We have all come across narcissists, psychopaths and Machiavellians in the workplace, perhaps without recognising it at the time. The problem with personality disorders, particularly with antisocial personality disorder, is that red flags are often undetected by others in the workplace until significant damage has already been done. It is especially hard to detect candidates with these particular personality disorders during the interview stage, because the dark side tendencies often create favourable first impressions.


For the last 25 years, research in psychopathy has largely been driven by Professor Robert Hare of British Columbia University. Hare explains that psychopathy is a clinical construct characterised by a cluster of features and behaviours. His book, Without Conscience, explains this research in detail. I highly recommend this book.


Hare developed the widely used instrument for the assessment of psychopathy, the PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist – Revised), which is underpinned by four correlated factors or dimensions:


  • Interpersonal – glibness/superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, conning /manipulative

  • Affective – lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affect, callous/lack of empathy, failure to accept responsibility for actions

  • Lifestyle – need for stimulation/proneness to boredom, parasitic lifestyle, lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsive and irresponsibility

  • Antisocial – poor behavioural controls, early behaviour problems, juvenile delinquency, revocation of conditional release, criminal versatility.


Other characteristics & behavioural attributes of dark triad personalities


When examined broadly, Machiavellianism, narcissism and the psychopathic personality disorder show extreme manifestations of unconscious insecurities. Ironically, egocentricity is a key psychopathic trait. When interactions are analysed closely, it becomes clear that the ego helps to present a mask of normality and further helps to conceal the deep insecurities buried within.


Individuals with these personality disorders usually score high on characteristics associated with dominance and control. They are often found in high risk-taking professions and tend to find temptations difficult to refuse, to have poor impulse control and to gravitate towards excitement seeking opportunities.


Pathological lying is a key characteristic of psychopathy. In fact, psychopaths tend to lie even in circumstances where it is more logical and favourable to tell the truth. Narcissists and psychopathic individuals are very good at knowing what other people are thinking, but are poor at understanding the feelings of others. They lack empathy. To the untrained lay person, psychopaths are generally considered puzzling in nature.


My thoughts are that psychopathy has manifested from generations of untreated trauma. This has genetically changed brain structure and functionality somewhat, particularly in the pre-frontal cortex. The brain has the ability to block out emotion for self-protection. Perhaps this personality disorder is the long-term result of untreated abnormal defense mechanisms – untreated over generations.


B-Scan-360 – Testing for psychopathy in the workplace


One of the major difficulties in conducting research on corporate psychopathy is the absence of a validated instrument adapted to business settings. Because the PCL-R relies on the expertise of the assessor, typically a psychologist or psychiatrist, it is rarely used for organisational research. Nonetheless, organisations definitely need a tool for measuring psychopathy, especially when hiring new CEOs or senior leaders. Thankfully, instruments are now in development that will allow employers to screen for psychopathic behaviours in the corporate environment, in order to identify individuals with these personality constructs more easily during the interview stage.


In a recent PCL-R study of 203 upper-level managers, researchers found that psychopathy – particularly its interpersonal components – was positively associated with in-house company ratings of charisma/presentation style, including creativity, strategic thinking and communication skills, and negatively associated with ratings of responsibility/performance, including being a team player, leadership and management skills, and overall accomplishments.


The authors concluded that the ability to charm, manipulate and deceive others allowed psychopathic leaders to achieve apparent success in their careers, despite negative performance ratings and behaviours potentially harmful to the corporation.


Based on experience using the PCL-R in organisational settings and their work with business personnel, Babiak and Hare developed the B-Scan-360, an instrument for rating psychopathic-related features in corporate workplaces.


The B-Scan-360 is a rating scale in which various members of an organisation rate their co-workers, that is, their supervisors, peers and subordinates, using the same four-factor scale as the PCL-R, including:


  • Manipulative/Unethical – uses charm and deceit to manipulate others

  • Callous/Insensitive – cold disregard for the feelings of others

  • Unreliable/Unfocused – lacks commitment to goals and objectives

  • Intimidating/Aggressive – generally intimidating in the workplace.


Psychopaths do well in certain risk-taking professions. On the whole, however, they tend to cause far more damage to corporate business than any positive they deliver in return. Incalculable damage to colleagues and other business associates, including harassment of the opposite sex, has often been experienced and reported.


References

Babiak, P., & Hare, R. D. (2006). Snakes in suits: When psychopaths go to work. New York, NY: Regan Books/Harper Collins.

Cleckley, H. (1941). The mask of sanity: An attempt to reinterpret the so-called psychopathic personality. Oxford, England: Mosby.

Mathieu, C., Neumann, C., Babiak, P., & Hare, R. (2014). ‘Corporate Psychopathy and the Full-Range Leadership Model’. Assessment 22(10).1177/1073191114545490.


About the author

Theaanna Kiaos is an Organisational Anthropologist. Theaanna's research of specialisation is ethnography. Her academic research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning in organisations, managerial ideology and normative control with a particularly strong focus concerning how these interconnected phenomena impact marginal cohorts in the workplace. She has been interviewed on SBS World News and has also been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Women's Agenda and Shortlist.


