Snake in Suits by Babiak and Hare analyzes the intersection of work life and psychopathy.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- Psychopaths Can Climb Corporate Hierarchy
- Where Work (& Don’t Work)
- Psychopaths and Crime
- Psychopathy Doesn’t Make People Criminal
- People Exist Only for Them
- Psychopaths’ Emotions
- Nature or Nurture?
- Psychopath’s Ladder Climbing
- Human Psychology Understanding
- Psychopaths and Teamwork
- 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 pitch 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
Snakes in Suits makes the point that psychopaths do can sneak into corporate structure and stay undetected for a long time.
During that time, they can acquire lots of power, con people or siphon resources away.
Psychopaths Can Climb Corporate Hierarchy
Hare addresses early a linger question: can psychopaths climb the corporate ladder?
Often the answer was that it’s difficult because they lack the ability to work in group, the staying power and the work ethics that fuel a corporate climb to the top.
This is the same that 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 candidate on job interviews (charm, charisma)
- Psychopathic behavior may look like leadership qualities (taking charge, making decisions, and make others do what you want)
- Business today are 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
Where Work (& Don’t Work)
The authors say that psychopaths won’t seek employment in smaller and tightly controlled firms such as a family baker 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 a honest day job for a honest pay.
It’s difficult to picture a psychopath working 5 or 6 years in a routine nine to five hoping to become 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 scamsters
- fraudulent counselors
- shady professions of all sorts
Psychopaths and Crime
Both male and female psychopaths commit more crimes and their crimes tend to be more violent than those of other criminals.
Psychopaths make about 15% of the prison population. And many of the remaining 85% can be described as sociopaths or having antisocial personality disorder, similar 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 diagnoses for APD.
Aggressive and malignant narcissists, such as narcissists with antisocial behavior, are also difficult to differentiate from psychopaths.
Psychopathy Doesn’t 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, economical and psychological pain.
The don’t make warm and loving parents and children or family members.
And they don’t make for reliable friends or colleagues.
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 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 superficial level and good observers can sometimes tell the difference.
Nature or Nurture?
A better question would be how much either account.
Genetics seem to account for at least 50%.
The environment will have a tough time overcoming what nature has provided, say the authors.
Psychopath’s Ladder Climbing
Snakes in Suits present a 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 company or teams.
Human Psychology Understanding
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 and Teamwork
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.
The authors make the point that some psychopaths are very good socially, at least at first blush.
Often the skills are more apparent than real.
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 the 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.
Not All Psychopaths Are Smooth
However, not all are smooth operators.
The non-smooth rely on bullying, coersion, abuse and humiliation.
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 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 evidences
Dealing With Psychopaths
- Learn as much as you can about psychopathy
- Avoid labeling anyone as psychopath (you can’t make diagnosis and 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 relationships with colleagues, bosses and superiors (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
Real Life Applications
Watch Out for Charm
Watch out for the people around you who are charming and flattering.
Take Notes of People Who Push Your Buttons
Play 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.
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? Maybe he simply has never run into a psychopath that does not cause any 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.
Confirmation bias has also been criticized by actual psychopaths. As a matter of fact, psychopaths who are not criminal.
Some examples of psychopaths doing well in sales didn’t add with the fact that psychopaths don’t really plan in 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?
It’s a great overview not just on psychopaths at work, but about psychopaths in general.
I have to wonder if Hare, who mainly worked with criminal psychopaths, might not be a bit biased by drawing his experience from the worst subset of psychopaths.
With that in mind, Snake in Suits is a very instructive and enjoyable read.