In previous articles we wrote about the first two elements of the Dark Triad, narcissism and Machiavellianism. Now it’s time to complete this cycle with the article on the last element which is psychopathy. Before proceeding to the article itself, let’s make it clear that we will not analyze the medical issues of psychopathy (from the pure medical point of view it is a mental disorder) but focus on how it can manifest itself at work.
When hearing a word “psychopath” we automatically think of a killer lurking in a desert place at night. While it can be true, it’s not the only truth. In fact, even your coworker or a friend can be a psychopath (just not in a criminal sense).
In this article we will try to understand the way such people think, what they feel (although they do not experience emotions that much as you’ll see) and how they can behave in a work environment.
What Is Psychopathy?
It's one’s inability to empathize with others, to experience sincere, live emotions towards somebody. This lack of feeling gives a large freedom of action – when there are no moral standards to restrain from within very little can be done to cultivate respect and love for others.
A psychopath doesn’t care about anyone in terms of needs and emotions. All they care about is themselves. As long as you cannot help them in achieving their goals, they'll totally ignore you.
Research shows psychopaths account only for really small numbers at the workplace. Moreover, they are more likely to occupy senior management positions (the largest number of psychopaths is among CEOs). Corporate culture, social responsibility and overall productivity are thus influenced very badly as senior and top-managers are the ones to establish rules and behavioral patterns within their companies.
Typically a psychopath at work is extremely amiable to those who stand higher in the corporate hierarchy and, on the contrary, insulting and rude to those who stand lower.
What to Expect of Them?
A common workplace psychopath is good at:
- excess gossiping;
- encouraging and escalating conflicts;
- humiliating and ridiculing coworkers in front of everyone;
- publicly revealing personal information after a colleague confided in them;
- taking all credit for success but blaming others for failures;
- setting up impossible targets for subordinates and then reproaching them for bad results;
- being extremely egoistic and self-focused and totally disrespecting privacy, needs, problems and feelings of others;
- consciously creating obstacles for colleagues’ work;
- entirely denying dialog and compromise;
- stealing the work of others (e.g., ideas, suggestions, projects).
The danger of such people at work is they don’t distinguish what is moral from what is not. Moreover, they don’t feel guilty afterwards. In other words, if they want to do something they do it – regardless of what it can mean in terms of ethics, friendship and respect.
How to Deal with Them?
It’s very hard as you might already have thought. Such people can change their face anytime depending on whom they talk to. It’s especially hard to interact with them if they are seniors – their subordinates are understandably afraid of stirring up even more trouble.
Here’re four recommendations one might consider:
1. encourage teamwork. This is something psychopaths dislike very much as it’s harder to manipulate people who are strongly united and share common goals and values;
2. encourage junior staff to share their negative experience with an HR manager, etc.;
3. don’t tolerate a psychopath’s behavior and inform others about it but verify your words with facts only, as solid proof is the strongest tool for convincing others;
4. don’t take it personally – remember they're treating the rest of staff in the same bad way, so don’t let those insults destroy your self-esteem;
5. don’t make rush decisions and label someone as a psychopath, even if they really seem to be. Since psychopathy is a medical case it’s actually only psychologists who can really tell if a person is a psychopath or not.
To conclude, the best way to overcome such people at work is to cultivate moral relations, spirit of cooperation, support, friendship and inspiration to achieve goals which are important to everyone, not just to separate employees.
You can read more on the issue of psychopathy in a great book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, published by Paul Babiak, Ph.D., and Robert Hare, Ph.D. in 2006 as it provides a deep insight into a psychopath’s behavior at work.