Excerpt from Taming Toxic People

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Imagine for a minute that you are carving your way, machete in hand, through impenetrable jungle in some terribly exotic place. You happen upon a clearing when suddenly you notice you are not alone. On the other edge of the glen, a stone’s throw from you, stands a tiger. He is staring intently at you. Assessing you. He doesn’t care whether you love your mother, what your favourite colour is or even that tomorrow is your birthday. To him, you are one of just three things: a meal, entertainment or too nasty to bother with.

The tiger will test you. He will growl, bare his teeth, or make an imperceptible, but swift, movement in your direction. These are all tests. He is probing you. Monitoring you for signs of strength or weakness. He will use every faculty millions of years of adaptation have given him, to determine whether you are trouble, or lunch.

You cannot reason with him, you cannot threaten him, you cannot plead for mercy. Your only chance of survival is to convince him that you are more trouble than you are worth. If you manage that, he will turn and walk away without a backward glance. If you can’t, your goose is cooked. Well, eaten.

The tiger’s cold assessment of your meal-worthiness is the same as the one your psychopathic boss, workmate, relative or lover performed on you within the first few seconds of meeting you. This is a book about convincing the tiger you are more trouble than you’re worth. And if you are really brave, it is a book that can tell you how to catch and tame the tiger. After all, who wouldn’t want a pet tiger?

I’ve had the misfortune to encounter a large number of psychopaths. No, I don’t work in a psychiatric unit or a prison. I’ve run across these people in all manner of benign social and work settings. None of these people would satisfy a test for overt criminality. But many skate very close to the edge. Their skill is obtaining a benefit – using criminal or at least, immoral, means – without ever exposing themselves to the force of the law.

I’ve been thinking about writing an easy to understand guide to dealing with psychopaths for a long time. Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people about the ideas in this book. Every single one (and I mean Every. Single. One.) of those people, often complete strangers, knew exactly what I was talking about. Every single one of them had worked for, been related to, been taught by, been married to or been in a relationship with someone who they felt to be a psychopath. Every one of those people had been profoundly damaged by the experience and most wanted to share their stories as a warning to others and never speak of it again. I didn’t seek out people affected by psychopaths. These were just people I chatted to after giving book talks or interviews, or people I ran into at the coffee shop. The truly amazing thing is that once I described how I believed a psychopath behaved, not a single person could say they had never experienced it. Many did not know that they were describing a psychopath, but believe me, if you have been, or are, a psychopath’s victim, you are not alone.

Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • mel says:

    If companies are genuine about hiring good managers and not hiring psychopaths to top positions, they need to interview staff who have worked under these people in the past. Often recruiters are only speaking to the ‘patrons’, who have been charmed. This is something that could really change the workplace culture.

  • judy says:

    A question: if you leave a psychopath, how do you convince a court that that person was not the charming man during the course of the relationshp that they now appear as?

  • David Gillespie says:

    The best way to prove anything to a court is to provide objective evidence – eg testimony from others who have witnessed the behaviour or better yet recordings of it.

  • sandra says:

    I’ve been told that the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration is privately funded, can you confirm, please? According to the TGA website, it operates under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 Can it be true that the drugs Australia uses are chosen by a body funded by pharmaceutical companies?

  • Les Kelly says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed what David had to say on ABCTV Lateline last night.
    He seemed to cut right through the cloak of b/s often erected by professional psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors around their discipline to keep the mushrooms in their place.
    Call a mongrel by what ever euphemism you care to use, but they remain a mongrel at heart.
    If there is one thing which should remain sacrosanct to EVERYONE, it is their mind.
    Where ever you find a group of people congregated, lurking within the group are usually users and take over merchants who usually see them self as “organisers” giving much needed direction.
    Emma wound up the Lateline interview very snappily when David suggested that more than your average percentage of politicians filled the definition of being “high level psychopaths” – to which I would add that so too are more than an average percentage of journalists, both print and electronic, who derive vested interests in shaping public opinions.
    A very good interview indeed David – one of the best I have enjoyed for quite a while.

    I have my copy of “Taming Toxic People” on order here in Launceston.

  • Anthony The Koala says:

    Dear Mr Gillespie,
    I have seen the interview on the ABC about two nights ago and am keen to purchase your book.

    I would like to know if your book deals with:
    • On the ABC website there are ‘elements’ which make up a psychopath. Suppose you arrive at a new workplace, and you meet a person on first instance appearing to be friendly and chatty. Yet it appears that you don’t want to get too involved or give out too much information to the person and be under the person’s ‘beck and call’. Yet (also) you don’t want to be regarded as cold either. My question is does your book deal with how to survive in the workplace.
    • What if the toxic person imposes onerous tasks on you that you potentially become overburdened. How does one respond? Does your book deal with this?
    • What do you do in a situation where the toxic person may have the ear of a superior(s). How to survive this. Does your book deal with this. This can happen at school where the toxic person may be chummy with the teacher.

