!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Don't Hire a Psychopath

Friday, December 01, 2006

Don't Hire a Psychopath

Unfortunately, hiring a manipulative egotist with no conscience is all too easy. That's because one of the prime characteristics of the psychopathic personality is an ability to fool others, even experts, into thinking that one is an exceptionally fine person.

Back in 2004, when Enron and similar corporate malefactors were still on the front page, the BBC spoke with industrial psychologist Paul Babiak about the problem of psychopaths in business. Babiak cautions that psychopaths are hard to spot because:
Like many people in business they have strong egos, high energy and are somewhat narcissistic ... all these things are valued in business. (link added)
However difficult the task, doing your best to weed psychopaths out of your job candidate pool is worth concerted effort because, once hired, they can be hard to dismiss. As the BBC report explains:
Once they have their talons dug into a company they may be too well connected politically to shift, hiding their dangerous natures behind a network of influence and manipulation.
Traits to look for include "insincerity, arrogance, manipulative behaviour, lack of guilt or remorse."

In practical terms, minimizing the odds of bringing a psychopath onboard means
... training interviewers so they're less likely to be manipulated and conned. It means checking resum├ęs for lies and distortions, and it means following up references.
The preceding piece of advice comes from a 2001 article on the work of Babiak and his colleague, Robert D. Hare, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. This article also provides guidance on how to protect yourself from a psychopath at large in your organization. Aim for:
... self-protection through self-education. Know your own weaknesses ... because the psychopath will find and use them. Learn to recognize the psychopath ... [no mean feat, as indicated above]
In a 2004 article in the Vancouver Sun, David Hogben provides further details of Babiak's thinking:
The old, staid, bureaucratic organization filled with rules, policies and procedures was too frustrating and unattractive to the psychopath, Babiak said.

"Now, because the pace of business has accelerated so much, only organizations that can move fast can survive. It also makes it more fun to work there, not just for you and I, but for the psychopath as well," he said.
You might wonder about using training to correct a psychopath's behavior. The experts say don't kid yourself. The psychopath is aware of other ways of behaving, but is not motivated to change. This is a problem that training cannot solve.

Hare is the creator of the PCL-R instrument, a checklist of indicators of psychopathy. Building on the work that produced the PCL-R, Hare has now developed the B-Scan and B-Scan 360, instruments for use in the corporate setting to "identify specific dysfunctional work behavior patterns that, if left unchecked, could potentially have a negative impact on the organization and its members."

Here are some representative items, taken from a radio interview with Hare and Babiak:
  • Does your boss or workmate come across as smooth, polished and charming?


  • Do they turn most conversations around to a discussion about them?


  • Do they discredit or put others down in order to build up their own image and reputation?


  • Can they lie with a straight face to their co-workers, customers, or business associates?


  • Do they consider people they've outsmarted or manipulated as dumb or stupid?


  • Are they opportunistic, ruthless, hating to lose and playing to win?


  • Do they come across as cold and calculating?


  • Do they sometimes act in an unethical or dishonest manner?


  • Have they created a power network in the organisation, then used it for personal gain?


  • Do they show no regret for making decisions that negatively affect the company, shareholders, or employees?
Babiak and Hare present their ideas more fully in their book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, published earlier this year.

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