Corporate Psychopathy: Web Conversation with Dr. Paul Babiak 

Snakes in Suits

by David Kosson

The recent economic slowdown and transitions that companies are going through are creating a favorable environment for corporate psychopaths. This was just one of the issues raised by Dr. Paul Babiak at the Aftermath Foundation’s Web Conversation on May 19, 2015.

In his talk, Dr. Babiak, a leading industrial and organizational psychologist and co-author of Snakes in Suits – When Psychopaths Go to Work,’ provided an overview of the modern-day corporate psychopath. They look and dress the same way as most business people, are charming, persuasive, charismatic, often fun to be around and, at first glance, seem to demonstrate strong leadership skills.

In reality, however, they are unable to build teams, have no respect for individuals, lack integrity and wisdom, and are only interested in their own success – not the company’s. The long-term damage to companies from psychopathic employees includes low morale, ill-informed decision-making, increased risk and reduced productivity.

Dr. Babiak warned that the frenzied nature of modern business spurred on by the recent economic crisis, with the constant downsizing and reorganizations, provides a fertile environment for psychopaths who thrive on chaos. On some occasions, psychopaths can enter companies as corporate saviors but, before long, will start to inflict considerable damage.

The Main Characteristics of Psychopaths

During the conversation, Dr. Babiak outlined some of the main characteristics and beliefs of psychopaths including their ability to be charming, likeable, and self-confident but at the same time insincere, untrustworthy and insensitive to the feelings of others. They also have a belief in their superiority over other people and the law, a sense of entitlement, and a belief that all blame lies with other people.

In research conducted by Drs. Babiak, Neumann and Hare of 203 executives from seven international companies, 3.9% were found to have high levels of psychopathic traits. The prevalence of psychopathy in the general population is only 1%. Unfortunately, according to Babiak, one of the biggest challenges in identifying corporate psychopaths is that in day-to-day activities they often bear the hallmarks of good leaders through their charm, charisma, and larger-than-life personalities. Based on over 20 years working with corporate psychopaths and their victims, he has developed a framework to explain their path through an organization, a process of manipulation that covers a number of stages:

  • Organizational Entry. Psychopaths are very adept at the entry and interview stage. They are confident, charming, have no qualms lying on their resumes or during face-to-face interviews, and say whatever it takes to get the job.
  • Assessment. The assessment stage is the honeymoon period where the psychopath will establish an influence network normally based on one-on-one interaction with co-workers – what is described as the ‘Psychopathic Bond’. The Psychopathic Bond is based on lies and manipulation and the ability of the psychopaths to analyze the victim’s hot spots and weaknesses. At this stage, the psychopath will identify Pawns (potential victims), Patrons (bosses and those with power) and the organizational Police (HR and accounting departments).
  • Manipulation. During the manipulation stage is when they start to create conflict among their co-workers – the pawns – often through a campaign of disinformation. When in conflict, people don’t talk to each other – a perfect environment for the psychopath. At the same time, the psychopath will continue to groom the patron, often their direct boss, as a means of protection and defense.
  • Abandonment & Confrontation. At this stage, pawns are abandoned when they are no longer considered useful. Those that question or challenge this change in the relationship are “neutralized.”
  • Ascension. And finally, there is the betrayal of the patron and the promotion into the patron’s job.

          During the question and answer part of the conversation, participants posed questions about various topics, including whether psychopathic manipulation is evident in academia and what one might do if they realize they are a pawn at the mercy of a corporate psychopath.

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About Dr. Babiak

Paul Babiak is an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist who coaches and consults with executives and organizations on issues related to corporate psychopathy. His research focuses on corporate psychopaths, their traits and characteristics, manipulation techniques, and the impact they can have on organizational performance and employee job satisfaction. He is the author of Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, with Dr. Robert D. Hare, as well as several scientific papers and book chapters. His work has been featured in the New York Times,Washington Post, Harvard Business Review, and Fast Company, and he has appeared on The Today Show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann-MSNBC and DatelineNBC as well as several documentaries on psychopathy.

SOURCE: Aftermath: Surviving Psychopathy Foundation Corporate Psychopathy: Web Conversation with Dr. Paul Babiak June 2015

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