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When Psychopaths go to work
Paul Babiak & Robert Hare

Extended Book Review

Being a psychopath is not illegal. But their behavior ought to be. In the fashion of a Greek tragedy, these authors dramatically weave several stories of how psychopaths destroy lives--this time the setting is the work place. Their descriptions resonate perfectly with Martha Stout's "The Sociopath Next Door."

They are particularly dangerous when they have engaging personalities. For then they can work the system and those in it for all they are worth. Their charisma, charm, and glib ability to manipulate and lie convincingly seduces all but those who have not already been burned. Their typical goals are power, money and sex. Their methods involve deceitfully using others for their own selfish gains. Woe to the innocent meeting one for the first time.

What sets psychopaths apart from the rest of is that they have no conscience, none. The syndrome also usually includes feelings of entitlement, abusive behaviors, and winning at all costs. What is different about this book is its setting: Business and enterprise. Yes, even the most hard-headed and astute businessperson can fall victim to their machinations. In the worst case, the psychopath in charge sinks the enterprise--and it will invariably be soneone else's fault--according to them. It is no surprise that many end up in prison. The smart ones are rarely that unlucky. They are just very good at climbing the corporate ladder, using others as long as they are useful, then betraying or discarding them as the case may be. Widows are often victimized, and so are corporations. We had the the misfortune to work for two and supervise two before we found an effective defense.

Babiak & Hare properly caution not to label anyone a psychopath. Leave that to the experts. Nevertheless, it is behavior that counts. When a person has the earmarks of psychopathy, s/he will not usually be good for the organization. Compared with the cost of a hiring mistake, the extra effort given to the hiring process pays big dividends. Among those dividends are improved team work and low employee turn over.

What does this have to do with terror? Well, democracy and free enterprise need to be at maximum strength in the war of ideas. Furthermore, a psychopath without conscience, is closely akin to an in-house terrorist. They invariably leave human and/or corporate wreckage in their wakes.

To the business folks, the message is clear: take extreme care with the hiring process. Most of all, keep all candidates at arm's length emotionally until the pre-employment procedures run their course. The pre-employment procedures work best if the candidate is required to complete an interview on paper to accompany his/her resume before talking to anyone at the firm. The candidate's background must be thoroughly investigated for psychopaths commonly pad their abilities beyond reality. A third check would involve a psychometric test given by a certified psychologist that measures the specific traits accompanying the psychopathic syndrome. [Our in-house psychotherapist caught two pretenders.] Green lights from all these open the doors for multiple interviews in which the interviewers are well-armed with questions that explore explicitly the items returned from the pre-employment process. Even such an extreme hiring process is no guarantee. However, we have used it to good effect--losing only two of the last 40 odd hires in our earlier careers.


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