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Beware of the Office Psychopath

Updated on March 15, 2014

When Dara found herself nursing self-doubt and shattered pride in the aftermath of an ugly confrontation with a co-worker, she wanted to dismiss the incident as just like any clash of opinions between two polar-opposites at work. Instead, she retreated into a protective shell of self-pity while her brassy self-assured underling flaunted her humiliation like a trophy before an intrigued crowd of spectators. When someone pointed out that she may in fact have an office psychopath on her hands, she shuddered at the thought of being stabbed at the back with a rusted cardboard cutter by an insanely jealous colleague in frenzied rage.

Contrary to that misconception immortalized in slasher films over the decades, psychopaths do not ordinarily wield axes and hack people to death in insatiable psychotic fury. They exist in different communities with different professions and breeze through life usually undetected. What they do have in common with the psychopath of the silver screen and television soaps is their lack of compunction to run over anyone who gets in the way of their goals. Their diminished conscience or inability to empathize with others enables them to commit heinous acts without qualms, essentially making them more dangerous than we think. But, this does not mean that all psychopaths kill and that all criminals are psychopaths. What sort they become all depends on their goals, and many of them go on to thrive in the workplace as seemingly ordinary as any regular Jane or John.

So, how then do we know if we have come face-to-face with an office psychopath? How do we tell them apart from a bunch of problem employees? The Hare Checklist defines psychopaths according to their traits, and here are some of those telltale signs we should watch out for when dealing with people inside or outside of the workplace.


Poor Behavioral Control and Impulsivity

If there is anything more difficult than crossing swords with a slave-driving terror boss is to deal with the mood swings of a psychopath at work. First thing is first: a psychopath has low frustration tolerance and this lack of behavioral control often results in angry outbursts of whatever forms. “Every time he broke under pressure, he would drop all tasks and go on a short or even extended leave of absence,” Dara reveals and recounts how her underling used to take to the social networking websites to rant about work and make libellous statements regarding his colleagues. More often than not, their actions are governed by impulsivity. Their lack of plan or inability to resist temptation often leads them to trouble where their actions (like in the case of Dara’s problem subordinate) often backfire as a result.

Failure to Accept Responsibility for Their Actions

Now, psychopaths lack a sense of dutifulness. They never owe up to their faults, hence making them experts at deflecting blame. “He is never wrong” Lisa, a 32-year-old publicist, says of her ex-husband who she claimed had shown psychopathic tendencies throughout their five-year marriage. “He always has a way of making you think it’s your fault or that you’ve somehow asked for it every time he is caught red-handed.” According to the Hare Checklist, this failure to accept responsibility for a particular action is reflected in the psychopath’s efforts to manipulate other people’s emotions.

Unreliability and Proneness to Boredom

Psychopaths crave excitement. They thrive on the thrill of getting caught and all the same get a rush from getting away with it. If there is one thing Lisa’s husband and Dara’s subordinate have in common, it is their cravings for the limelight no matter how bad the publicity--the controversial, the better. For this very reason many psychopaths turn out to have low self-discipline as they fail to honor their commitment or finish their tasks due to the fact that they get bored easily.

Charmer and eloquent speaker
Charmer and eloquent speaker | Source

Glib and Superficial Charm

Because of their irresponsible nature, office psychopaths are not always popular with the bosses. However, they are eloquent confident speakers and they can charm their way in any social situations. They use this gift to gain the favor of the people around them. When the need arises, they use this talent to win over their superiors. According to Dara, her office psychopath played the game of office politics quite well, knowing who to keep on his side and which friend to discard. “I have watched him cozy up to some of the superiors in the company while he acted menacing and threatening around me when no one was looking.”

Pathological Lying and Manipulativeness

Not only are psychopaths master manipulators, they are also skilful deceivers. Their inability to feel remorse allows them to do whatever they wish without apologies. Lying is an easy guiltless feat that enables them to achieve their goals. They use their gift of tongue to twist the truth or to fabricate a story to get their way. “You can say that psychopaths make great actors” Lisa quips, recalling how her husband ran out on her with their marital funds. “They certainly have a talent for manipulating people and conning them for personal gain.”

Master manipulator and skillful deceiver.
Master manipulator and skillful deceiver. | Source

Grandiose Self-Worth

Psychopaths are a highly opinionated breed of people who let their thoughts be known without qualms or hesitation. They are defined by their fearlessness and cockiness. They are egomaniacs who believe their abilities to be superior to all others. According to Dara’s observation, psychopaths hate being corrected. Her office psychopath without so much as batting an eyelash would let her know of her shortcoming every time she tells him off for his own. They are proud, inflexible creatures that are not open to change and self-improvement. But, just like the Devil himself, a psychopath’s source of strength is also their point of weakness. They call this vanity.


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