Snakes in Suits, When Psychopaths Go To Work

Posted November 1, 2011 in Communication, Leadership, What We're Reading

By: Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare

Reviewed by: Glain Roberts-McCabe

The Premise: The modern, flexible corporate world is the perfect breeding ground for psychopaths according to this provocative read by psychologist Dr. Paul Babiak and psychopathy expert Dr. Robert Hare. Snakes in Suits paints a compelling picture of the way individuals with psychopathic tendencies can infiltrate the workplace and abuse trust, manipulate supervisors and leave teams in shambles. Through a combination of storytelling, examples and research, the book outlines how psychopaths use their insights and skills in reading people to manipulate those around them. The book provides you with lots of background into what makes a psychopath tick and offers an interesting window into their thought processes. The final chapters offer some suggestions on how you can protect yourself from a psychopathic colleague, boss or client, but at the end of the day the outlook appears bleak. Psychopaths are so skilled at manipulation that, frankly, the best approach may be to just run in the other direction.

The Bottom Line: My friend Mari dropped this book off for me and it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for a while. Given that the highest read post on our blog is about psychopath bosses, I thought I’d better read up on the subject. Frankly, this is a horrifying read and I challenge anyone who dives into it not to find themselves mentally checking off characteristics or behaviours that sound a whole lot like a present or former co-worker. Although the authors stress repeatedly not to “label” people as psychopaths, it’s certainly hard to resist doing it when presented with lots of reinforcing data! To show the corporate psycho in action, the authors let the story of a “typical” psycho path unfold through the various chapters. Although a bit of a heavy read (I got lost in some of the chapters around what they were actually focusing on), there’s some great information in here… particularly around how psychopaths build trust. It all left me thinking that interview skills are probably one of the most crucial skills that you can have as a manager. Checking references and paying attention to red flags may help keep the psychopath from entering your doors in the first place. Once inside, beware of the charming suck-up who’s getting cozy with your boss. He could be your very own Norman Bates.

Roundtable Rating: Definitely worth a read. Especially if you work in highly flexible, rapidly changing environments with lots of risk at play. Psychos love that apparently.

Check out the book and watch a clip from the Today Show featuring the authors.

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