We have all dealt with difficult people, whether this be in relationships, the workplace or other areas of life. Much has been publicized in recent years about toxic and destructive personalities in the workplace. Typically, these individuals also cause grief to others outside of work, leaving a trail of destruction in relationships, friendships and personal dealings. One of the most concerning personalities that has been identified in in the workplace is psychopathy. Like many mental health conditions, psychopathy exits on a spectrum, with the top ends of this spectrum considered to indicate a psychopath.
Psychopathic people are grandiose, charming, manipulative, self-centred, ruthless, callous and devoid of empathy. Psychopathy is characterised by a pervasive lack of conscience, an absence of morals and lower levels of fear in the face of danger. Don’t be confused by the Hollywood portrayal of psychopathic killers, aka Hannibal Lecter. While some psychopaths will commit heinous crimes, many are able to function in the community operating on the moral fringes and avoiding detection. Research estimates that in the corporate domain around 3% of individuals may be psychopathic. This figure may also be higher or lower depending on given careers.
In the workplace, the behaviour of psychopathic people is concerning, with psychopaths acting as the puppet master behind the scenes pulling the strings. Trying to identify such a personality is commonly a challenge and if concerns exist then professional assessment is always needed. If you have concerns that you are working with a toxic person or are currently being victimized then the single most important thing that you can do is Documentation.
1. Documentation: Dealing with psychopathic people is confusing, chaotic and emotionally draining. Often workplaces will be divided over these individuals with many speaking praise, while others are in disdain. Psychopaths thrive on creating disruption and unease and it is extremely important to keep detailed accounts and documentation of everything that occurs. This includes getting all agreements in writing and having all correspondence documented. Keep minutes of meetings and also make sure each person in attendance signs off on these. If you are being victimised in the workplace keep notes on everything that occurs, this includes, behaviours, words exchanged, context of issues, times and dates, attempts to resolve issues, any consequences and the potential impact on you. Once you are able to identify two or three incidents, or a pattern of behaviour over several months then this information needs to be provided to your HR Department.
2. Taking time: Never rush decisions if you feel uncomfortable or caught off guard. Never agree to anything in a quick conversation in the corridor or kitchen at work. Always take your time in responding and if caught out, put the conversation that was had in writing so that everything is clearly stipulated. The same applies to favours, take your time in making a decision and weigh the pros and cons.
3. Never confront: Never label someone as a psychopath or become confrontational with such a person. This has obvious issues, including opening yourself up for a complaint. Be respectful, yet set boundaries and be assertive. If you are able to do this, psychopathic people will typically move, seeking out a weaker and more submissive person.
We need to remember that psychopathic people do not think and feel the same as ordinary people. Most people are often limited by their own beliefs and emotions. Emotions guide us and also hold us back, yet psychopaths lack emotion and are driven by self-centredness rather than a need to connect. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you can reason and rationalise with a psychopathic person, it will only end one way and not in your favour.