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Our recent webinar with University of Liverpool online graduate Prof Simon Croom, and Liverpool PhD graduate Dr Katarina Fritzon, delves into the subject of corporate psychopathy. Despite the 8,000 miles between them, Simon and Katarina still manage to push the boundaries of knowledge and understanding by collaborating online in this increasingly topical field of psychology.

Here are six key things we learnt from their webinar on psychopathy in the workplace:

  1. Psychopaths can often seem charming
    When we think about psychopaths, we tend to think of criminals, mad men and murderers. That’s because a lot of the early research into psychopathy focused on crime. But it’s not that simple. Simon explains that psychopaths can often be charming, gregarious, outgoing and funny on the surface. Dig a little deeper, however, and the true character of a psychopath soon reveals itself.

    “Psychopaths are cunning and manipulative. They don’t have empathy for people. They don’t really care much about how their actions impact on other people. They don’t feel remorse.”
  2. It’s not that unusual to find psychopaths in the workplace
    Awareness of corporate psychopathy has grown, particularly over the last decade. Many personality traits that might traditionally characterise someone as a psychopath are found in the modern workplace. In fact, some working environments may tacitly encourage and reward psychopathic behaviour.

    “The global financial crisis brought corporate psychopathy out into the open. There were lots of examples of people who were running banks, financial services companies, and so on, that created a lot of problems with a huge global impact. People suddenly saw these people for what they were: ruthless, single-minded, manipulative and greedy,” Simon maintains. Classic psychopathic behaviour.
  3. Some professions attract psychopaths more than others
    Psychopathic behaviour is sometimes more common in particular roles. After a career involved in purchasing and supply chain management, Simon has encountered more than his fair share of psychopathic behaviour.

    “I’ve worked with buyers, and in purchasing, all my professional career. A lot of the traits and behaviours you see in buyers – charismatic, glib, charming, arrogant – are psychopathic traits. Buyers spend most of their time negotiating for better prices. You’ve got to be hard-nosed about that. You’ve got to be prepared to manipulate other people to get what you want, otherwise you’re in the wrong job,” Simon explains.
  4. Behaving like a psychopath at work doesn’t mean someone actually is a psychopath
    Katarina maintains that many of the behaviours that might suggest psychopathy could be a sign of something else.

    “Sometimes there are behaviours, traits and personality characteristics that are encouraged by the organisation. They can look like they’re quite psychopathic behaviours, but they’re actually the individual either struggling with the pressures of their role, or they’re doing what they think they are supposed to be doing within that organisation,” she explains. In other words, it’s just normal people trying to do what they need to do, to get on in their job or cope with their workload.
  5. Psychopathic behaviour can be a positive
    It’s an area that is still being researched, but Simon suggests that in some roles e.g. paramedics, trauma surgeons and the military, having psychopathic traits could work to your advantage.

    “If you’re a trauma surgeon and somebody comes in badly injured, you probably want your emotions out of the way so you can treat them in a professional manner”, he explains.
  6. There’s probably a psychopath in your office. Is it you?
    Katarina and Simon have used existing personality measuring tools to gauge to level of psychopathy in the workplace.

    One of the most recognised tools is the ‘psychopathic personality inventory’, which they have used on hundreds of people in working environments - with some surprising results. 10-15% of their sample scored in a range “that would be considered clinically significant”.

    “We’re not saying they were psychopaths, but their scores were significantly higher than the mean. That’s a much higher percentage than we would have expected in an organisational sample,” says Katarina.

    Interested in learning more about human behaviour or thinking about studying psychology online? Explore our portfolio of psychology programmes designed for working professionals by the University of Liverpool Online.

About our speakers

Simon Croom is Professor of Supply Chain Management at the University of San Diego in the United States, with a PhD in business management. He’s a recent graduate of the online MSc in Psychology programme at the University of Liverpool, and was the recipient of both Student of the Year and Dissertation of the Year Awards.

Katarina Fritzon is an associate professor at Bond University, Australia, and a practising psychologist. She is also a PhD graduate from the University of Liverpool.

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