Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

The Predator in a Business Suit

Five characteristics to look for and an example of what could happen if you get in the crosshairs of a workplace predator.

We tend to think that men who prey on women look like boogeymen or live along the margins of society. However, that simply is not true. Now that’s not to say that some men who prey on women don’t look like scary boogeymen or exist on the fringes of society, but the majority don’t. Just because a man has a high position in a company, is clean-shaven, wears an expensive suit, and carries himself with boyish charm, doesn’t mean he can’t be a predator.

On the contrary, he can be the most cunning and manipulating kind of predator, one you tend to least expect until it’s too late.

There are five main characteristics of this kind of predator that if identified early in a relationship, should prompt you to stop and think about what you are doing. For once you are in his web, it’s very difficult to untangle yourself and get out.

1. He fools you with his charm

This guy grooms his victims. He builds your trust. He is complimentary. He flatters you. He gushes about how smart and capable you are. And you ARE flattered. Here is this CEO or Vice President of your company taking an interest in you. He builds you up to the team, goes out of his way to put you on special projects and you think, finally, someone is taking notice of your value. He promises big things for you and in some cases, delivers on that promotion, project assignment, or recognition. And for a brief moment in time, you feel understood. You feel validated.

2. He tells you sad tales about his life to appeal to your emotions and creates a private bond

This guy tells you stories about what is going on in his personal life. Perhaps he laments to you about his crazy and dysfunctional wife or girlfriend, about his awful marriage, lack of sex, or ungrateful spendthrift kids. He tells you he doesn’t know what to do. He asks you for advice. At first, you feel incensed that he could be treated so unjustly. After all, he is such a great guy. You feel sorry for him. And you are, he says, the only one he can talk to. You feel good about that. You feel good that you can be an available friend to him like he has been to you.

3. He exploits your vulnerabilities and abuses his position of power

Then a gradual shift begins to occur. This man now wants payback. After all, look at what he has done for you. Meet me for a drink, he says. It doesn’t matter that he is married because you are just friends. Look how much he has confided in you. It feels all wrong and your alarm bells go off inside. You say no that it probably isn’t a good idea to meet for a drink, but he insists, pushing you. I went out on a limb for you, he claims, and anyway, I thought we are friends. The least you can do is have a drink with me. I am having a tough time and could use someone to talk to. So you meet him anyway, despite your uncomfortableness, and justify his behavior as normal, as okay.

This guy can hone in on the vulnerable. He knows you are a single mother and primary support to your children. He knows you are alone. He knows you need your job. He knows you struggle paycheck to paycheck. He makes you believe he is your only support in the company and that he alone, has your back to move forward. He taps into your insecurities without you recognizing it. He exploits your trust to believe that what he says is true. He has power over you and your job and exploits that to get what he wants. Gradually over time, you begin to feel manipulated and forced into an uncomfortable position. At the same time, you know what he is capable of and are unsure what to do. You have seen him degrade others whom he doesn’t like. You have seen him manipulate the firing of those people.

4. He won’t take no for an answer, is morally deviant with no regard for your feelings

So you meet this guy for a drink and insist you only have an hour. You feel by limiting the time, you can appease him and get out of there unscathed. You think you can manage this. However, unbeknownst to you, as you run into the bathroom before leaving, he waits for you outside the door and forces himself on to you when you come out. He pushes you up against the wall and tries to kiss you. You pull away, sick to your stomach. On some level you knew he had deviant motives but you wanted to believe otherwise. You had convinced yourself it wasn’t what it seemed. You manage to get out of there, but you still have to face him every day at work.

The next day he texts you that he had a great time and insists he has never done that before. It’s all because of his attraction and chemistry to you, he says. You make him do these things. Over the next year he harasses you weekly and sometimes daily to meet him again for a drink, to go to lunch, or for coffee. You say no, he rolls his eyes. You now have a pit in your stomach that never goes away. You avoid him as much as you can. He makes suggestive comments to you over and over again. You look so hot today, he says. I think about you all the time, he laments. You tell him this makes you uncomfortable and again, he rolls his eyes. Don’t you know how to let go and have fun? he asks.

He asks you to meet on Tuesday. You say you can’t. He asks about Wednesday. You say you can’t. He asks about Thursday. You say you can’t. And on and on this goes, making it difficult to concentrate and do your job. Months later you agree to go with him for coffee on a break from work thinking you will tell him that he needs to stop. That this has to end. A quick coffee break during the day seems a safer alternative to meeting for a drink at night. You go get coffee but on the way back to the office he takes a side road to a parking garage. Lurching toward you after he parks the car, he tries to kiss you again but you are unable to push him away. You feel like a fool. Like the idiot who falls for the same trick over and over again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

You now realize that you are playing with fire. You are playing a cat and mouse game that has become more daunting and dangerous. You are caught between preserving your livelihood, your dignity, and your values and a man who has no regard for any of that. You no longer tell him how you feel because you now realize he doesn’t care. So you continue to manage and hobble along frustrated that you can’t tell him to f-off because to anger him would mean to lose your job. You recognize his fragile ego would never allow him to admit he is wrong. He is well-respected and who would believe you anyway? You look for other jobs but none pan out quick enough. You begin to say yes to meeting him a week or two in advance to shut him up. It buys some desperately needed quiet time from his harassment. You then apologetically cancel making up one excuse after another but offering another day in upcoming weeks just to do it all over again.

This fends him off for a short while until one morning on a day off, he shows up at your door.

5. He is a narcissist with an insatiable need for absolute control, attention, and praise

This guy is a master manipulator. He is well-respected and well-liked throughout the company and continues to rise in rank. He talks incessantly about the money he makes, his vacation homes, the amount he can chest press at the gym, and the accolades he gets from his superiors and colleagues. In private, he puts women down for their looks and weight and men down for their level of intelligence but in public he is a champion of all women and a mans-man.

He is a formidable man to be up against. And all you can think to do is manage him until you can leave the company. There isn’t an option to report him because, well, despite the rising of the MeToo movement, it’s a long road to redemption if redemption comes at all. It’s a him-versus-you fight. He has more money to fight it and more access to power to squash it quickly. He can ruin your career and in turn, your ability to take care of yourself and your children.

Ultimately, it comes down to avoiding this situation in the first place because once you are in it, it is very difficult to get out. Know that to try and reason with this man or tell him how you feel will fall on deaf ears. Instead, it is key to understand the signs when they present themselves and steer clear of this predator’s crosshairs altogether.

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