Snakes in Suits (2006) examines the type of high-functioning psychopath that is not necessarily violent and who instead of a jumpsuit dons a suit to make it to the top of their organizations.
Psychopathy experts Hare and Babiak analyze the damage these career-psychopaths cause to companies and employers and offer some (limited) advice to employees and HR departments.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- Psychopaths Can Climb The Corporate Hierarchy
- Where Psychopaths Work (& Don’t Work)
- Psychopaths Commit Lots of Crime
- Psychopathy Doesn’t Necessary Make People Criminal
- For Psychopaths, Other People Exist Only for Them
- Psychopaths’ Have Little or No Emotions
- Psychopathy is Both Nature and Nurture?
- The 5 Phases of Psychopath’s Ladder Climbing
- Psychopath Have Good Grasp of Human Psychology
- Psychopaths Are Poor Team Players
- Superficially Good at Communication Skills
- Spotting a Psychopath at Work
- Dealing With Psychopaths
- Real-Life Applications
- Psychopaths can be your colleagues
- They manipulate people to accrue power, for example by pitching them against each other (divide & conquer)
- Psychopaths are attracted to bigger, dynamic corporations with little structure and supervision
- They are unfit to work in teams: don’t share information and are often happy to see others fail
About the Author: Robert Hare is a Canadian psychologist and researcher, and recognized as one of the most renowned names in psychopathy research. Hare has drawn some criticism over the years, and he is also the author of “Without Conscience“.
Psychopaths Can Climb The Corporate Hierarchy
The big question is:
Can psychopaths climb the corporate ladder?
The typical answer was that it’s unlikely because they lack the ability to work in a group, and the staying power and the work ethics that fuel a corporate climb to the top.
This is the same theory that Martha Stout espouses in The Sociopath Next Door.
However, says Hare, their research proves the opposite.
There are four reasons, the authors say:
- Psychopath traits make them seem attractive candidates on job interviews (charm, charisma)
- Psychopathic behavior may look like leadership qualities (taking charge, making decisions, and making others do what you want)
- Business today is more fast-paced and “leaner and meaner” making the environment more suited to psychopaths
- Environments that are high-risk and fast-paced attract more psychopaths, and there are more such businesses today
Snakes in Suits makes the point that psychopaths can sneak into corporate structures and potentially remain undetected for a long time.
During that time, they can acquire lots of power and create much harm. This is a point of view with which Dutton, author of “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” also agrees with.
For more on the research, read:
Where Psychopaths Work (& Don’t Work)
The authors say that psychopaths won’t seek employment in smaller and tightly controlled firms such as a family bakery and they won’t like rigid and highly structured bureaucracies.
They are rule breakers and wouldn’t function well in them.
They don’t usually work on jobs that require routines and structures. They don’t have work ethics and don’t believe in an honest day job for honest pay.
It’s difficult to picture a psychopath working 5 or 6 years in a routine nine to five hoping to become a manager.
This is not to say they never work in routine or dead-end jobs, but it’s very likely their performance will be poor, self-serving, unreliable and possibly entered with made-up qualifications.
Where Psychopaths Work
- high-pressure sales
- predatory repair people
- pump and dump stock promoters
- Internet scammers (Tai Lopez manipulation techniques)
- fraudulent counselors
- shady professions of all sorts
Psychopaths Commit Lots of Crime
Both male and female psychopaths commit more crimes and their crimes tend to be more violent than those of other criminals.
Psychopaths make up about 15% of the prison population. And many of the remaining 85% can be described as sociopaths or having antisocial personality disorder, similar to but often confused for psychopathy.
Some people with APD are psychopaths, but many are not. APD is much more common than psychopathy (2 or 3 times more common).
Lack of empathy, grandiosity and shallow emotions are not necessarily diagnosed with APD.
Aggressive and malignant narcissists, such as narcissists with antisocial behavior, are also difficult to differentiate from psychopaths.
Psychopathy Doesn’t Necessary Make People Criminal
Just having a psychopathic personality disorder doesn’t automatically make someone a criminal.
Some lead seemingly normal lives without making waves with obvious crimes.
But they still cause emotional, economic and psychological pain.
They don’t make warm and loving parents and children or family members.
And they don’t make for reliable friends or colleagues.
For Psychopaths, Other People Exist Only for Them
Psychopaths have a huge sense of superiority and sense of entitlement. They think nothing of taking property that belongs to others.
They believe other people exist only for their own pleasure and well-being.
And since they see most people as inferior, weak or too easy to deceive, many psychopaths believe that their victims deserved what they got.
In some extreme cases, they will say that they are doing a favor to the victim by allowing the victim to support them.
The people around are only valuable until they can provide something.
Once they are no more useful, the psychopath will discard them at once.
Psychopaths’ Have Little or No Emotions
Psychopaths’ emotions are poorly developed and weak at best. But they do understand that others have something called “emotions”.
Some psychopaths will take the time to learn emotions to better manipulate their victims.
But they do at a superficial level and good observers can sometimes tell the difference.
Psychopathy is Both Nature and Nurture?
But a better question would be how much either nature or nurture account for.
Genetics seem to account for at least 50%.
The environment will have a tough time overcoming what nature has provided, say the authors.
The 5 Phases of Psychopath’s Ladder Climbing
Snakes in Suits present five phases a psychopath’s climb on the corporate ladder:
- Entry (job interview faking previous employment, awards and using charm)
- Assessment (how useful you are, either an easily influenced pawn with informal influence or a patron with formal influence to protect against attacks)
- Manipulation (positive information about themselves and negative information about others)
- Confrontation (discard pawns and use patrons)
- Ascension (take the patron’s position)
Of course, all employees try to understand the power structure and take advantage of it.
