Coping with workplace psychos
you like psycho movies? Here's something really scary: You might work with one.
You're thinking, "Hmmm, maybe that quiet
new co-worker with the piercings or the brooding swing shift janitor?"
Perhaps, but chances are just as good, and
maybe better, that the psycho in your workplace is your boss, his
boss, perhaps even your CEO.
can you hear the lambs, Clarice?
As many as one in 100 adults in the workplace is a
psychopath, according to the forthcoming "Snakes in Suits:
When Psychopaths Go to Work" by Robert D. Hare, professor
emeritus in psychology at the University of British Columbia in
Vancouver, Canada, and Paul Babiak, a New York-based industrial-organizational
psychologist. Not surprisingly, psychopaths comprise as much as
a quarter of the prison population.
also are a few psychos that manage to find a home in the workplace. Most of them
aren't likely to slice and dice in their off hours like Wall Street wiz Patrick
Bateman in "American Psycho" or sauté their neighbors like Hannibal
Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs." But their innate charm, lust for thrills
and lack of conscience can exact similar damage on the careers of those who stand
in their way.
Unless you can find a way to have your company's
psycho moved from the corner office to the local sanitarium, you're going to have
to find a way to work with (or around) that person in order to hang onto your
job. It helps to cope when you know a little about what makes such a person tick.
"Psychopaths know the difference between right and
wrong, but they think it's amusing that you and I differentiate it," says
Babiak. "They don't see a separation between what's mine and what's yours;
what I own is theirs. They don't see my ownership of property or even my life
as something valuable that they need to respect."
to Hare, psychopaths share this laundry list of abnormalities:
lack of remorse or empathy
- shallow emotions
- low frustration tolerance
- parasitic lifestyle
violation of social norms
Pedophiles and serial killers
only represent the extreme end of the spectrum. What Babiak found in his workplace
studies is that many psychos actually excel in the business environment, where
charm and self-confidence easily mask their duplicitous nature.
"Some of the people were high in the personality
aspects, meaning they had characteristic psychopathic features,
but they weren't overly violent or antisocial. Which kind of makes
sense because they have been successful in business," he says.
"When they did present antisocial
behavior, it was dressing down someone in public or backstabbing
behavior. Bob Hare calls them 'subcriminal psychopaths.'"