The Corporate Psychopath and the Window of Empathy

“They have traits similar to ideal leaders. You would expect an ideal leader to be narcissistic, self-centred, dominant, very assertive, maybe to the point of being aggressive. Those things can easily be mistaken for the aggression and bullying that a psychopath would demonstrate. The ability to get people to follow you is a leadership trait, but being charismatic to the point of manipulating people is a psychopathic trait. They can sometimes be confused.”  – Dr. Paul Babiak, psychologist.

According to research a staggering 10% of managers are workplace psychopaths. So if you work for someone who is manipulative, intimidating, non-empathetic, but very charismatic then you might be within range of an office psychopath.

The I, Psychopath documentary investigates the correlations between high-powered successful business people and psychopaths. It points out the significant number of psychopaths are not some sadistic, violent, crazed axe murderers but well functioning high-powered, top order professionals, that are aggressive and narcissistic bullies in nature. A typical psychopath suffers from a very profound and incurable deficiency of emotions with bizarre and self-destructive behavior that is shameful, self-loathing, and embarrassing to an ordinary person.

Stanford Graduate School of Business has published a study in 2005, “Emotions Can Negatively Impact Investment Decisions.”, that shows how psychopaths are actually well suited to executive decision-making which require emotions being blocked out when decisions of closure of factories are taken that consequently put many people out of work. Also, the 2004 documentary The Corporation looks at similarities in the behavior between psychopaths and modern corporations. Where companies overlook ethics in order to maximize profits, and tragedies are used as opportunities for profit.

It is shown in the documentary, Corporate Psychopath, that the workplace psychopaths will do anything to get what they want, including lying and deceit. Lying is like breathing to the psychopath, it is part of their con-ology. In fact some psychopaths boast that the bigger the lie, the more it is believed. When a psychopath is caught in a lie, they invent new lies. Typically psychopaths are imprisoned for their bizarre actions, however with a suit on or uniform, not only they can get away with some of the most horrific acts but actually are highly-paid and admired individuals. The admiration from secondary psychopaths creates a pathological culture, found in many organization or even countries, well documented by Dr Lobaczewski in his book, Political Ponerology (see article on Ponerology and Pathocracy).

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” – Albert Einstein.

The Window of Empathy

When most of us see another person in distress, our emotional centre, the limbic system, gets aroused due to feeling slightly what the other is feeling. According to one definition, empathy is the intellectual identification or vicarious experiencing of feelings of another person, in order to understand that person better. If one possesses empathy, he or she has greater means by which to assess, comprehend, sympathize, and react to others.

A Harvard-educated scientist, Joan Boryszenko,  believes brain parts related to empathy are developed through a physical and emotional bond between the mother and her baby during the first 19 months of infant’s life, referred to as the window of empathy, in her book A Woman’s Book of Life. Well developed empathy brain centers, are what assists children in responding to others with compassion and empathy, this is absent in psychopaths.  One 2001 US study revealed the psychopath has actually very little limbic system response to emotional information. It would be interesting to further investigate any correlations into the window of empathy and the psychopathic emotional deficiency, to discover the real importance and significance of this 19-month window.

Possible Solutions

The psychological damage on victims of psychopathic boss is well documented. According to Dr John Clarke, in the video Corporate Psychopath, the most appropriate option is to leave the job. This may seem unfair, however the situation does not change especially if the company supports the corporate psychopath. In addition, Dr Clarke states:

“… It’s almost impossible to rehabilitate the psychopath. In fact, there are studies in the United States, which suggest that rehabilitation in fact makes them worse because it teaches them new social skills they can use to manipulate the people around them more effectively.”

With this in mind, one must learn to identify psychopaths and learn some important communication skills.

The 20 characteristics of a psychopath are:

  1. Superficial Charm
  2. Superiority Complex/Grandiose Self-Worth & Arrogance
  3. Need For Stimulation Or Proneness To Boredom
  4. Pathological Lying
  5. Manipulation & Use Of Deceit or Conology
  6. Lack Of Remorse Or Guilt
  7. Shallow Affect Or Emotional Poverty
  8. Lack Of Empathy
  9. Parasitic Lifestyle
  10. Poor Behavioral Controls And Bullying
  11. Promiscuous Sexual Behavior
  12. Early Behavior Problems
  13. Lack Of Realistic, Long-Term Goals
  14. Impulsivity
  15. Irresponsibility
  16. Failure To Accept Responsibility For Own Actions And Denial.
  17. Many Short-Term Marital Relationships
  18. Juvenile Delinquency
  19. Revocation Of Condition Release
  20. Criminal Versatility

Helpful communication tips to use with a corporate psychopath are:

  1. Listen carefully to every question, make sure you understand the question before answering.
  2. Use pauses before you answer to buy time and reassess your options.
  3. Keep your answers short and do not offer more information.
  4. Be polite and formal.
  5. Never argue, just stick to the facts.
  6. Never become hostile or aggressive towards the corporate psychopath. This can be used against you.
  7. Do not joke or be sarcastic. This can be used against you.
  8. Keep your composure, maintain your focus and credibility. Ignore any emotional tantrums from the psychopath.
  9. Ask for a break if need to expend some emotion or situation gets out of control.

Copyright Robert Mijas, 2011

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