Maybe you have worked alongside them or have hired them. Perhaps you have been impressed by their drive, ambition, intelligence, and charm. We’re talking about what Dr Robert Hare, pre-eminent authority on psychopaths, calls a corporate psychopath: a “nonviolent person prone to the selfish and remorseless use of others.”
Manipulative, ruthless, callous, often smart and charismatic, they are unable to feel empathy or guilt. Psychopaths can wreak havoc in workplaces with their self-serving behaviour. They take credit for work other people do, spread rumours, engage in character assassination, undermine their bosses, and terrorize other workers as they make their way up in the organisation.
While researchers are still looking for causes and cures, many people are trying to cope with these psychopathic individuals at work. There are no easy answers, but experts have suggestions. Fundamentally, experts agree, the best way to protect your workplace from psychopaths is to not hire them in the first place. Strategies include:
- Train interviewers so they are less likely to be conned, charmed, or manipulated.
- Check resumes for lies and distortions. Examine candidates’ backgrounds thoroughly.
- Check references. Follow up on any discrepancies.
- Don’t rely only on standard psychological tests because they won’t detect a psychopath. Dr Hare has developed a questionnaire (called the B-Scan) to identify workplace psychopaths.
According to Dr Hare, today’s fast-paced corporate environments are “the perfect breeding ground for these employees”. It’s very difficult to evict psychopaths from this fertile environment once they inhabit it, so it’s imperative to do your best to keep them out.
If you do find that you may have a workplace psychopath:
- Educate yourself about psychopaths. Understand their typical behaviours so you can be more effective at detecting them and avoiding being conned.
- Make it easy for workers to express their concerns about colleagues and supervisors. Investigate their concerns and complaints.
- Pay attention to work units that are not functioning well.
- Learn about your own weaknesses so you can be aware when someone starts to play on them, a common strategy of psychopaths.
- Document incidents that you observe and others report.
Lynette Jensen suggests in HR Daily: “The only way to slay a psychopath is with rationality. Insist on evidence and measurable outcomes, not their promises and stories. If everything seems to be awry in your team, and you don’t know why, then you’ve most likely got a psychopath in your midst”.
Hare, R.D. (1999) ‘Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us’, The Guildford Press