Techniques for Weeding Out Psychopaths

We’ve all known one or two in our careers, right? That toxic personality, be it a colleague or supervisor, who seems out to get 487132238 -- psychopathyou or others? Some call them bullies. Others call them psychopaths.

Well this report from JD Supra Business Advisor that appeared recently on the HR Grapevine site not only puts a label on these miserable folks, what JD Supra refers to as the “Dark Triad,” but suggests there are ways of weeding them out of your workforce.

While many companies use psychometric testing during the recruitment process, few test for indicators of social malevolence. But malevolence tests are out there, as even a simple Google search reveals.

So are bullies and other psychopathic souls, as this latest report from Slater and Gordon reveals. Specifically, it finds almost six in 10 people have witnessed or suffered bullying in the workplace, with more than two thirds of witnesses saying a colleague was subjected to a sustained period of harassment, and more than 37 percent saying they had been bullied themselves.

Assessment tools aimed specifically at identifying traits of both bullies and Dark Triad types are out there now, experts say, ranging from basic questionnaires to more sophisticated probes that necessitate administration by qualified clinicians under scientifically controlled conditions.

As the report states:

“The Dark Triad share a number of overlapping features including social malevolence, callousness, aggression, manipulative behavior, duplicity, a lack of empathy and a tendency toward 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.”

In fact, here’s a fairly well-circulated recent report about an HR manager who went “ballistic” on a female employee who called in sick and refused to reveal what her illness was.

Justine Turnbull, a Sydney, Australia-partner with employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw and one of the authors of the JD Supra report, didn’t have many specifics to offer about the assessment tools mentioned, but did share the following:

“Our main advice to HR professionals who want to detect this behavior early on is two-fold: Get independent professionals to do the psychometric testing rather than trying to assess yourself, link any requirements for testing to the inherent requirements of each role and ensure these requirements are spelled out in advance for all candidates.

“For example, an inherent requirement that links to the type of testing we’re talking about would be ‘ability to work in a team-based environment with colleagues at different levels.’ “

I reached out to Tish Squillaro and Timothy I. Thomas about this. They’re business consultants, leadership coaches and co-authors of a new book, HeadTrash 2, that looks at ways to deal with unruly people, both at work and at home.

They chose to share their words of wisdom together:

“… our focus is to give clients tools to identify and deal with ‘Dark Triad’ behaviors they may encounter [and to understand] that such behaviors in co-workers, bosses or subordinates are tied to the emotional baggage we call ‘HeadTrash.’ “

In their new book, they list seven types of such trash — anger, arrogance, control, fear, guilt, insecurity and paranoia. Coping tools they recommend include “using humor to diffuse anger, asking control freaks to delegate and drawing boundaries to stop guilt trips,” they say. Arrogance, they add, “is often tied to narcissistic tendencies, while anger is linked to frustration and is dangerous as it can manifest as intense fury, rage or even workplace violence.”

They go on:

“While human resource executives have many tools at their disposal to address these behaviors, it’s also important for employees to learn to identify and manage negative actions by others in the workplace. We believe by understanding the emotional triggers that may instigate this type of behavior, individuals can learn ways to navigate around them.”

I have no doubt these authors, and surely a host of other folks, would be willing to help you set up such a detection and navigation training program.