Book Reviews

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare

ISBN: 0061147893
Publisher: HarperBusiness
Pages: 352

Whereas the media picture of psychopaths generally goes along the lines of a Hannibal Lecter stereotype, the real world is more diverse. Most psychopaths aren't violent killers. Their violence is often instrumental and in most cases psychological rather than physical. Interestingly enough many psychopaths are found in the corporate world, surprisingly often riding the wave of seemingly successful careers. In this book, organizational psychologist Babiak and the world-renowned expert on psychopathy Hare describe the potential damage a psychopath does to an organization as well as advices and strategies to cope with and to avoid recruiting psychopaths in the first place.

Our modern high-paced corporate culture is tailor made for psychopaths. Not only are the screening procedures and background checks upon recruiting often lacking; the corporate environment itself seems to invite psychopathic traits. Such desirable traits could be the stress immunity of psychopaths or their constant drive for novel experiences. It's easy to see how such personal characteristics are beneficial during for example a re-organizations. And in this era of frequent downsizings, even a negatively laden behavioral trait such as lack of empathy could be considered an asset. Combine these personal characteristics with the uncanny ability to present a convincing (although superficial) charming and dynamic personality and it's of little wonder that psychopaths are recruited as promising dream candidates directly to management positions. At times such a managerial psychopath may actually make the right decisions; one of the characteristics of a psychopath is their ability to focus intensely on the task at hand. Free from emotions and accompanying moral, they have an ability to make cold, logical decisions without any care whatsoever for the world around them. On the modern job market, with its high turnaround, a psychopath may reach their goal and move on to the next challenge without facing the consequences of their actions.

In Snakes in Suites Babiak and Hare discuss these entry strategies psychopaths use to get into an organization. They also present their models of how the psychopath deliberately takes control and the strategies they use to get what they want. It's a highly interesting read that's made more alive by the case studies of different psychopathic recruits. These case studies are told as stories and illustrate both the strategies used by psychopaths together with the resulting damage and suffering, both to individuals and to the organization as a whole. The authors back their arguments with solid scientific research and the book is liberated from all traces of sensationalism, which makes it stand in stark contrast to other popular writings on the subject. Snakes in Suits is a readable and recommended read on a subject of increasing importance.

Reviewed August 2013