Almost Psychopaths in the Workplace

06 Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R)

06 Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) (Photo credit: Image Editor)

Almost Psychopaths in the Workplace.

Grandiosity, manipulation, and lack of empathy.  Authors of a recent book on subclinical psychopathy consider how people with these traits may be drawn to the high stakes of corporate life.

Swiss psychiatrist Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, author of The Emptied Soul: On the Nature of the Psychopath (1980), believes that there are many psychopaths who hold upstanding positions in society, including businesspeople. He refers to them as compensated psychopaths. We call them almost psychopaths or subclinical psychopaths. It makes sense that people who are almost psychopathic can be found in the business world; psychopaths are attracted to power and money the way sharks are attracted to chum. Many psychopaths thrive on fast-moving situations where the outcome is what matters. And while robbing banks might make sense to psychopaths who score high on the “socially deviant lifestyle” elements of the PCL-R [the screen for psychopathy], those whose psychopathic traits are more heavily weighted in the direction of narcissism and Machiavellianism would more likely be attracted to a corporate setting where, in many cases, they can be rewarded for their manipulative and ruthless ways.

The developer of the PCL-R himself, Robert Hare, once observed that in addition to studying psychopaths in prison, he should have spent time at the Stock Exchange as well. His point was that there is no shortage of psychopathic behavior in the business world, no end to the charming, manipulative, credit-stealing, colleague-blaming conduct that defines psychopathy. These almost psychopathic and truly psychopathic managers and executives can create havoc on a somewhat limited level by, say, creating dissension in a sales department but also on a much larger scale, where an instinct toward self-centered manipulation and lack of integrity can bring down an entire corporation, causing financial and emotional damage to thousands or tens of thousands (think Enron).

In 2005, two psychologists at the University of Surrey, England, published their research comparing the personality profiles of high-level British executives (“senior business managers”) with randomly selected psychiatric patients and criminal psychiatric patients at Broadmoor Special Hospital, a high-security hospital in the United Kingdom and home to some of Britain’s most notorious criminals. The psychologists administered the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory scales for DSM-III Personality Disorders (MMPI-PD), a true/false self-report inventory in which the respondent is asked to consider statements reflecting eleven different personality disorders: histrionic, narcissistic, antisocial, borderline, dependent, obsessive-compulsive, passive-aggressive, paranoid, schizotypal, schizoid, and avoidant.

The psychologists were particularly interested in measuring these traits in senior business managers because of previous work suggesting some psychopaths operate in mainstream society and because of the links made between elements of these almost psychopaths and character traits associated with success in business. Noting that the evidence of almost psychopaths is growing (the psychologists in this study used the term successful psychopaths), they also highlighted research indicating that the emotion factor is higher than the deviant lifestyle/antisocial factor in successful psychopaths. In other words, almost (successful) psychopaths who flourish in the business world are proficient manipulators and influencers who are less prone to overt rule and law breaking than true psychopaths. More specifically, almost psychopaths seem to have particular proficiency for seeking out and developing relationships with people of high authority and influencing them.

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2 Comments

  1. I work with them. All are white. Mostly male and driven on power and humiliation. It’s not a coincidence that AmeriKlan rewards these people for bad behavior. This country was founded on bad behavior.

    The reward is wealth and power. Self reliance and privately owned businesses is the only answer from this madness.

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