Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work; A Review



Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Dr. Paul Babiak and Dr. Robert Hare, Regan Books, N.Y. 2006
A Review by
James M. Craven/Omahkohkiaayo i’poyi

I cannot recommend enough, to enough people, the book "Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare. These authors, both highly qualified on the subject of psychopathy, walk us through, and so richly illustrate, not only with cutting-edge theory and research, but also vivid case studies, the "ABCs" of Psychopathy: No Anxiety; No Bonds; No Conscience. They also illustrate how the corporate world is increasingly a “target rich” environment for psychopaths. By the term “corporate world”, they mean not only corporations, but other entities and institutions we increasingly find corporatized: politico-legal, sociocultural, educational, religious, etc..
As Robert Hare, inventor of the PCL-SV and PCL-R Checklists for Psychopathy put it:
"I always said that if I wasn't studying psychopaths in prison, I'd do so at the Stock Exchange.” 

The authors note that psychopathy and sociopathy are considered personality disorders and not forms of mental illness or psychosis per se. Psychosis means that someone cannot, for various reasons, perceive, understand, react to, or operate within, “reality” as most people, free of psychosis would. Psychopaths and sociopaths, often not only have a clear understanding of aspects of reality as most people would understand and react to them, but they even have heightened senses of what is reality for most people and what most people do; and as predators, they use that knowledge for their own advantage. For example, most people are not comfortable telling open and naked lies, and give themselves away when they do so. And since most people think that others are like themselves, when they encounter the absolute certitude, faked sincerity, and look-straight-into-your-eyes intensity of a psychopath or sociopath outright lying to them, or manipulating them, they typically react thinking, that, like themselves, no one could possibly be this certain and appear this sincere if they were lying; that is precisely what con artists, psychopaths and sociopaths are counting on. As Marx put it:

