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Is your boss a psychopath?
A new study suggests that empathy-less manipulators thrive in corporate environments by using a devious mix of charm and intimidation
Your at-once charming, manipulative, and intimidating boss may be exactly what you always suspected: A psychopath.
Your at-once charming, manipulative, and intimidating boss may be exactly what you always suspected: A psychopath.
Roy McMahon/CORBIS
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ere's some potentially suspicion-confirming news for beleaguered workers around the world: Managers and other corporate honchos have a much higher chance of being psychopaths than the average person. That's according to a new study from Dr. Paul Babiak, a psychologist and management consultant who studied more than 200 management-track professionals. His research revealed that while just one out of 100 people is likely to have psychopathic traits, the rate among business managers and executives is one out of 25. Here's what you should know:

What exactly is a psychopath?
They're people who use charisma or fear or a combination of techniques to manipulate people — and they feel absolutely no regret about it. Psychopaths have "at their disposal a very large repertoire of behaviors. So they can use charm, manipulation, intimidation, whatever is required," Dr. Robert Hare, a specialist in psychopathy, tells Britain's Guardian.

What causes people to be psychopathic?
Nobody knows for sure. But some research suggests that people who have a particular gene — monoamine oxidase A enzyme, the so-called the "warrior gene" that's linked to aggression — are more likely to become psychopaths. Brain scans of violent psychopaths have revealed some damage in the temporal lobe, which is responsible for emotional responses. While some turn into violent criminals, many become what's known as high-functioning "successful psychopaths," says Babiak, as quoted in the Financial News.

What makes these people successful?
Today's corporate culture. "If I wasn't studying psychopaths in prison, I'd do it at the stock exchange," says Hare, as quoted by Fast Company. A stressful, tumultuous business climate — where downsizing, layoffs, and mergers are the norm — is an ideal environment for psychopaths, who thrive on power, control, risk, and thrill-seeking behavior. "The psychopath has no difficulty dealing with the consequences of rapid change; in fact, he or she thrives on it," says Babiak.

Do their personalities catch up with them at some point?
Often, yes, if their work is scrutinized. "Where greed is considered good and profitmaking is the most important value, psychopaths can thrive," says Maia Szalavitz at TIME. They quickly make their way up the corporate ladder by being "charming and manipulative — and in corporate America, that easily passes for leadership." However, a close examination of their performance and productivity reveals "it's dismal," says Hare. The corporate psychopath's record is most often something along the lines of "looked good, performed badly."

Sources: Fast Company, Financial News, Guardian, TIME

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