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How to Spot the Psychopath in Your Office

Better watch your back in the break room.


Everyone has a difficult coworker to deal with – a little unfriendly, perhaps, a bit conniving or manipulative. “That guy is crazy.” “Did you hear what he did?” “Yeah, what a psycho.”

While chances are slim that you share a cubicle wall with a clinical psychopath, Dr. Robert D. Hare points out that not all cases are destined for the clichéd life of crime so often depicted in film and literature. A few even make it into the corporate world … where they often thrive.

Criminal psychologist Robert D. Hare dedicates his life to the study of psychopathy and the treatment of those suffering from the disorder. He is the creator of the PCL-R, a diagnostic tool used to assess the presence of psychopathy in individuals. Qualified psychologists utilize the PCL-R to predict the risk of recidivism and odds of rehabilitation. While its methodologies are complex, the test itself is quite easy to understand.

The PCL-R presents 20 personality traits with an adjustable score applied to each. A 0 is entered if the trait does not apply to the subject at all, a 1 if it applies partially, and a 2 if it applies completely. Included in the test are major red flag characteristics – a parasitic lifestyle, juvenile delinquency, pathological lying – alongside those that are far more familiar. I can think of at least one coworker with a level-2 lack of realistic long-term goals and tendency toward boredom.

An unadulterated psychopath would receive a 40 on the PCL-R. A composite score of 30 or more suggests a psychopathic diagnosis. A person with no prior arrests usually receives a 5.

In other words, psychopathy is not a yes or no diagnosis; it is a spectrum disorder.

In Hare’s 2006 book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, he and his colleagues administered the PCL-R to 203 corporate professionals. They found around four percent scored high enough to be considered psychopaths. While Hare is quick to point out that his pool was by no means an adequate random sample, it is obvious to see how certain psychopathic characteristics could provide a big leg up in the business world.

Excessive charm and an overstated sense of self-worth, a willingness to run over those who get in your way…these are desirable traits for CEOs, essential ingredients for success. Whereas doughy humanistic traits of empathy, compassion, or a willingness to accept responsibility only weigh one down on the way up the corporate ladder (despite making us, you know, human).

While it is difficult enough to discover and diagnose these rare cases of everyday psychopaths, the real challenge, according to Hare, is convincing them to accept treatment. How do you tell a monstrously successful individual that something is wrong with the way they do business? As Hare put it to The Telegraph while discussing his research: “It’d be pretty hard for me to pick out all the most successful people and say, ‘Look, I think you’ve got some brain deficit.’”

So watch your back in the break room.

[via The Telegraph]

Still from "American Psycho" via Lions Gate Films