"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
Groucho Marx, that is.
Psychopaths may be distinguished from sociopaths in one fundamental respect. Whereas sociopaths have no allegiance to, and even contempt for, any values or rules or laws of a wider society beyond their own small sub-group, such as a gang or cult, psychopaths have no allegiance to anything transcendent beyond themselves. Within gangs and cults, at war with society, there are certain codes and sociopaths are capable of holding to forms of allegiance and adherence to transcendent—beyond the individual--values and rules at least of the sub-group. Psychopaths, are total and ultra-individualists and narcissists, and have no allegiances beyond themselves and their own notions of their own narrow and selfish interests. Both psychopaths and sociopaths may not only find the business world a “target-rich” environment, they also can find religious, non-profit, educational, legal, military and political organizations attractive as well.
According to the authors, the corporate worlds (any organizations run like corporations), are increasingly a “target-rich” environments for psychopaths for four basic reasons:
1) Some core psychopathic personality traits (“talents”) may seem attractive in job applicants and get them hired; traits such as: assertiveness; ability to appear genuine when faking sincerity and honesty; ability to quickly assess vulnerabilities of people and manipulate them; shallow affect; take-charge narcissism; and expertise manipulating through schmoozing and networking; etc;
2) Superficial notions of effective management and “leadership” (focus on hierarchy; taking charge; exercise of top-down power and decision-making but with avoidance of accountability; etc) play right into the hands of psychopaths. Typical proclivities for megalomania, malignant narcissism, manipulation, intrigue and using/treating people as mere useful objects or instruments, may appear, to those themselves not real managers or leaders, or even to fellow psychopaths, as “decisive management”; and even “leadership”. Either like attracts like, or, those lacking substance, typically, are not willing to select for substance even if they could recognize it.
3) The changing nature and structures of businesses often favor psychopaths. As businesses become less hierarchical, more lean, more complex and more flat, and as businesses have to become increasingly flexible and agile, the devolution of power and accountability—or at least accountability—to what were “lower” levels of corporations, then, in such contexts, the “take-charge”, ruthless, demanding, manipulative and apparently “results-oriented” managers, often psychopaths, appear increasingly attractive to those at the top who want power and perks but not proportionate accountability on themselves. What appear to be “take-charge”, as well as “take-the-heat” types, sometimes psychopaths, appear to be perfect for those at the very top who want power and perks but not accountability. Of course, psychopaths typically do the same to those below them.
4) In the context of increasingly lean, complex and agile businesses and other institutions, the types of individuals who are willing to ignore “cumbersome” and “constraining” rules, laws, best practices in management, and, are ruthless and devoid of empathy, coupled with abilities to con and manipulate as well as “direct”, may be attractive in some fast-paced and ultra-competitive organizations.
As Plato, one of the first recorded analysts of psychopathy (along with Lao-tze) put it:
"Those who seek power are invariably the least fit to hold and wield it."
Plato understood, perhaps instinctively, or perhaps from examples around him, that those who would self-anoint, self-proclaim, self-credential themselves as "leaders", to be parachuted "down" on and over, those they purport to "lead", demonstrate a certain level of hubris, absolute certainly, malignant narcissism and megalomania that is breathtaking and extremely dangerous. As an old Chinese aphorism goes:
"Power is something a good person will not seek, and a bad person should not have."
This book goes far beyond simply listing and illustrating the kinds of behaviors and proclivities that form the PCL-R or PCL-SV "Checklists of Psychopathy" devised by one of the authors, Dr. Robert Hare. It gives actual case studies, rich in details, that illustrate how psychopaths get hired, promoted, operate, and are ultimately caused to exit; either, because of their own ultimately self-revealing and self-impeaching behaviors, or, because they were finally exposed to the sunlight, accountability and transparency they eschew and even fear. As the authors show, psychopaths, like the toxic emotional vampires they are, fear daylight and transparency; they prefer the dark. They do not like to be taped. They do not like witnesses to conversations. They do not like sustained contact and exposure. They fear going to paper. They prefer to use surrogates for some of their intrigue. They can lie at the drop of a hat, and continue to lie, to try to cover-up previous lies. And when caught at lying, they typically show no remorse or embarrassment, but rather respond with even more embellishment, certitude and feigned outrage. They are typically very charming, even charismatic, with shallow affect; are adept at schmoozing, until crossed and exposed. They operate in the shadows and with rumor, and run from actually confronting face-to-face those they accuse covertly. And they are the first to pre-emptively accuse others, of precisely what they themselves do and are about: bullying, creating hostile and toxic workplaces, intrigue, deception, etc. And they typically resent, envy and try to extinguish, those traits and capabilities they do not possess whether intellectual or emotional.
One area the authors do not explore, and perhaps it is because of their academic preparation and experience, is the extent to which capitalist and market-based values, institutions actually nurture and provide target-rich environments for, psychopaths and sociopaths. Capitalism is about profit for power and power for profit. The supporting “social capital”, or institutions and relationships of capitalism, in order to generate new markets and effective and profitable demand, celebrate narcissism, conspicuous consumption, ultra-individualism, living-in-the-moment myopia, wanting it all and wanting it now, "fake it till you make it", "dress for success", networking, style over substance, shallow affect, rat-race competition; all of which are values and behaviors not only typical of psychopaths and sociopaths, but also, what they feed and nurture on. This leads to some cross-cultural and comparative systems issues that would be interesting to explore: whether the typical 3% of total populations that are sociopaths and psychopaths in many cultures and systems, are more or less represented in more communal and less individualistic and less competitive systems and cultures.
Psychopaths are typically hoarders and not sharers of information. They understand well that information is power. They study organizations and their networks, rewards, punishments and paths of “upward” mobility well. They typically have a good command of who really holds the power in a given organization versus what the organizational charts may indicate. They do well on interviews and know how to deflect questions away from sensitive areas. Many are master psychologists in the sense, like all predators, they are able to quickly size people up in terms of vulnerabilities and potential strengths—threats--to them. They are as adept at keeping low profiles and scapegoating others when mistakes surface, as they are at taking the spotlight and credit for the work of others when positive outcomes occur.
The authors not only lay out some of the typical “red flags” associated with the presence of psychopaths and their behaviors in the workplace, they give some proposals to spot them and weed them out. Psychopaths fear open, free and fair competition in hiring. They fear providing samples of previous work and detailed reference checks. They fear specificity and accountability in tasking. They fear specificity on and verification of resumes and employment applications. They fear concrete and specific performance vetting in interviews and tangible reviews of work and concrete assessments of actual output produced. They like to be the boss, but deeply resent their own bosses. They will portray themselves as “team players” but there is only one person—themselves—on the “team” on which they are “playing”. They believe that “respect” and “trust” can be commanded and/or conned instead of being earned; and they equate fear with “respect”. They eschew concrete job descriptions and being held to them.
This is an excellent book rich with practical information as well as actual case studies to illustrate some of the principles and constructs dealt with in the book. This is not only an excellent supplement for a psychology or anthropology course, it would be an excellent supplement in many academic disciplines. This is because psychopaths can be found in many spheres or dimensions of overall society covered by different academic disciplines: religion, politics, business, academia, media, non-profits etc.
And finally, although psychopaths typically make up about 3% of most populations, they are disproportionately represented in management, politics, media, academia and religion. This is because their defining proclivities and “talents” are often masked or disguised as the “stuff” or defining qualities and traits of “leadership”, command presence, charisma and “take-charge” management.
You ignore this book, and its lessons and information, at your own loss and peril.

