You’ve met him–the workplace Ted Bundy. Initially he’s charming, both to men and women, and especially in the presence of the boss. He’s friendly and confiding. He extends himself on your behalf—out of all proportion to anything you’d expect.
Then, he knifes you in the back, using office politics to undermine coworker, supervisory or business-to-business relationships. He chooses only certain victims—normally those who have something he wants or envies. He displays no remorse for his assaults. Instead, once he discredits a valuable employee or business owner, he voices surprise and disdain that they could have the problem he manufactured.
Have you fallen victim to a workplace serial killer? Have you made a series of strategic mistakes when sparring with one?
Recognizing an office Ted Bundy is harder than it looks. Often, all you have to base your suspicion on is intuition. But—as with criminal serial killers—there are tangible traces.
What clues can you look for? Here’s what you might notice. You may hear negative comments and stories about individuals you’d thought to be solid performers or managers of high integrity. If you’re Ted’s target, you’ll lose valuable relationships—he’ll manage to fabricate convincing scenarios in which you’re the “bad guy” out of small pieces of truth and large quantities of shadow.
If you spend much time around an office Bundy, you may eventually suspect he’s two people—the ingratiating charmer and the cold, hostile person who deftly cuts others to ribbons. You may think he’s erratic—but chances are you won’t be sure what to think.
Clues that a serial killer may be working in your organization include a dramatic increase in employee resignations or visits to the human resources department, an overactive rumor mill or unexpected drops in productivity from formerly stellar employees.
If you suspect you’re a target or have a killer in your organization, what should you do? First, stop looking the other way as a serial killer’s best weapon is that others look the other way.
Second, deal with the situation and not the symptom. Rather than trying to stop rumors, realize rumors are symptoms. Investigate and get others to talk about what they’ve seen firsthand—not what they’ve heard. If you’re the target, remind others of their history with you—and ask what innuendo has led them to discredit that history.
Serial killers live in darkness and rely on the rest of us turning our backs and not trusting what we see with our own eyes. The best defense is to realize there may be a pattern to what you are seeing and a commitment to dealing with the problem head on.
© 2020, Lynne: the original article is found in Solutions, 411: workplace answers; 911: revelations for workplace challenges and firefights, c 2014, https://amzn.to/2URQsM4, rated 4.8 (out of 5) stars on Amazon.com.
Lynne Curry also authored “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016). Send your questions to her at email@example.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.