What is it about social predators?
In the #MeToo movement, there has been much discussion concerning sexual and social predators and why women and men were unable to step forward. But we must also study why social predators escape detection as well. By teaching our children the most common signals of bullying bosses, con artists, and others, we can help them navigate the murky politics found in almost every office setting. We can also help them realize that it is very difficult to spot liars – actually only 50% of the time. And with professional con artists who no longer have the physical tells that announce their deception, it is excruciatingly difficult to escape their Machiavellian charm.
Unfortunately, human beings are hardwired to trust and Americans idolize the successful. We ignore our own self-deception, letting people fool us. We are mesmerized by rags to riches stories that many social predators manipulate to their advantage. In the media, we witness con artists, pathological liars, thieves, character disordered people – addicts, psychopaths, narcissists – twist “news” and “facts” everyday. And if we identify with these characters, we can be easily seduced by their public image and their charm, believing these people are exactly how they portray themselves. Let us not forget Ivan Boesky, Jordan Belfort or Bernie Madoff.
It is difficult to escape the allure of social predators
Oozing with charm, they disguise their intentions by “too much” friendliness, success and favors that they can use to trade up. They immediately draw you into their confidence, establishing common ground or dropping names of common friends causing you to willfully ignore the obvious. In fact, they employ many of the same techniques that politicians and advertising men do. And once we like or love them, the danger begins.
So how do we avoid these predators?
Know the most common signs.
- Con artists will use repetitive phrases, overt friendly gestures and extreme sleight of hand to fool their victims. They are articulate and persuasive. They promise the moon like Dr. Nassar making parents believe that he could help their daughters achieve Olympic glory. Or like most, hide behind a facade of goodwill. Their voices are intimate, charming and domineeringly insistent accompanied with an unusual cool demeanor. Their body language is smooth and practiced. Two common physical gestures they employ are 1) showing an open palm which is a universal sign for “I mean no harm” and 2) touching the forearm which demonstrates fondness making the conversation more personal before they go in for the ask.
- Social predators are the masters in manipulating self-image. Be wary of successful appearances or grandiose statements which could lead to a house of mirrors. It is easy to lease a BMW, rent a penthouse, buy discounted designer clothes. It is also easy to write your bio on Wikipedia, boost your online profile, and charm others to help you especially if you’re sociopathic. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it is. So verify everything more than once, twice or even three times. Use LexisNexis to search for past and present lawsuits. Use Spokeo to verify addresses. Dig up past newspaper articles. If someone says he’s worked with the Titans of Wall Street but doesn’t have that penthouse on Park Avenue or beach house in the Hamptons, I can assure you something is amiss. Just like that bridge in Brooklyn that’s for sale. However, the truly professional con artists are practically impossible to detect but look for the following…
- According to Martha Stout, a renowned scientist, studying psychopathy/sociopathy, she states that we should avoid anyone who uses pity to gain our trust, portraying themselves as a victim to lower our defenses so that we’ll come to their aid. It is a tricky scenario because if we do not fall for the bait, we appear callous and cold-hearted to the outside world. For example, these scammers may call and beg us to help our grandchildren by sending money. But by not helping the good looking guy like Ted Bundy with feigned car troubles, we could just save our own lives.
- It is through nonverbal communication not words that reveal a person’s true intentions or feelings. If you see disappearing lips so famously depicted by Bernie Madoff and Anthony Weiner, be on guard for something amiss. If someone points at you indignantly and glares incessantly or if they angle their bodies or feet away from you or go in a non-verbal lockdown, showing absolutely no emotion, these could all be clues for deception or worse, attack. Also be wary of manic speech, dilated pupils, jaw clenching, profuse sweating and other signs of drug or alcohol addiction. Know them so you are not hurt.
- Know that many times office bullies fall into corruption, committing white-collar crimes. Remember Martha Stewart and Andrew Fastow? These men and women are intent on inflating their stature and concealing their business dealings. They delight in ostentatious symbols of wealth. They belittle their employees, screaming and often offer “gifts” to clients and others demonstrating their “generosity”. Do not forget that gifts are rarely free from such individuals.
- How do they speak of others? If they trash other people for any reason, they will trash you too. Period.
- Moral disengagement. If anyone is immoral in one area of their life, I can assure you that they are immoral in all of it. Do not dismiss it. If someone justifies stealing from the office, cheating on their partner or even gossiping about good friends, be forewarned. These are red flags.
- Know that you cannot beat a malignant narcissist, sociopath or chronic drug addict or alcoholic. They will not change. They are not built for reason. They do not cry real tears. Nor do they experience feelings of guilt or remorse, showing few nonverbal cues of emotion when they lie. They can pretend to listen and empathize but they are focused on their next fix or victim. They are either in the throes of their addiction or hard wired for malevolence. In the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the federal government found 1 in 12 Americans needed treatment for substance abuse and only 11% received some form. According to Martha Stout, 1 in 25 people are sociopathic. So it quite possible that you will run into one of these people in work environments or unfortunately our government.
So be ready.