Andy McNab and Oxford psychology professor Kevin Dutton in The Telegraph reveal how acting like psychopaths could help us in work, life and love
Behaving like a psychopath could help you in your career and love life. It’s counterintuitive – who, after all, would hire Hannibal Lecter or want to date Norman Bates – but that’s the idea behind The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success, part popular science book, part self-help guide fromAndy McNab and Oxford psychology professor Kevin Dutton.
“I wanted to debunk the myth that all psychopaths are bad,” says Dutton, who has explored this subject before. “I’d done research with the special forces, with surgeons, with top hedge fund managers and barristers. Almost all of them had psychopathic traits, but they’d harnessed them in ways to make them better at what they do.”
It was through this research that he met retired SAS sergeant and bestselling author McNab, who in tests exhibited many of these psychopathic traits, including ruthlessness, fearlessness, impulsivity, reduced empathy, developed self-confidence and lack of remorse.
“There’s no one thing that makes a psychopath,” Dutton explains. “You want to think of those traits being like the dials on a studio mixing desk, that you can turn up and down in different situations – if they’re all turned up to maximum, then you’re a dysfunctional psychopath.
As one dysfunctional psychopath – who was serving a life sentence for multiple murders – put it to Dutton: “It’s not that we’re bad, it’s that we’ve got too much of a good thing.”
How, then, can you act more like a psychopath in your everyday life?
“If I’m in a hostage situation I’d rather have a psychopath coming through the door than anyone else because I know he’s going to be completely focussed on the job in hand,” says McNab.
The ability psychopaths have to turn down their empathy and block out other concerns make them the best operators in high-pressure environments, he says. “If I was on trial, I’d want a psychopath [to represent me] too. I want someone who’d be able to rip people apart in the witness box, go back to their family and not think anything more about it, because it’s just a job for them.”
The lack of fear which characterises psychopaths could also help people in the work place, says Dutton, who asks of the book’s readers: “What would I do in this situation if I wasn’t afraid?” (It matches, almost word for word, a sign which greets visitors to Facebook’s California HQ, “What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?” though Dutton insists this is coincidental.)
“If it’s asking for a raise or picking up the phone to call someone you wouldn’t otherwise, functioning psychopaths have a natural advantage in that they can turn this fear down.”
Lack of empathy
But it’s important, McNab says, not to turn down the ‘empathy dial’ completely when doing business. “You don’t want to be a Gordon Gekko character, screwing people over all the time. They get hurt once but you get hurt forever because they’ll never trust you again. That’s the difference between a good and a bad psychopath: knowing when to turn that up and when to kill it.”
One dysfunctional psychopath Dutton worked with used to have a competition when out with his friends: not to see who could get the most phone numbers from women but see who could get the most rejections. “It’s something anyone could learn from,” Dutton says.
“Once you get used to being rejected it doesn’t hurt, you realise it doesn’t matter. Then your confidence gets up and you start approaching everyone – you’re coming across as less confident, less worried and your hit rate starts going up. It’s a great example of how you can turn this fear down if you work on it.”
“A lot of the problems in relationships come from the fact that people stick in them when they’d be better off out,” says McNab, who had been married five times – though has been with his current wife for 14 years. “You have to know when to cut loose.”
Psychopaths never mind striking out on their own – and this is a good example to follow, Dutton says, if you start feeling constrained by your friends. “Your friends might be smoking and drinking all the time while you’ve decided to get fit. You have to be prepared to stand apart sometimes. It doesn’t mean ditching them, it’s just healthy to be your own person once in a while.”
When it comes to self-confidence, as with all the psychopathic traits the pair explore, the most important thing is to be able to strike a balance. To anyone worrying that the book will create a wave of unfeeling monsters, Dutton says: “We are absolutely not aiming to turn people into psychopaths.
“It’s for people who have those mixing dials turned down too low and need to get them up.”