Book Review Taming Toxic People: The science of identifying and dealing with psychopaths at work and at home by David Gillepsie
While I was overseas attending the Sixth Biannual World Congress on Emotional Intelligence Taming Toxic People was released with excellent media coverage. As one of the strengths of the 7MTF/Humm Temperament model is that it uniquely includes corporate psychopaths and I have blogged a lot about corporate psychopaths, I had to buy and read the book. While I agree with around 75% of what is contained in the book I do think I should state where I differ.
Firstly as to the question whether there is a spectrum of psychopathy (similar to the Autistic Spectrum Disorder) David states early in the book that psychopathy is like pregnancy: you either are or you aren’t. As the 7MTF model states that your temperament is determined by your position on the spectra of the seven most common mental disorders (including psychopathy) I would argue the opposite. Interestingly David later talks about moderately psychopathic managers which implies a different view.
Another key question is what drives psychopaths? According to David in an ABC interview on Lateline (26 July 2017), “The thing that drives psychopaths is absolute power over people.” Again I disagree. The primary motivation of these people is the acquisition of wealth and possessions, both increasing life’s comforts and providing tangible evidence of their success. They tend always to look for the “easy” way to do things. There are individuals who do want absolute power over people. In the 7MTF we call them Politicians. They are driven by the desire to win and their associated mental disorder is paranoia,
Gillepsie defines psychopaths as having no feelings and totally lacking in empathy. This again is contentious. I am the first to admit that the further you are along the psychopathic spectrum the more likely you are to totally lack compassion and sympathy for your fellow man. However, empathy is a different issue. Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Psychopaths are consummate actors and are always playing a game with you. They spend a lot of time trying to work out what makes you tick and how to gain levers over you. When I was training a salesperson one of the first lessons I was taught was to develop empathy with the prospect but not sympathy.
Again Gillepsie argues that psychopaths lack feelings or emotions because they lie so very easily. I would argue that when they lie they can do so very forcefully and emotionally. They particularly do so when using tears or faked aggression. For most people using such emotional techniques takes time to dissipate. For psychopaths the emotional commitment dissipates in seconds. They are amazingly flexible in their approaches to situations. One day you are a winner; the next day the psychopath thinks you are a total loser. They are not emotionally shallow but their emotions are amazingly short lived.
Finally and understandably from the title of the book, Gillepsie takes a pretty negative view of psychopaths. Again there are countervailing views, for example watch this two minute video by Professor Randall S Peterson of the London Business School. In the 7MTF model the key is the level of Regulator/Normal component which is where you are positioned in the neuroticism spectrum. If the position is low and you have high self control and a strong moral compass, you will be a successful business person and turn into a philanthropist e.g. Bill Gates.
On the other hand the book does contain a number of useful tips and tactics for handling psychopaths both in the corporate and personal worlds. And I agree with Gillepsie, Trump is a wonderful example of a corporate psychopath.
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