How to spot an office psychopath

In the wake of new workplace harassment guidelines, HRD looks at ways of identifying candidates with psychopathic tendencies

In December last year, the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation issued the "Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment”.

The guidelines were developed following the enactment of the Protection from Harassment Act 2014 and contain practical information on how to manage and prevent workplace harassment.

But as HR professionals, we all know how time-consuming, draining and morale-depleting cases of workplace bullying can be – so how can we prevent them in the first place?

“When it comes to managing bullying in the workplace, the focus tends to be on dealing with the bullying behaviour after it has occurred or at least after the bully has started work,” said Justine Turnbull and Shomaice Zowghi of law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

“But are there ways to stop bullies from being recruited?”

One place to start is screening during recruitment, the lawyers said.

“There are certain personalities who deliberately inflict harm or lack the ability to understand the harm they are doing to others.

“These personalities fall within a category that psychologists call the ‘Dark Triad’ which comprises three sub-personalities: Machiavellianism, sub-clinical narcissism and sub-clinical psychopathy.”

The Dark Triad include a number of overlapping – and extremely undesirable – features including social malevolence, callousness, aggression, manipulative behaviour, duplicity, a lack of empathy and a tendency towards self-promotion.

“Studies have shown a strong correlation between psychopathy and bullying behavior and these studies have indicated that psychopaths are fairly well-represented in leadership positions.”

Psychometric testing is commonly used by companies at the recruitment stage to ensure a certain level of cognitive function and aptitude amongst potential employees and some companies use behavioural interview questions too, the lawyer said.

“But do they use psychological assessment tools in order to weed out the Dark Triad traits that lead to bullying?”

Not many – if any.

There are various assessment tools that have been developed in studies aimed at identifying both bullies and Dark Triad traits, ranging from basic questionnaires to sophisticated tools that require administration by a qualified clinician under scientifically controlled conditions.

“Access to these can be costly, but when you consider the collateral damage that can occur from a psychopath in the workplace, who then ascends to management, and causes harm to other employees and the business, it might be worth the investment.”

How can you spot a psychopath?
According to an article this month in the Daily Mail, psychopaths display different traits depending on their disorder, but common signs include superficial charm, a grandiose notion of self-worth, the need for stimulation and impulsiveness, pathological lying, the ability to manipulate others and a lack of remorse and empathy.

Experts claim people usually find psychopaths intriguing, but can't put their finger on why.
This is down to incongruous behaviour because psychopaths tend to do a lot of acting to deceive, or mimic normal reactions, sometimes changing their views and reactions quickly.

For example, self-professed psychopath Jacob Wells said that upon meeting someone, he tries to become 'the most interesting person they know' and presumably adopts suitable interests and responses to do this.

His response also gives away another common trait - a grandiose notion of self-worth - in that he can be the most interesting person in the room.

Psychopaths occasionally tend to exhibit unconvincing emotional responses, with slip-ups including tone of voice or body language.

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