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6 May 2013

Identifying Psychopaths in the Workplace

This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series Psychopaths in Workplace

The purpose of identifying psychopaths in the workplace is to help us work with them.

Identifying psychopaths in the workplace helps us better work with them , protect our careers and lead our teams.

Psychopaths work to amass their power. Emotions are not in the equation. They are immune to those of others, including their own. These points go a long way in identifying psychopaths in the workplace.

Psychopaths Navigating Culture and Politics

One study of higher-level leadership candidates showed psychopaths to be three times more common than in the general population. They can easily score high in emotional intelligence. Cognitive empathy and less intense emotions to contend with allow for reading others well and easier management of their own emotions.

People often confuse psychopaths with sociopaths and narcissists. The latter are more emotionally based. That allows psychopaths to endure humiliation better as long as it advances their power and influence. This takes the form of a sycophant who is more commonly known as a “yes man.”

Whether as a leader or sycophant, psychopaths can be very good at navigating organizational culture and office politics.

20 Ways of Identifying Psychopaths in the Workplace

When identifying psychopaths in the workplace, we cannot look at one just attribute. Their attributes overlap with many other personalities. This includes sociopaths and narcissists.

Thus, we need to look at many. The more they satisfy the more likely they are. Psychopaths at work are likely to:

The purpose of identifying psychopaths in the workplace is to help us work with them. We can better protect and promote our careers.


Series Navigation<< Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Differences for the WorkplaceHow Psychopaths Become CEO’s (Pt 1) – Introduction >>

2 Responses

  1. Ok, Mike…what you say is true, KINDA.

    I’ve been reading The Sociopath Next Door, and it gives a broader view than what you are describing here. I think you may be projecting (as many ambitious people do) what YOU would do if you were a sociopath. Not that there aren’t sociopath in the executive suite. There are.

    But I have personally known and worked with two sociopaths in the workplace. These men were not ambitious for power at work. They were both rather satisfied with their middling positions and had no desire to amass power in the ways you describe.

    These guys were more interested in controlling the way they protecting their projected self-image..smart and suave. One was very interested in exacting sexual favors in his personal life and the other in revenge for slights. Enormous and conscienceless lies were used to that end.

    But not to garner power in the workplace, as it is traditionally understood.

    However, there is very little that can stand up to the power of a confident lie. So that is power enough to damage the person in the sights of the psychopath

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, Murphy, I’m sure it gives a broader view because they discuss sociopaths. This post is about psychopaths. I do consider the two quite different (see http://blog.omegazadvisors.com/?p=4376). Nevertheless, I highlight this because this is one of the reasons why I’ve dealt with this subject; my research showed that people tended to blend the two into one. I would concur that the ones you describe are sociopaths, and I believe you will find my definition of them is more in line with yours. Another reason for exploring this is the nature of definitions. Recently, the American Psychiatric Association revised their “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.” (see: http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21578024-american-psychiatric-associations-latest-diagnostic-manual-remains-flawed).

      Definitions fascinate me because they are largely benchmarks, arbitrary demarcations in the sand that change with the tide. For instance, in reality there is no absolute sociopath or psychopath, they are determined relatively to some norm of human behavior. So, in a larger sense, you are right. Such definitions are often a projection . . . even if they arrive from an expert. You see, a person who is obsessed with washing his hands is frequently diagnosed as having some obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD); however, a person obsessed with making money is often called . . . successful, perhaps ambitious at worse. Similarly, a definition from a layman such as myself could easily be called a projection, but a definition from an expert is then called . . . expertise.

      In my research, I have found that the definitions of these two are fluid. They are all over the board, and as I said above, often blended. My attempt here is two-fold. First, I want to give people working definitions (not mental health ones) that they can use in their careers. Second, highlight the fact that such people do exist in the workplace; the workplace is often more dangerous to our well-being than we think. On a deeper level, I was drawn to studying psychopaths because many theorize that they are void of empathy. Whether that is exactly possible in a human is debatable. This relates to my work and approaches because I emphasize the intuitive and relational aspects. That means a pure empathetic person is likely the polar opposite of a psychopath. So, just as with a fire fighter, you must start and study fires if you are to fight to put them out, in order to understand how our emotions work (i.e. in the form of intuition), it helps to study how we would operate if we were void of emotions. A psychopath is about the closest thing we can find to such a condition.

      Returning to your point, I would suggest reviewing my definitions of psychopath and sociopath. They are different. In your comment, you seem to blend them. This is all right in a general sense, but not when it comes to understanding what I’m saying about the two. Second, keep in mind that definitions are fluid and arbitrary. That’s why I often suggest attacking them to solve problems (see http://blog.omegazadvisors.com/?p=876). This holds true whether it comes from a layman or an expert.

      Again, Murphy, thank you for your insights. I appreciate them.


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