Special forces soldiers also have high stress immunity, a psychopathic trait © Press Association Images
Special forces soldiers also have high stress immunity, a psychopathic trait © Press Association Images

Cool buyers share psychopathic traits

26 October 2016

Several scientific studies have linked high flying executives with psychopathic traits but new research has found some of these attributes are stronger in supply chain executives than fellow C-suite members.

However, suppliers who have been on the receiving end of hard-nosed buyers and are tempted to say: “I told you so” should hold fire. The research is complex and one of its authors – a former buyer himself – cautions it should not be interpreted as saying: “Supply chain executives are psychopaths”.

Simon Croom, professor of supply chain management at the University of San Diego, and forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks and associate professor Katarina Fritzon, both of Bond University, Australia, carried out 501 global surveys. Around 60% of respondents were supply chain professionals with the rest being divided among other business functions. They used a questionnaire widely used to identify psychopathic personality traits, the Psychopathic Personality Inventory – Revised.

Croom, who worked as a buyer for 15 years in fields such as the automotive and retail sector, was fascinated by how procurement professionals build good relationships within their own organisations and how this often has to come at suppliers’ expense.

The research found nearly 40% of respondents showed higher than average markers for key indicators of psychopathy, with scores more or less equal among buyers and their counterparts in general business.

However, buyers scored significantly higher than average when it came to one psychopathy indicator: Stress immunity.

“This is all about having no reaction to anxiety. Having a calm, steely poker face is one way of characterising it, though it’s more than that,” said Croom.

Physiological tests on these individuals would probably show less hand-sweating under stress, or a lack of elevated blood pressure among these respondents, Croom believes.

“It’s the kind of characteristic they would share with trial lawyers, trauma surgeons and special forces,” he said.

For Croom the response is not surprising given buyers’ roles. 

“If you are negotiating with suppliers you’ve got to be hard-nosed and able to take decisions that are in the interest of your company and not necessarily in everybody’s best interest, for example if a supplier wants a 7% price increase but there’s no way it’s in your interest to allow them to have even a fraction of that,” said Croom.

He was surprised, however, that women scored more highly than male respondents on being detached and a lack sentimentality, as other studies had normally shown the reverse to be true.

Croom said this could be due to several factors but it required further research. Possible explanations could be that women tend to adopt such characteristics to get on in the workplace, or had grown accustomed to demonstrating such characteristics externally. 

He cautioned that “psychopathy” was a relatively disputed term among psychologists as it was a label given to a collection of disorders.

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