Introduction by James Craven/Omahkohkiaayo i'poyi

I highly recommend the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare who go through, and so richly illustrate, the "ABCs" of Psychopathy: No Anxiety; No Bonds; No Conscience.

As Robert Hare, inventor of the PCL-SV and PCL-R Checklists for Psychopathy put it:

"I always said that if I wasn't studying psychopaths in prison, I'd do so at the Stock Exchange."

Indeed it is not only the corporate world that is a "target rich" environment for psychopaths, as any entities, increasingly corporatized, fit: educational institutions; politics; non-profits; NGOs; labor unions; religious institutions.

As Plato, the first recorded analyst of psychopathy put it:

"Those who seek power are invariably the least fit to hold and wield it."

Plato understood, perhaps instinctively, or perhaps from examples around him, that those who would self-annoint, self-proclaim, self-credential themselves as "leaders", to be parachuted "down" on and over, those they purport to "lead", demonstrate a certain level of hubris, absolute certainly, malignant narcissism and megalomania that is breathtaking and extremely dangerous.

As an old Chinese aphorism goes:

"Power is something a good person will not seek and a bad person should not have."

Profile of the Sociopath

This website summarizes some of the common features of descriptions of the behavior of sociopaths.

Glibness and Superficial Charm

Manipulative and Conning They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.

Grandiose Sense of Self Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."

Pathological Lying Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.

Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

Shallow Emotions When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.

Incapacity for Love

Need for Stimulation Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.

Callousness/Lack of Empathy Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.

Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.

Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.

Irresponsibility/Unreliability Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.

Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.

Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.
Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

Other Related Qualities:

Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them

Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them




Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired

Conventional appearance

Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)

Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life

Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim's affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)

Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim

Incapable of real human attachment to another

Unable to feel remorse or guilt

Extreme narcissism and grandiose

May state readily that their goal is to rule the world (The above traits are based on the psychopathy checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare.)

NOTE: In the 1830's this disorder was called "moral insanity." By 1900 it was changed to "psychopathic personality." More recently it has been termed "antisocial personality disorder" in the DSM-III and DSM-IV. Some critics have complained that, in the attempt to rely only on 'objective' criteria, the DSM has broadened the concept to include too many individuals. The APD category includes people who commit illegal, immoral or self-serving acts for a variety of reasons and are not necessarily psychopaths.

DSM-IV Definition Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of regard for the moral or legal standards in the local culture. There is a marked inability to get along with others or abide by societal rules. Individuals with this disorder are sometimes called psychopaths or sociopaths. Diagnostic Criteria (DSM-IV)

1. Since the age of fifteen there has been a disregard for and violation of the right's of others, those right's considered normal by the local culture, as indicated by at least three of the following:

A. Repeated acts that could lead to arrest.

B. Conning for pleasure or profit, repeated lying, or the use of aliases.

C. Failure to plan ahead or being impulsive.

D. Repeated assaults on others.

E. Reckless when it comes to their or others safety.

F. Poor work behavior or failure to honor financial obligations.

G. Rationalizing the pain they inflict on others.

2. At least eighteen years in age.

3. Evidence of a Conduct Disorder, with its onset before the age of fifteen.

4. Symptoms not due to another mental disorder.

Antisocial Personality Disorder Overview (Written by Derek Wood, RN, BSN, PhD Candidate) Antisocial Personality Disorder results in what is commonly known as a Sociopath. The criteria for this disorder require an ongoing disregard for the rights of others, since the age of 15 years.