    Thank you,

  • David Gillespie says:

    Yes it certainly does Anthony – it is explicitly designed to provide guidance in most situations where we encounter psychopaths – work, relationships, neighbours, relatives etc

  • Anthony The Koala says:

    Dear Mr Gillespie,
    I have just ordered your book and look forward to receiving your book.

    It’s interesting you mentioned situations with ‘neighbours’. Extremely briefly, I had a neighbour who was tormenting me since my father passed away in 2005. After October 2013 while bedridden with a virus (and ignoring his ‘signature’ style of door bell ringing at 1300, 1500 and 1700) I decided to ignore him and not entertain his provocations or respond to his arguments or provocations. I felt empowered.

    One question I forgot to ask is, if one is setting up a ‘startup’ company, how does one prevent such toxicity or a culture of toxicity occurring assuming that you are not the toxic person, but may have ‘subordinates’ who want to curry favour with the person at the top at the expense of other subordinates. Is it a matter of having an open/transparent culture. Do you recommend supplementary reading to your book?

    Anthony LLB(UNSW)(recently)

  • Yvette Wynne says:

    Hey David!! Cracking book!! who needs a psychologist when your book will do just fine! I’ve done alot of reading on the internet like yourself, and loved some of the same stuff you put in your book! But the difference that your book does, it gives strategies to deal with the psychopath. Everyone else says either flatter them or run away.
    But there is a caveat here– I have heard the funeral test on the radio and within 1 second had come up with the correct answer that would say i think like a psychopath! So take my encouragement how you like 🙂 Bless you brother!!

  • Anthony The Koala says:

    Dear Mr Gillespie,
    I received your book today, 2-8-2017. I am really looking forward to reading the book in depth. I had a quick glance and it is really exciting to read.

    In relation to my earlier question about how we can prevent a toxic culture in a startup or any kind of business, on a quick glance, the answer is on pages 164-181.

    One wonders whether a charter of “The ‘entity’s’ way”, example of HP’s charter page 177 is genuine or is lip service. As the hierarchical structures get flatter and new kinds of industries become leaders, it would have been good to read about the cultures at Google, Atlassian.

    On the other hand, with existing entities, beit existing private or government entities, how does one screen out toxic people. For example I read about a lawyer at the NSW DPP who self-harmed because of a toxic supervisor. Your book ratifies that the effect of the toxic workplace is not-so-effective customer satisfaction. In the case of law firms clients not getting a satisfactory service. Source http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/victims-reveal-extent-of-lawyer-bullying-20130329-2gyy1.html .

    Thank you for this book, I look forward to reading it more in depth,
    Anthony LLB(UNSW)(recently)

  • Richard Siek says:

    Your book describes my ex boss.
    I put up with his antics for over four years. He thought he would never get caught steeling from the company. So i managed to use this to my advantage. Things at work are much better now.
    It’s better just not great, as the new manager has OCD in a big way.
    He is rigid on rules, procedure, perfection and accuracy.
    There is no flexibility.
    I don’t mind working hard, I’d just like it to be comfortable.
    Perhaps this could be your next book.

  • John Stephens says:

    This BBC news item caught my eye about your book David. It reminded me of the time I was nursing my wife during the two years before she died of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Vivienne died 10th Dec 1999.

    I was working for Reuters at the time 1997-2001, when It had often crossed my mind that Reuters seemed to have a propensity to employ more than just society’s fair share of ‘nutbag’ psychopathic managers including the nutter who was hired to manage the firing of the wrong employees (including myself) during their spate of redundancies resulting from their take-over of ‘Liberty’ – naturally being a competitor of Reuters.

    During the latter part of 1999, I had written to John Diamond, ill with cancer himself, but still a columnist for the Sunday Times. Fortuitously, the nature of my job as a computer networks design consultant, enabled me to work on-line from the comfort of my study during those pre-broadband days using my Computer connected via London to Tokyo and Hongkong. This enabled me to tend the nursing requirements of my wife who needed assistance getting out of bed into her wheelchair just to get to the en-suite, let alone down the stairs to have breakfast. Naturally, I wanted my wife to be at home where she could see her boys, her cats and even peer on occasion, to relish the tranquility of her her sun-lit wooded garden.

    The crux of my short story to John was in effect, a cry for help, to vent my frustration about how on earth a human being (my immediate boss – head of projects) could be so callous to relentlessly bully me to come into the office to give him support, all because he could not cope (being typically a non-technical manager, which is still the culture and practice that many companies employ) while I was struggling to support my wife and two boys at the difficult time. when, obviously everything could be done on the phone while there was plenty of other technical resource.

    John printed my story disguising me as a woman (his idea), but in the circumstances, I was beyond caring whether I might lose my job or be prosecuted for libel !

    Meanwhile, I still ponder at where the relationship merges between psychopaths and paedophiles, although at the time of my letter, [to JD] there was little point in over-complicating the issue where substantial evidence was lacking to place both these bastards firmly behind bars where they belonged.

