One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Desk

Only last week I was walking through university, headphones in, listening to the latest Mama Mia podcast “David Gillespie knows how to spot a psychopath.” My jaw was dropped during the entire podcast. I had never before considered a psychopath to be functioning successful person, let alone have met one. My first thought was who do I know that is a psychopath? My second was holy f*uck…am I a psychopath?

After procrastinating university work to complete an “Are you a psychopath?” quiz, I, fortunately, came to the conclusion I am not…phewwww.

What I discovered is psychopaths are more common than I thought. Statistics show that psychopaths makeup up 1-3% of the adult male population and 0.5-1% of the adult female population. This means in a city the size of Sydney there may be as many as 90,000 male psychopaths and 30,000 female psychopaths.

With statistics like this, it is likely that you have encountered a psychopath at some point in your life whether it be in your workplace or your family. You might even be in love with one!

As soon as I hear the word psychopath, I immediately imagine a sadistic serial killer with blood on his face….think Christian Bale from American Psycho.

But contrary to popular belief, the majority of psychopaths are not, in fact, homicidal maniacs. Despite many violent criminals being identified as psychopaths, psychopaths can also be quite successful in their lives.

After doing a little research, I discovered that there is something described as a white collar psychopath or a successful psychopath. Successful psychopaths are, in theory, people who fit the criteria of a psychopath, but instead of committing crimes, put their energy into exploitation to gain either money or power.

So what characteristics does a psychopath hold? They lack remorse, empathy and only feel what is known as primary emotions; Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, and Surprise. They strive for money and power and will do anything to get it. For example, if publicly lying about a person was necessary to gain more money or power, a psychopath would see no harm in doing so. A psychopath has no attachment to the truth and will change what they said yesterday to get what they need today. They are extremely smooth talkers and often present themselves as the perfect person (which is why it’s so easy to fall in love with them). However, a psychopath motivates others through fear rather than respect. They intend to destroy rather than correct.

So why is it that psychopaths are drawn to certain professions and often excel in these roles?

Research shows that psychopaths are drawn to very high pressured and elite professions such as a CEO, lawyer, media personality, salesperson, and surgeon. Some researchers believe, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed due to their detached, unflinching and charismatic personalities.

David Gillespie explains that psychopaths can do a hell of a good interview (maybe I should get some tips off a psychopath…graduation is weeks away!). This is because these individuals are unable to feel any higher emotions such as anxiety or nervousness before an interview. This was another sure sign I’m not a psychopath. Before any interview my palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…wait where have I heard that?

Due to psychopaths lacking any form of higher level emotions, they are very good at reading people to know exactly what to say or do to get the job. Like a person who is blind may have more advanced smell or hearing, a psychopath is far better than an average person at gauging an individual’s emotions and adapting appropriately.

Despite these types of individuals often being at the top of the hierarchy, research shows that corporate psychopaths have a significant negative influence on an organisation and create unimaginable disorder in the workplace.

John Clarke, Author of “Working with Monsters,” describes a white collar psychopath by the name of Wayne in the book. What is interesting about Wayne is his success within his work. He was in charge of 80 employees, earned a hefty six-figure base wage plus bonus money of almost $500,000. In only eight years, Wayne had become a senior partner in the company and claimed to had doubled the businesses revenue. On paper, Wayne sounds like the perfect employee; hard working, high performance and serious ambition. Wrong. Wayne is classified as a psychopath.

Waynes management lead to 75% of staff quitting their job in an 18 month period. Many resigned due to medical reasons. He was described as remorseless, a predator, stopped at nothing for power and control, bully, intimidating, impulsive, manipulative, insincere and without conscience. He is anything but the perfect employee.

As more research surfaces into successful psychopaths, many companies are being warned of the significance of these people in the workplace. The presence of corporate psychopaths can cost a business by the loss of employees as they withdraw from the environment, or decreased employee performance as they cope with a hostile working environment.

Overall I’ve learned a lot from this article. The most important being that I for one am not a psychopath…although I have similar psychopathic characteristics appear during exam time. I also learned that I am very likely to be managed by a psychopath in a future job. Knowing what I know now may help me avoid working for a psychopath, and maybe even one day, avoid hiring one. I hope this helps you too.




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