Dr. Paul Babiak Ph.D discusses Snakes in Suits with The Fan Carpet’s Paul Risker for the home entertainment release of Arbitrage
Released today on home entertainment, or some point in the recent past depending upon when you are reading this, Arbitage is now available to own on Blu-Ray and DVD. Nicholas Jarecki’s thriller witnesses Richard Gere unleashing his psychopathic tendencies in what The Fan Carpet’s Lindsey Brown described as “an intense performance, marching to his own villainous theme..."
We were fortunate to have an opportunity to interview Dr. Paul Babiak Ph.D. and co-author of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work to discuss the subject of psychopathy. We spoke with Babiak about the origins of Snakes in Suits, the attraction of psychopaths to the corporate world, and the media’s perpetuation of the myth that identifies psychopaths as serial killers. We took the opportunity to seek Babiak’s expert opinion on which incarnations of the psychopath in cinema are the most realistic and how individuals such as you and me can identify psychopathic traits within ourselves.
Here at The Fan Carpet we are still debating what our writer’s cards with “that subtle off-white colouring,” “tasteful thickness” and “watermark” say about us all?
Published six years ago, the obvious question to get out of the way first is twofold. First what was the genesis of the book, and second how did you and Robert come together to write Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work?
Many years ago, while consulting with a client on a high-performance teambuilding issue, I came across an individual, the leader of this failing group, who seemed to be destroying group cohesion, trust, communication, productivity and so forth. I had been told by upper management that he was a High Potential employee and had a bright future with the company. I admit I was impressed with him at first. However as I worked with the team and watched them all interact I noticed that some members really liked him but others truly hated him, thought he was a “snake.”
In private meetings with team members as well as onlookers, I learned more and more about his deceit, pathological lying, back-stabbing, and how he was taking credit for the group’s successes but blaming a lot of others for the failure he was experiencing in trying to “lead” them. Seeing him as the typical untrained, inexperienced leader, I approached the problem in the traditional way. Then one day, unexpectedly, the company disbanded the team, promoted this problematic individual into his own boss’s job and transferred his boss to a lower level. Needless to say, I did not see this coming (nor did anyone else).
For a while afterwards I puzzled over what had really happened and recalled my early readings about psychopathy. I thought he might have been a psychopath, but unlike the serial killer or psycho variety that the media has perpetuated over the years (it is a myth, by the way).
I called Dr. Robert D. Hare, the world’s expert on psychopathy and with the aid of his new Psychopathy Checklist (now referred to as the PCL-R), I did an assessment. I was shocked at the result --- I had been working with a true psychopath, whom I now refer to as the Corporate Psychopath.
I recently watched the movie Arbitrage and I must say that Richard Gere’s portrayal of a manipulative, unfeeling, yet charming entrepreneur is right on. Most film portrayals of the psychopath exaggerate many of their traits and characteristics (there are 20 of them documented in the PCL-R), but Richard Gere’s performance displays them appropriately, larger than life sometimes but very subtle other times, very true to life.
Over time Bob Hare and I conducted research on other corporate psychopaths and ultimately decided there was enough evidence to write Snakes In Suits. Because the book was aimed at both a business as well as a general audience we structured many scenarios to illustrate what victims would actually see and hear as they interacted with a psychopath. Some are very subtle, like Richard Gere’s portrayal, but others are more obvious. We’ve found that the more you read and learn about psychopathy the better able you will be to avoid them or at least defend yourself should you become embroiled in them.
What is it about the corporate world that attracts psychopaths, and outside of the corporate world what are the other professional environments that are most likely to attract people who display psychopathic tendencies?
Psychopaths are opportunistic individuals unwilling to expend much effort in producing useful work and focused on satisfying their own needs. They also don’t like or follow rules, including the law, and seem to enjoy manipulating people, what I call “playing head games.” The corporate world offers many opportunities for them to play out their games and satisfy their needs, especially if there is fast money involved.
Not all corporations would attract those with psychopathic personalities, of course. I’ve argued that old-world bureaucracies would be very boring indeed for them especially with their command and control structures filled with rules, policies and procedures. Actually, you and I would find them constraining as well! But the world has changed in many ways. In order to survive in modern times companies have had to do things faster, better with less. As they transition from bureaucracy to some free-form future structure companies often jettison the very systems and processes that kept the psychopath at bay. For example, performance appraisal systems are vital to managing people --- without them (or with a poorly implemented one) you can’t really identify less-than-adequate performers and help them improve (or ease them out if that is necessary). The psychopath can easily continue to fly under the radar if there is no system in place for documenting their poor performance.
Psychopaths are consummate rule breakers; they will tell lies as readily as the truth (if it suits them), abuse co-workers emotionally and psychologically, and possibly defraud the company of money or product. But their psychopathic traits are very often mistaken for good leadership traits. For example, their grandiose sense of self-worth looks like self-confidence, glib and superficial charm looks like charisma, lack of goals is misinterpreted as being a visionary thinker, lack of guilt, remorse or empathy makes it easier for them to make hard, painful decisions which are considered the sign of a strong leader, etc. Collectively I refer to these as the “psychopathic fiction” --- they present whatever “mask” is necessary to get what they want, often building “psychopathic bonds” with those who they can use to get ahead.
For example, Richard Gere’s character in Arbitrage interacts with many people through the course of the film, including his wife, daughter, young protégé, the police, his lawyer and other business associates. Gere does an excellent job of subtly managing the perceptions of each of these individuals to his own benefit. He wears many masks, each designed to fit his target. You may find yourself falling for one or two of them yourself.
To the second part of your question, there has been no definitive research on what professions attract psychopaths per se. However, in my own consulting practice I can say that most of my clients (who feel they are being victimized by a psychopath) come from the financial services field but also medicine, law, non-profits, academia, small businesses, and so forth.
Arbitrage is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Koch Media