How likely is it that you work with a psychopath?
Despite misconceptions that psychopaths are only serial killers or rich men who fly jets to their private islands, about 1% of the general population and 3% of business leaders are psychopaths. So, the chance is actually pretty present.
Psychopathy is not an official mental disorder, according to Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist and the founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, in his conversations with Healthline. In psychiatry, psychopathy is diagnosed as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). People with ASPD tend to be superficially charming but exhibit deviant behaviors. While most people with ASPD do not and will not harm others, they can be abusive, according to Masand.
While no one but a certified psychiatrist can diagnose others, understanding the signs that someone you know is a psychopath can bring piece of mind or be a step in better understanding how someone ticks. And because psychopaths tend to be charming, confident and interested in climbing the ladder, they may be among the superstar colleagues you interact with most on a day-to-day basis. Here are signs that's the case, cited with evidence from Kevin Bennett Ph.D in his reporting for Psychology Today.
1. They have a superficial charm.
If your coworker has a knack for small talk, making jokes and nailing first impressions but seems to lack substance, that may be one sign they're a psychopath, according to Bennett.
"It is not unusual for psychopaths to be well-liked, especially at the beginning of a relationship," he writes. "The charm wears off when others realize that there is little there beyond the carefully managed surface."
If you and your colleagues have a hard time getting too close to your popular, successful coworker — or if you catch them in white lies about their lives or interests — you may be interacting with a psychopath.
2. They're always seeking a thrill.
Psychopaths have little regard for the safety of themselves or others. They're constantly seeking ways to feel alive, often through dangerous, malicious or otherwise risky behavior. And because they're so charming, they tend to have an easy time bringing others along for the ride.
"In some contexts, this may seem fun, until it becomes clear to others that this goes beyond what is normally acceptable," Bennett writes. "Not all psychopaths engage in illegal activity, but they may be very good at getting others to go along with risky and inappropriate adventures."
If your coworker is a bit of a troublemaker who loves taking risks for the thrill of it — be it making risky business decisions or advocating for wild social events — you may have a psychopath on your hands.
3. They have a hard time taking responsibility or showing remorse.
Psychopaths have a limited ability to feel guilt, empathy or remorse. As a result, they have a hard time accepting responsibility for their actions and would rather blame those around them to get ahead or win back favor. Psychopaths are master manipulators who are good at convincing victims they are at fault and deflecting their mistakes onto others. They do this by mimicking empathy and remorse.
"They may have learned what to say in order to get by in emotional situations with others, but there is no genuine feeling behind their words of comfort and concern," Bennett writes. "Some experts conclude that 'they know the lyrics, but not the music.'"
If your coworker is always blaming something else for their mistakes or if they have a hard time taking the blame for inappropriate conduct (or feeling guilt for hurting someone else), they may be demonstrating psychopathic behavior.
4. They have an inflated ego.
Psychopaths think they are the best of the best. A psychopathic coworker often believes that they are the most talented person on their team or in their department, and they aren't afraid to show it. Psychopaths are hungry for power and willing to do anything for it because they believe they deserve it. They tend to lack self-awareness and have distorted views of their own potential.
"They may not meet the diagnostic criteria for clinical narcissism, but they do show confidence that borders on arrogance, even where it is not justified: 'Even though I’ve never done this before, I’m sure no one can do it better than me,'" Bennett writes.
5. They flatter, flirt and guilt trip.
As we've established, psychopaths are master manipulators. They use their charms to meet their needs or just to have fun, often engaging in flattery or flirtation that may seem genuine at first. If they can't make someone crack by flattering them, they have no problem using other tools to get what they want, whether it's guilting , lying or gaslighting.
"Psychopaths are fascinated with manipulating others, and will often lie and deceive just to get an emotional response," Bennett writes. "What they ended up accomplishing was to exploit your sense of empathy and force you into a position of leaving work against your plans. This subtle, but effective, form of manipulation can be difficult to confirm."
If your coworker seems to enjoy the power or favor they have from other people liking them, or if you've recognized a pattern of manipulative behavior, you may be dealing with a psychopath.