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Psychopaths At Work

Is it possible for an individual with a psychopathic personality to benefit the workplace?

As I work my way through my social work diploma and onto further education I can’t help but be fascinated by individuals who lack a certain level of empathy. Growing up my father had definitive psychopathic traits that made my childhood quite challenging. Dr.Robert Hare has long been someone who I greatly admire for his work in the field of psychopathy research. Dr. Hare invented the Psychopathy Checklist which is used to assess cases of psychopathy in adults. He has written several books on the subject of both the criminal and professional psychopath. With an estimated 1% of the population being a true psychopath we now know that the majority are not in prison populations but actually working and living among us. 

Some of the characteristics of psychopathy are as follows: 

*Lack of remorse/empathy

*Glibness/superficial charm 

*Conning/manipulative

*Pathological lying 

*Failure to accept responsibility 

*Grandiose sense of self-worth 

*Need for stimulation 

*Lack of realistic goals 

These traits are for the most part very negative and do not fair well for those who the psychopath chooses to manipulate. The question is does the psychopathic individual possess any traits that would positively benefit a business? To find out whether psychopaths could benefit the workplace or society as a whole I interviewed Dr. Michael Arntfield, professor of criminology at Western University.

When asked if psychopaths along with their negative traits also possess positive traits that could benefit society Dr. Arntfield replied “No not really. They have selfish traits that will allow them to perform well. The latest dimension of research suggests that there is an evolutionary advantage to having psychopathic traits, not necessarily full on psychopaths, or let’s say a score of 30 over 40 on the PCL-R Hare’s test, but having certain traits whether it’s intense competitiveness, an intense need for adulation or a need for thrill seeking that prevents idle laziness. The thought is if you can have psychopathic traits including a lack of empathy, there are certain jobs for that. If you didn’t go through life beholden to the people you had stepped on, imagine what everyone could accomplish. So the idea is that it’s not good for society as a unit, but that in terms of the fact that humans are a competitive species rooted in natural selection, there would be an advantage to being a hunter predator who only has selfish interests. This is why we see them gravitate to certain jobs that offer financial reward such as media personality, physician, surgeon, lawyer, CEO, police officer or journalist. These are all over represented among psychopaths, not because they better society, these jobs better the individual. So no, they could do their jobs effectively but in most cases any benefit to society is in spite of what they are trying to do.” 

If we solely look at the effectiveness at which a psychopathic individual would execute their position, we may find that they are able to be highly efficient in certain cases. If for example, a surgeon had psychopathic tendencies, they may be able to perform their job more effectively as the lack of empathy allows them to perfrom proceduries without emotional hindrance. This sounds quite positive, but we must also look at the workplace culture and the role of the psychopathic individual as it applies to the business as a whole. 

The way a psychopath affects the company culture is less positive. Being sadistic in nature they would motivate using fear rather than respect. As a leader they can have their workers walking on egg shells. If they don’t feel they can use you for personal gain or see you as a stepping stone on their way to moving up the heirarchy, they won’t offer you any respect. If they see something in you that could help them to move forward, they will be wonderfuly charming. 

They are great converstationalists who can easily sprinkle chit-chat with witty comebacks and “unlikely but convincing” stories that make them look good, writes psychologist Dr. Robert Hare, in a post on Psychology Today. 

You may want them on your sales team because of their innate ability to charm, manipulate and sell, but if you are trying to build a long lasting business that truly connects with clients, engages emotionally, builds respectful leaders and better society as a whole you may want to think again.

As a leader or a co-worker they can be destructive of the environment, push personal boundaries, create tension and have workers feeling like their only option is to find employment elsewhere. Psychopaths only think of themselves, if they are the CEO of a business money always comes first and they will put no real thought into bettering humanity, environmental awareness or charitable causes. 

If psychopathy can be looked at as a spectrum, a little might be beneficial but too much is disastrous. 

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