Snakes in Suits - when psychopaths go to work!
By Helen Reed, National Union of Journalists, 15 Jan 07Helen Reed was drawn to the title of a lecture by Dr Robert Hare, who created a checklist for spotting the psychopath.What unfolded was a fascinating academic lecture with thought-provoking material for the 'real' workplace.
Dr Robert Hare suggests that psychopaths are an estimated 1% of the general population, and 15% of the prison population, most are not in prison. He also suggests that it's purely down to opportunity whether the psychopath ends up in prison or the workplace.
How to spot a psychopath in the workplace
The prime interest of the psychopath is self-interest, and even though they may only exist at one per cent in the workplace, their impact is enormous and the damage they wreak is disproportionate to their numbers.
A prototypical psychopath has particular characteristics in a heavy dose. They tend to be superficial, grandiose, manipulative and deceitful.
They lack empathy, lack remorse, don't accept responsibility, have poor behavioural control, and show anti social behaviour. They are in fact life's predators: tough, cold hearted, narcissistic, egocentric, unpredictable and ruthless.
Cool under pressure with an adroit use of charm and charisma, they intimidate and control others. There is often an intrusion of space and the predatory 'stare'. They have a natural ability to lie and deceive, and have an impressive use of jargon. They are naturals at undermining and pushing the buttons of others - the workplace bully.
The psychopath often ends up in leadership positions through manipulation, deviousness and use of others. But their capabilities as good leaders are fundamentally flawed, because of their ruthlessness and need to revel in prestige and power.
They will also discredit their employer as their behaviour is virtually always on the shady side of the law. They will be involved in some something of an illegal or undetected nature - at best swindling accounts or misusing expenses.
How they survive
Like any predator, psychopaths are extremely good at survival.
In the workplace they are clever at identifying useful 'pawns' and equally clever at setting up 'patrons' - important people who they can manipulate, charm and who can protect and defend them when necessary.
They also spread disinformation about themselves and others, i.e. they'll lie about their own education or ability. Disparage rivals and create conflict among co-workers when it suits them.
The way to catch a psychopath
Look for particular behaviour traits. You can catch a psychopath in an obvious lie and they will act as if nothing has happened with no embarrassment, unlike a normal person.
Another classic symptom can be the ability to fly off the handle into extreme anger or rage, but can change immediately as if nothing has happened. Where most non-psychopaths would take quite a while for the emotion to settle down again and recover.
In Dr Hares description he says: "Their real ability to experience ordinary emotions is a bit like the colour blind person understanding what is meant by the colour red."
The ultimate problem?
"Us! " says Dr Hare.
"The majority of people and therefore workplaces are easy prey, because we still want to believe that people are inherently good. We don't really want to believe that such people exist."
But Dr Hare concluded that "perhaps a new name would help us to stop these predators?
"Instead of the name 'psychopath', what about substituting the word 'bastard'?
Helen is keen that members who have suffered bullying or who are still coping with bullying or harassment at their workplace should be able to discuss their experiences and gain empowerment from mutual support.
If you would like to support Helen's initiative, join the NUJ's anti-bullying campaign, or tell Helen of your experiences, please email her at helenreed(at)virgin.net.