  • Steve says:

    Hi David, your book is timely and I have just finished reading it. Good stuff. I am part of a club where a long term (but non committee member) has alienated the whole committee and who is (we now suspect) starting to turn ordinary members against the committee. Our problem is not so much what his issue is (although your pinning-slime-to-a-wall analogy certainly rang true) but his bullying and manipulating manner. Your book did not cover the club environment and I did not find the magic-bullet answer I was seeking, but I now understand much better what we are dealing with. That will help us. Thank you.

  • Irene says:

    I have bought and read your book which describes a situation I am in perfectly. Luckily I am in a volunteer position (with others), where we cannot be fired or lose income. Our “boss” constantly lies, causing confusion and distress and making our work very difficult and sometimes impossible, simply to aggrandise her own position ( while she does nothing useful), but we cannot complain, as she is the only one we could complain to.

    However if we all give up and resign, the important and valuable work we do will be lost and the people we help will be left in the lurch. It is a very difficult and stressful position to be in.

  • Bob says:

    Hi David, Thank you for writing this book. I’ve just finished reading your book and totally agree with your comments.
    I have just recently retired from my workplace (Radio and TV) of 30+ years.
    Indeed the Media was third highest I recall for workplace psychopaths!
    The last 2 years were hell for me.
    Yes, the boss had it in for me and later my colleagues after he arrived and it didn’t take too long before the “mask” to fall off. Charmed then bang!
    He has changed everything from rosters to work practices over that period without proper consultation or consideration for positive change.
    Yes the upper management think he is doing a wonderful job after we complained last year about his lack of empathy etc.
    Morale has declined and staff are either thinking of leaving or have left over the last year and yes we were a harmonious group.
    I was so lucky to escape due to early retirement, but my colleagues are still facing the exact conflicts you mentioned in your book.
    I am so glad I bought this book as “self therapy”. You have explained so much of what I experienced. Cheers

  • Reetu says:

    Hi David I just saw ur book name taming the toxic people .How can you say without knowing about that persons personal life that this person is psychopath .May be that person is too controlled by the other person that some of his reaction you can think it’s psychotic sign.Some psychopath they think they are perfect in every aspect and try to put the other person down in most of the things and then they think that person is psychopath to whom they are putting down .Do you have any answer about it

  • Nicki Paull says:

    Dear Mr Gillespie. Your reply to Judy makes perfect sense. However, psychopaths as you know, abuse covertly, at arms length, manipulate others to do their dirty work for them, and gather a shipload of evidence to substantiate their own smear campaigns against anyone who calls them out. Psychopathic domestic abusers do not abuse in front of witnesses, like a Machiavelian boss might. Since in Australia, they will opt for mediation (and lawmakers will pressure women into this rather than open court), no witnesses or objective evidence is available to confused and suddenly abandoned partners that can prove deceptive, manipulative, abusive behaviour. Domestic victims are more often not believed, victim-blamed, shamed and isolated from support systems. They have already been worn down into a shadow of their former selves, and struggle with learned helplessness, trauma symptoms (including not being able to think straight), and exhaustion from trying to wrangle a psychopath even before the divorce. The solution is not so easy as you suggest.

  • Anthony The Koala says:

    Dear Mr Gillespie,

    After a few months, I have finished reading “Taming Toxic People”. One of the central themes of the book is that the ‘psychopath’ will use charm or other kinds of charismatic actions in order for the victim to follow’ and be controlled by the psychopath. Occasionally the psychopath will use her/his drones to ‘extract’ information from the victim. The information obtained by the psychopath may be used against the victim.

    Consequently the lessons from the book are:
    (1) Don’t give too much information to not only the psychopath but also to drones/colleagues. It could be used against the victim. Be wary of being invited to restaurants/cafes or other venues that let your hair down.
    (2) Don’t be influenced by the psychopath to break one’s ethics/codes. It could be used against the victim.
    (3) Importantly, keep documentation via a non-electronic diary of all incidents, the time, the date, what was said and the party or parties involved in a supposed task. Send relevant emails to a private email address.
    (3a) Hard copies of all relevant emails could be used as supporting documentation in case there is a dispute between the ‘firm’, the ‘psychopath’ and the victim.

    The book goes into more details such as how to reduce the risk of a psychopath controlling the affairs of a corporation by having a co-operative culture. Examples include “HP” and “Weatherill and Associates”. It also looks at tests to detect if the victim is in the presence of a psychopath. The back of the book has an index to tests.

    In sum, a victim must not give too much information, keep a record of events and do one’s job without becoming attached to it.

    Anthony, LLB(UNSW)(recently) of exciting Belfield

  • Josh says:

    Dear Mr Gillespie,

    Love your book.

    My gut feel at the moment, with the Royal commission into banking.
    In page 241, ASIC and other regulators are now the cannon fodders in banksters’ psychopathic power games.

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