Some examples of this disregard are reckless disregard for the safety of themselves or others, failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, deceitfulness such as repeated lying or deceit for personal profit or pleasure, and lack of remorse for actions that hurt other people in any way.

Additionally, they must have evidenced a Conduct Disorder before the age of 15 years, and must be at least 18 years old to receive this diagnosis. People with this disorder appear to be charming at times, and make relationships, but to them, these are relationships in name only. They are ended whenever necessary or when it suits them, and the relationships are without depth or meaning, including marriages. They seem to have an innate ability to find the weakness in people, and are ready to use these weaknesses to their own ends through deceit, manipulation, or intimidation, and gain pleasure from doing so. They appear to be incapable of any true emotions, from love to shame to guilt. They are quick to anger, but just as quick to let it go, without holding grudges. No matter what emotion they state they have, it has no bearing on their future actions or attitudes. They rarely are able to have jobs that last for any length of time, as they become easily bored, instead needing constant change. They live for the moment, forgetting the past, and not planning the future, not thinking ahead what consequences their actions will have. They want immediate rewards and gratification. There currently is no form of psychotherapy that works with those with antisocial personality disorder, as those with this disorder have no desire to change themselves, which is a prerequisite. No medication is available either. The only treatment is the prevention of the disorder in the early stages, when a child first begins to show the symptoms of conduct disorder.


Psychopath. We hear the word and images of Bernardo, Manson and Dahmer pop into our heads; no doubt Ted Bundy too. But they're the bottom of the barrel -- most of the two million psychopaths in North America aren't murderers. They're our friends, lovers and co-workers. They're outgoing and persuasive, dazzling you with charm and flattery. Often you aren't even aware they've taken you for a ride -- until it's too late. Psychopaths exhibit a Jekyll and Hyde personality. "They play a part so they can get what they want," says Dr. Sheila Willson, a Toronto psychologist who has helped victims of psychopaths. The guy who showers a woman with excessive attention is much more capable of getting her to lend him money, and to put up with him when he strays. The new employee who gains her co-workers' trust has more access to their chequebooks. And so on. Psychopaths have no conscience and their only goal is self-gratification. Many of us have been their victims -- at work, through friendships or relationships -- and not one of us can say, "a psychopath could never fool me." Think you can spot one? Think again.

In general, psychopaths aren't the product of broken homes or the casualties of a materialistic society. Rather they come from all walks of life and there is little evidence that their upbringing affects them. Elements of a psychopath's personality first become evident at a very early age, due to biological or genetic factors. Explains Michael Seto, a psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental health in Toronto, by the time that a person hits their late teens, the disorder is almost certainly permanent.

Although many clinicians use the terms psychopath and sociopath interchangeably, writes psychopath expert Robert Hare on his book 'Without Conscience', a sociopath's criminal behavior is shaped by social forces and is the result of a dysfunctional environment. Psychopaths have only a shallow range of emotions and lack guilt, says Hare. They often see themselves as victims, and lack remorse or the ability to empathize with others. "Psychopaths play on the fact that most of us are trusting and forgiving people," adds Seto. The warning signs are always there; it's just difficult to see them because once we trust someone, the friendship becomes a blinder. Even lovers get taken for a ride by psychopaths. For a psychopath, a romantic relationship is just another opportunity to find a trusting partner who will buy into the lies. It's primarily why a psychopath rarely stays in a relationship for the long term, and often is involved with three or four partners at once, says Willson.