But the psychopaths do it with the aim of little intent to provide anything. And they have no loyalty to the company or teams.
Psychopath Have Good Grasp of Human Psychology
Many psychopaths seem to be very good at understanding and leveraging human psychology.
The authors say it’s not sure if it’s an innate talent or if they simply work harder at it.
Their biggest challenges are individuals with strong personality traits such as dominance, assertiveness and narcissism.
These guys, narcissists especially, are the least likely to seek assistance and guidance and they are most surprised to find themselves conned.
Psychopaths Are Poor Team Players
Even the most well-behaved psychopath won’t be able to form good teams. They can’t collaborate with others, and especially with those whom they see as adversaries.
Psychopaths want to see others fail as that’s more likely to make them look good.
They don’t share information to keep the advantage, and when they share information it’s often with an ulterior motive.
The authors say that the same is true for Machiavellian and narcissists.
Superficially Good at Communication Skills
Some psychopaths are very good socially, at least at first blush.
Often the skills are more superficial than real.
They talk confidently, they are not afraid of self-promoting, and they go straight to the people with power, seeking support.
Since they don’t feel social pressure, they are freer than most other people, so they can jump in at any time.
And they rely on the fact that a confident delivery will often obfuscate the actual message.
And since they don’t have feelings and boundaries, they can easily switch persona to fit the situation.
But Not All Psychopaths Are Smooth
However, not all are smooth operators.
The non-smooth rely on bullying, coercion, abuse and humiliation (also read: meatheads in “The 7 Archetypes of Dominance“).
“Snakes in Suits” is not about these guys, but keep in mind that if the smooth approach fails, the smooth psychopath can resort to bullying, threatening and aggressive tactics.
Spotting a Psychopath at Work
- Verify all information on a CV (psychopaths lie)
- Check references
- See examples of work
- Pay attention to facial expression and emotional communication: psychopaths are often either too shallow or overacting
- Stick to facts, don’t fall for the charming chit chat
- Don’t expect HR to make a psychological diagnosis
- Don’t count on your abilities to detect lies: even people trained in spotting lie are as bad as non trained ones. Don’t guess but look at corroborative evidence
Dealing With Psychopaths
- Learn as much as you can about psychopathy
- Avoid labeling anyone as a psychopath (you can’t make diagnosis, and it might lead to litigation)
- Know yourself or the psychopath has an advantage by knowing you better (your weaknesses, your fears)
- Understanding your utility to psychopaths (what can they see in you?)
- Understand your hot buttons (ideally you will realize you’re being pushed in real-time and won’t even show a reaction)
- Understand how psychopaths manipulate people
- Build and maintain strong relationships with superiors and colleagues (psychopaths like spreading rumors and “dividing and conquering”)
- Keep delivering a great work (a psychopath boss will use poor work against you)
- Keep a spotless reputation (more people can stand by your good work and ethics the better)
- Discard first impressions (they tend to be positive with psychopaths)
- Avoid psychopathic bond (read are you dating a psychopath) and be careful of those who want to isolate you
- If there is any abuse, seek help immediately
- Work through your feelings of shame (if you are being conned, at the beginning you’ll be ashamed. Don’t!)
- If you’re the boss, do the best you can
- Consider leaving
Also read more on dark psychology and manipulation:
If you’re not a psychopath and want to have a good career, you must get ready with some effective work strategies.
And for women:
Watch Out for Superficial Charm
Watch out for the people around you who are charming and flattering.
Take Notes of People Who Push Your Buttons
Pay particular attention to people who are able to push your buttons. The first time you should see it as a blessing so you can work on your own self-awareness.
- Inductive Reasoning at work?
The author seems to imply that even psychopaths that live a seemingly normal life cause emotional and psychological pain with their behavior.
But how can he be sure? Hare has mostly studied criminal psychopaths. Maybe he simply has never run into a psychopath that does not cause (much) pain.
He knows much better than I do, for sure, but I had to raise this question. As Taleb says in Fooled by Randomness the fact that you’ve never seen a black swan doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Actual psychopaths are convinced Hare is a victim of confirmation bias. But then again, they might be biased.
- Sometimes Contradictory
Some examples of psychopaths doing well in sales didn’t add up with the fact that psychopaths don’t really plan on doing much for their companies.
- Jerks and Psychopaths (??)
I didn’t get the last section talking about how jerks are more successful with women than nice guys?
How’s that connected to psychopaths?
Also read: “why psychopaths seduce more women” and “how psychopaths manipulate and control women“.
I find Snakes In Suits to be a bit sensationalist in a way that it wants to represent psychopaths as these effective, cold-blooded machines with a target for the top spot.
Some are, but many others are just plain dumb as well.
- Exaggerates Depiction of Psychopaths’ Power
In my opinion, Snakes In Suit exaggerates the power and the ability that most psychopaths have to climb ladders. Here is what Jordan Peterson, author of 12 Rules for Life, says about it:
It’s a great overview not just on psychopaths at work, but about psychopaths in general.
Those who seek power are invariably the least fit to hold and wield it
I have to wonder if Hare, who mainly worked with criminal psychopaths, might not be a bit biased.
After all, he draws his experience from the worst subset of psychopaths. Does he really have much experience of white-collar psychopaths?
With that in mind, I found “Snake in Suits” a very instructive and enjoyable read, albeit a bit light on data.