myself second guessing thinking that it’s not possible. She buys me coffee, gave me an advent calendar for the coming holiday season, asks me what she would do without me. (wants to make me her scapegoat?)

    Am I blowing this out of porportion? Do I go with my first instinct?


    Totally confused

    By Shirley on Nov 28, 2008

  3. Shirley,

    To have an Office-Politics adviser answer your letter, please read the submission terms here — and the maximum length of letters:



    Franke James
    Editor & Founder

    By Franke James on Dec 5, 2008

  4. Thank you so much for your story. I have been searching the web for someone who has been through a similar situation. My “sociopathic” boss buy’s Christmas gifts for everyone. Then the gifts are used against you. “Were you reading that book during work hours?” Even though you are on your lunch and she knows that. She believes that she is a good manager because she celebrates everyone’s birthdays. Please note, your lunch and break times are strictly monitored. I once took a “long lunch” because my child was rushed to an emergency room. My cell phone was dead and I had no way of notifying my “boss.” When I came into work the next day, I was brought to the human resources department who reprimanded me. I left for lunch at 12:30, and was in contact with my office by 3:00 p.m. Prior to my leaving, I also told a coworker there was a medical emergency and to please inform my superiors because management was not available (i.e. out to lunch).

    This incidence was used to say I was not a dependable employee. It is noted in my service rating.

    However, I want to thank you again for sharing your story. May God Bless you and all who are important to you.


    Sorry for babbling.

    By Carol on Dec 16, 2008

  5. Something has to be done about a boss like this! How in the world, in this day and age, are superiors able to have this kind of control and fate of other’s jobs in their hands? These people need to be stopped!

    By justice on Jan 12, 2009

  6. I have a doozie of a sociopath boss. Parahnoid, a charmer, an information horder, will take down the program if we didnt save her all the time. She has no concience of anything she does that harms people in the program and the program itself we are working for. We are a mess here.
    The best way to describe how we feel about her is she makes you feel like your 7 years old and your uncle is sexually abusing you while no one knows over and over. When she walks into the room you cant look her in the eye, we all naturally look to the floor like an ashamed child. I could write a book about her.(and I may one day)

    This has been going on for about 10 years!!!!!!. We formally complained with her boss many many times and he agreed with us but would do nothing(enabler). He promised us that he would fix everything by this date or that date and things never happened. Finally he said I will fix this for you before I retire in Jan. Guess what? He retired and Nothing was fixed or even acknowledged. We finally said, ok managment wont fix her or punish her for her acts , we have no way of changing anything, so we asked HR to bring in a therapist to help us cope with HAVING to work with her. The therapist was a ED.D., CEAP. He had several sessions with us. He even brought her into the mix which made her aware that we were complaining. We were promised by HR that we wouldnt be retaliated against, but we ultmately were. The therapist abruptly stopped the sessions and went directly to the director and advised him to immed move the section we work in out of her chain of command as it is a hostile work environment and the company was liable. That was three years ago.

    Its keeps going. We went back to HR director to ask what we could do. She conducted a full investigation. Interviewed everyone in the company about their dealings with this person. Overwhelmingly she was met with horror story after horror story. She composed a 35 page report and gave it to the director. He was incensed that he “didnt know that this was going on” and that he would deal with it immed. That was two years ago. When we ask the HR director what to do next, she says “Im done, I dont understand it, and I dont know what to tell you anymore”. Another supervisor the same level as our sociopath, has sympathy for us and went to the director to try to get some answers as to why this is allowed to continue. The director said that we havent given him enough time to fix things!!!!!! He told the director that we are considering going to the union about this. The director said that he would be angry if we did.

    Three of my co workers blame their divorces on this woman because their spouses became sick of hearing about what happened at work everyday.

    4 supervisors have up and quit because of her. Some of them are career people who have been here for 15-20 years. They have all been to therapy and the therapists advised them to rethink theyre occupaional paths because if upper mgmt wont fix her then she will drive you crazy and its not worth it to live that way.

    There are three hold outs, me and two other people who are NOT going to let this woman ruin our careers. We are a selfless and dedicated people that believe in the project we have worked for for so long. I am on my 20th year on this program and my co workers 15 and 13 years each. She is wrong and managment is wrong for allowing us to remain in this hostile work environment.
    We are civil servants. Where the hell do we go from here? This saga could fill a library. I have only told you a tiny tiny part of this story. Quiting is not an option for any of us. This job is part of our lives. It is a very unique program that exists no where else and con not be duplicated with another occupation.