To a psychopath, everything about a relationship is a game. Willson refers to the movie 'Sliding Doors' to illustrate her point. In the film, the main character comes home early after just having been fired from her job. Only moments ago, her boyfriend has let another woman out the front door. But in a matter of minutes he is the attentive and concerned boyfriend, taking her out to dinner and devoting the entire night to comforting her. All the while he's planning to leave the next day on a trip with the other woman. The boyfriend displays typical psychopathic characteristics because he falsely displays deep emotion toward the relationship, says Willson. In reality, he's less concerned with his girlfriend's depression than with making sure she's clueless about the other woman's existence.

In the romance department, psychopaths have an ability to gain your affection quickly, disarming you with words, intriguing you with grandiose plans. If they cheat you'll forgive them, and one day when they've gone too far, they'll leave you with a broken heart (and an empty wallet). By then they'll have a new player for their game. The problem with their game is that we don't often play by their rules. Where we might occasionally tell a white lie, a psychopath's lying is compulsive. Most of us experience some degree of guilt about lying, preventing us from exhibiting such behavior on a regular basis. "Psychopaths don't discriminate who it is they lie to or cheat," says Seto. "There's no distinction between friend, family and sucker." No one wants to be the sucker, so how do we prevent ourselves from becoming close friends or getting into a relationship with a psychopath? It's really almost impossible, say Seto and Willson.

Unfortunately, laments Seto, one way is to become more suspicious and less trusting of others. Our tendency is to forgive when we catch a loved one in a lie. "Psychopaths play on this fact," he says. "However, I'm certainly not advocating a world where if someone lies once or twice, you never speak to them again." What you can do is look at how often someone lies and how they react when caught. Psychopaths will lie over and over again, and where other people would sincerely apologize, a psychopath may apologize but won't stop. Psychopaths also tend to switch jobs as frequently as they switch partners, mainly because they don't have the qualities to maintain a job for the long haul. Their performance is generally erratic, with chronic absences, misuse of company resources and failed commitments. Often they aren't even qualified for the job and use fake credentials to get it.

Seto talks of a patient who would get marketing jobs based on his image; he was a presentable and charming man who layered his conversations with educational and occupational references. But it became evident that the man hadn't a clue what he was talking about, and was unable to hold down a job. How do you make sure you don't get fooled when you're hiring someone to baby-sit your child or for any other job? Hire based on reputation and not image, says Willson. Check references thoroughly. Psychopaths tend to give vague and inconsistent replies. Of course the best way to solve this problem would be to cure psychopaths of their 'illness.' But there's no recipe for treating them, say psychiatrists.

Today's traditional methods of psychotherapy (psychoanalysis, group and one-on-one therapy) and drug treatments have failed. Therapy is more likely to work when an individual admits there's a problem and wants to change. The common problem with psychopaths, says Sets, "Is they don't see a problem with their behavior." Psychopaths don't seek therapy willingly, says Seto. Rather, they're pushed into it by a desperate relative or by a court order. To a psychopath, a therapist is just one more person who must be conned, and the psychopath plays the part right until the therapist is convinced of his or her 'rehabilitation.' Even though we can't treat psychopaths effectively with therapy, it doesn't mean we can't protect ourselves, writes Hare.

Willson agrees, citing the most important factor in keeping psychopaths at bay is to know your vulnerabilities. We need to "realize our own potential and maximize our strengths" so that our insecurities don't overcome us. Because, she says, a psychopath is a chameleon who becomes "an image of what you haven't done for yourself." Over time, she says, "their appearance of perfection will begin to crack," but by that time you will have been emotionally and perhaps financially scathed. There comes a time when you realize there's no point in searching for answers; the only thing is to move on. Taken in part from MW -- By Caroline Konrad --

First, to recognize them, keep the following guidelines in mind. (1) They are habitual liars. They seem incapable of either knowing or telling the truth about anything.

(2) They are egotistical to the point of narcissism. They really believe they are set apart from the rest of humanity by some special grace.

(3) They scapegoat; they are incapable of either having the insight or willingness to accept responsibility for anything they do. Whatever the problem, it is always someone else's fault.

(4) They are remorselessly vindictive when thwarted or exposed.

(5) Genuine religious, moral, or other values play no part in their lives. They have no empathy for others and are capable of violence. Under older psychological terminology, they fall into the category of psychopath or sociopath, but unlike the typical psychopath, their behavior is masked by a superficial social facade.


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