Contact: Theaanna.Kiaos@diversityfirst.com.au



Human beings are incredible. Especially those under the age of five. Spend a few minutes observing them and you cannot help but be amazed. How often have we seen a child who loves animals and we think they are going to make a great vet one day. A child who is good with a soccer ball, we say is going to make a great soccer player one day. We are quick to see the potential in children.


Why then, do we not see the potential in adults? One could argue that as adults, we go to the other extreme and are quick to find faults. Do we recognise the potential an employee with different life experiences can bring to our workplace, or do we allow our perception to be influenced by their age, their gender or the colour of their skin?


When an individual has moved continents, learned a new language and culture, and gone back to University to have their degree recognised in their new country, are we quick to turn to each other and say, they are going to make an outstanding team leader or Manager one day?


Building diversity: it's a long term process.


Australia is a country built on immigration and the unfortunate truth is societal forces serve to separate us from each other. People from different age, economic, religious and ethnic groups are often isolated from each other in schools, jobs, and neighbourhoods. It seems logical though that because Australia is made up of these various groups, businesses must cater for a diverse market by employing a diverse workforce.


The challenges to meet the needs of a diverse workforce require sustained effort; organisations cannot build stronger relationships or learn new skills overnight, especially given the diversity of groups within Australia. Let us reinforce how a multicultural, productive and resilient workforce can benefit you and your business.


A diverse workforce will lead to business ideas and creativity that appeal to the needs of our country’s market. Individuals from varied backgrounds and ages bring with them varied ideas and experiences. It has been proven that knowing more than one language opens minds to new, fresh perspectives, so that the multilingual individual develops an ability to look at things in a different way. Multilingual people often present creative solutions to problems that a monolingual person may not envision.


Diversity of thought is critical to reaching the most innovative, customer-focused solutions to the many issues, problems and challenges confronting our business. As such, it is the responsibility of every manager to value and secure diversity of thought in his/her work unit by employing and developing the highest caliber individuals differing from one another culturally, intellectually and experientially, as well as by race, gender, physical and mental abilities, and other factors.


If you have been fortunate enough to properly interact with refugees and newly arrived Australians, you understand that the word ‘fortunate’ is not used lightly here. It is a densely populated group of individuals who are polite, generous and hard-working. Sought after qualities in any workplace.


Relationships are powerful. Our one-to-one connections with each other are the foundation for change. And building relationships with people from different cultures, is key in building diverse workplaces that are powerful enough to achieve significant goals. As people work on challenging problems, they must hang in there together when things get hard. They will put the effort in to support each other. Our employees will collectively resist the efforts of those who use divide-and-conquer techniques-pitting one cultural group against another. If each person builds a network of diverse and strong relationships in the workplace, they will come together, work together long-term and enhance any workplace.


Despite the clear advantages described above, businesses may still hesitate to employ individuals from diverse backgrounds. While it is good business practice to be aware of and acknowledge potential concerns, your workplace may benefit from further conversation with Diversity First, an organisation that understands the ins and outs of diversifying your workplace successfully.


Interacting with diverse cultures requires that you be flexible and socially adaptable. Again, sought after qualities. Traveling is a good example. Despite our best efforts, we’ve all had moments when we have felt like an outsider – a real Aussie. It could have been because the waiter didn’t understand our pronunciation or that time in Italy you asked for a ‘latte’ and were served plain hot milk. We may have laughed at ourselves, but after several years of being made to feel different, it’s natural to experience frustration. Next time you find yourself out of your comfort zone, take a moment to articulate how you are feeling. If you’re lucky, people won’t make a judgement on what you don’t know but might see the potential in you.


Recruitment advice for organisations


Some of the most common requests by employers when seeking future employees are for individuals who are determined, work well under pressure and are excellent team players. There are hundreds, thousands of Australians who have already proven to be determined, resilient and incredible team players. They may not have been born in Australia, but perhaps for this reason alone, they have proven that they are flexible, adaptable and are not afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone.

Let’s not underestimate each other. Let’s give potential a launching pad.


References

Emmanuel Ngomsi, (2006) Small Business Monthly: Educate Workers to Compete in a Global Economy

Marya Axner, Cultural Competence and Spirituality in Community Building - Community Tool Box. University of Kansas.

Australia in the Asian Century (2012) Licensed from the Commonwealth of Australia under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence.

Marya Axner, Cultural Competence and Spirituality in Community Building - Community Tool Box. University of Kansas.

Simon & Simon (2016) Do You “Talk the Talk”? – Why Communication in Business is so Important

About the author

Theaanna Kiaos is an Organisational Anthropologist. Theaanna's research of specialisation is ethnography. Her academic research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning in organisations, managerial ideology and normative control with a particularly strong focus concerning how these interconnected phenomena impact marginal cohorts in the workplace. She has been interviewed on SBS World News and has also been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Women's Agenda and Shortlist.


Contact: Theaanna.Kiaos@diversityfirst.com.au

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