THE MAGAZINE

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work

By Ross L. Johnson

***** Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. By Paul Babiak, Ph.D., and Robert D. Hare, Ph.D.; published by ReganBooks, www.harpercollins.com (Web); 353 pages; $26.95.

Psychopaths and the damage they inflict on others are a popular topic in books these days. Nearly all of these books, however, concentrate on criminal psychopaths and are based on prison interviews. Snakes in Suits fills an important gap, examining the chaos that can result when a psychopath enters the workplace.

The book's organization is particularly helpful. Each section focuses on a different aspect of an investigation, walking the reader through the process step-by-step. The authors explain not only how to collect information, but also how to act on it to achieve a desired solution.

One hallmark of psychopaths, who make up about 1 percent of the overall population, is that they seek opportunities to promote their own self-interests unburdened by conscience, the authors explain.

With that as a motivating factor, psychopaths in the workplace operate in three general ways: some bully, some manipulate, and others are "puppet masters," adept at operating through others.

The authors provide advice on what the average employee should do if he or she believes that a coworker or boss may be a psychopath: Document everything, never confront the individual, and be prepared to seek work elsewhere.

Psychopaths may come to a corporate security department's attention when they cross the line of what is permissible behavior in the workplace, which could result in an investigation into harassment or criminal activity.

Perhaps the book's most valuable advice is that companies always conduct preemployment screening—checking educational, technical, and work references thoroughly. Doing so may give the human resource department the red flags it needs to spot the signs of psychopathic behavior before the person is hired. But the authors also note that it is not illegal to be a psychopath. What companies should be focusing on is whether someone exhibits inappropriate workplace behavior.

The authors also warn readers not to try diagnosing psychopaths, but they do describe behaviors and recommend actions that can protect a company and its employees.

The authors mix discussion and case studies to explain how psychopathic behaviors can cause problems in the workplace, and the liability companies can incur if those problems are not addressed.

This book is well-written and well-organized. It should be of great interest to security professionals and is highly recommended.

Reviewer: Ross L. Johnson, CPP, is a retired Canadian Forces intelligence officer and manager of corporate security for Epcor Utilities, Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta. He is a member of the ASIS International Council on Oil, Gas, and Chemical Industry Security.

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