    By Mike on Feb 5, 2009

  7. Have any of you discovered a solution?
    These people are poison, and I can’t get away. I changed jobs three times in the last 4 years, because every single time I end up in the hands of a manipulator-sociopath, with all kinds of blind followers who the sociopaths tell me they enjoy duping. They tell me privately, to freak me out, to make me feel uneasy because they can manipulate anyone.
    It’s ruining my life. I have not figured out why my life has been infested with these types, or what to do about it.
    I only know that I have to be strong where I’ve been weak, that’s for damn sure. They love it when you show instability as a result of their games. It’s like a drug for them to see you squirm, get upset, look drained, because they know damn well that they’re at the heart of it. Which means they’ve invaded your heart.
    I can only feel sorry for them at a safe distance. Maybe the trick is to pity them while they’re trying to torment me? At least then they wouldn’t be able to drain me so much. Maybe the key is to realize that I can’t win an open debate with them, but I can give them bones to chew on (things not important to me), while I enjoy the satisfaction of having made them run after something pointless. The thing is my mind can’t imagine what would work.
    Maybe I need to let go of anything they try to play with? Because fighting for justice does not work at all, only fighting for smidgens of freedom has worked, and that because they don’t realize it’s what I want. If they knew, they’d go after that too. I pretend that I want what they want to take from me. They like that, keeps em busy.
    Anyway, there has to be a better answer than ‘we can’t win’. Maybe winning just means finding a way to freedom from this type, but I can’t find one. And they’re everywhere I go.

    By Christine on Sep 4, 2009

  8. Christine’s situation is probably all too common. It seems the corporation is the ideal habitat for sociopaths and generally self-centered people. They can advance and use the machinery of the corporation as cover and the goals of the organization as an excuse.

    I think Christine is on to something with regards to one’s reaction. Try to find some things that are not important to you but that could feasibly be important to a person and then allow the sociopath to believe that manipulating those things negatively impacts you. The sociopath will believe s/he is hurting you, which will provide him/her satisfaction.

    The difficulty is you’ll really have to keep your mouth shut about what you want and what you care about. This is difficult, since most companies have annual reviews and goal setting. If you don’t document your goals and issues, then you have no case for advancing yourself. If you do document them, the sociopath has a list of things to abuse you on.

    By tew on Dec 26, 2009

  9. I have recently became suspicious that I may be working for a sociopath. I have filed a complaint with her supervisor, the investigation begins next week. I have been written up. Her administrative assistant is making statements not to correct my mistakes, that if they correct them then they cannot fire me. She (my boss) spends one to two hours a week taking my work apart piece by piece in my presence, letting me know everything that is wrong and how it could have been done differently. It is like being mentally abused for two hours a week and feeling worthless in your job. She brags to her staff that she has no empathy, and I think that may be the only thing she tells the truth about. One employee has been taken to the emergency room with stress, another off for a week and as of today I am off for the rest of the week with STRESS. She is an attractive women and usually raises the skirt and lowers the shirt to get what she wants. Help!!

    By Erica Nelson on Jan 18, 2010

  10. The only way to snub out a sociopath is to record him or her when they are trying to do their secret sociopathic meeting with you – 1 on 1. Then and only then will a company listen and forget the old argument that “he said/she said”. But do NOT tell the company until after you have been fired.. Go to a lawyer, and enjoy the discussion about the evidence you have and then they will do something. Depends on state you are in of course regarding the legality. Talk to a lawyer ahead of time about recording these evil people.

    By Qinghua Lu on Jul 22, 2011

  11. I was in the EXACT same situation as the original post. A sociopathic boss with his little honey, whom I’m sure was doing him so she could climb the corporate ladder. I documented the psychotic behavior by both toward me for FOUR YEARS then presented it to his manager. I was demonized! His boss told me he was livid that I would complain of a hostile work environment under this dirtbag boss (my words). My boss had a method to his madness. He would target ONE WOMAN at a time. That way he could always use the excuse, “well you know how over emotional women are.” Wink, wink. He never bullied men because I”m sure he knew they could pound him into the ground. And besides, he needed male support should a woman be brave enough to expose him for the sociopath he is. Ironically, the woman before me eventually got out from under the dirtbag and ended up as the executive assistant to the CEO of the company. So, we know it wasn’t her problem nor was it my problem. Unfortunately, I think most of the HR depts in corporate America are made up of sociopaths and they will protect each other to the grave. It’s RARE to find normal, well-adjusted employees these days. I can think of only a handful in my building with 250 people. Everyone is backstabbing everyone else, lying, cheating, and being just plain mean. Don’t EVER go to HR with complaints about these people. Just keep documenting until they fire you. Then sue the freaking pants off these a-holes. By the way, NY state is introducing legislation to sue bullies. I don’t know if it’s passed yet but it’s out there. Some advice on how to deal with these losers: put on your headphones so you don’t have to listen to their screeching as they run up and down the halls berating someone else. Shake off the dirt from their rantings before you go home, and REALLY appreciate and be thankful for the peace and stability you have with your family. Tomorrow’s another day and you’ll get through that day, too. It sucks but we can’t change them; you can only change YOUR reaction to their soulless and self-serving behavior. Of course, they’ll probably target you even more viciously…Good luck.

    By Christie on Aug 20, 2011

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