Psychopaths in the workplace
If you know someone who cares more about power and material things than people, watch them very closely. You may be dealing with a psychopath.
- Michelle Parsons
Workplace psychopaths can appear normal. They are also mostly charming, on the surface at least, because charm is one of the many tricks they use to manipulate others, and they lack empathy, meaning that they cannot understand the feelings of others, or put themselves in the shoes of others. They are almost always narcissists as well – making every situation all about them, particularly if something has gone wrong – it becomes about what they did right and everyone else did wrong. These people are walking amongst us!
By the time you recognise an office psychopath it may be too late, as the damage they have done to the workplace will be enormous.
Professor Robert Hare, a criminal psychologist, developed a diagnostic test to determine whether someone is a psychopath or not (called the PCL-R). For more information see the article here.
This is a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 if it doesn’t apply, 1 if it somewhat applies and 2 if it fully applies.
Some of these (and I am not including those relating to criminal psychopathic behaviour here) include:
- Glibness/superficial charm
- Grandiose sense of self-worth
- Pathological lying
- Being cunning/manipulative
- Lack of remorse or guilt
- Emotional Shallowness (genuine emotion is very short-lived, probably fake and egocentric, i.e. it becomes about them)
- Callousness; lack of empathy
- Unwillingness to accept responsibility for own actions
- Tendency to be bored easily
- Parasitic lifestyle
- Lack of behavioural control
- Lack of realistic long-term goals
A score of 30 or more out of a possible 40 would qualify someone as psychopathic, according to Hare.
Recognise anyone with whom you work? Or live with? The latter is potentially scary.
Psychopaths can be fun to work with, for a while – a tendency to be bored can be seen as someone who is always coming up with good and interesting ideas. Being charming means that they are good at giving compliments (even if they are manipulating you by doing so). A grandiose sense of self worth will at first appear to be nothing more than confidence. Impulsivity can extrovert as having a keen sense of fun.
But be warned – a psychopath is a dangerous work colleague or employee. They will never accept responsibility for a failed project; any goals they fail to achieve (no matter how unrealistic) will be the fault of someone else; they will lie to get out of any difficulty; they will turn any success into being about them. If a psychopath is in a position of power and the only one doing the talking to management senior to him or her, you can be sure nothing good is being said about any work colleagues or junior employees. Because they are so charming and often, as I call them ‘kiss up and kick down’ people’, senior management is unlikely to believe someone who raises a concern about their behaviour.
Psychopaths are also unlikely to bully anyone overtly – bullying will take the form of undermining, isolation, exclusion, gossip, and other subtle means.
A recent article listed the top 10 careers for the highest percentages of psychopaths – there are few surprises here (although I was surprised by the addition of clergy on the list).
Of course the good news is that only 4% of CEOs are diagnosable as psychopaths – 4 times that of the general population. But it is important to focus on the positive – that 96% of CEOs are not. Of course where does that leave lawyers who become CEOs? Is that a double whammy?
As an investigator, I am always on the lookout for psychopathic traits that could impact evidence - particularly the tendency to be charming, as they will no doubt try to charm me to influence the outcome. I am not easily fooled.