Working with other people can be stressful. Especially if you have to work with a psychopath.
Mental strength trainer and psychotherapist Amy Morin has written extensively on the subject, including in her international bestseller "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do." Additionally, her TEDx Talk “The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong” has amassed over 6 million views, making it one of the most popular TEDx Talks around.
By definition, psychopaths are people who lack empathy for others and lack remorse for their actions. In the workplace, these traits may manifest as someone frequently taking credit for someone else’s work or throwing someone under the bus — even if they seemed to be friendly. Psychopathy can be a difficult disorder to spot, and it’s important to remember that not every person who has qualities you don’t like is a psychopath.
Empathy can keep people from engaging in behaviors that would harm others. Since psychopaths don’t have that hang up, they climb up the food chain more quickly than those who consider the way their actions may impact others. Aside from this, although the disorder is labeled as "antisocial," many psychopathic individuals can be extremely charming.
Here are five tactics Morin recommends keeping in mind if you find yourself working with a psychopathic coworker.
Because psychopaths are often charming, they can use their skills to get what they want. However, it’s nearly impossible for the same level of flattery to translate online. If you’re in a position where you need to negotiate with a coworker who demonstrates psychopathic tendencies, conduct your interactions through email as often as you can to avoid being taken advantage of.
Psychopathic people thrive when they are able to control the emotions of others. If they say something that really upsets you, present a calm demeanor. If they say they heard coworkers saying bad things about you or heard your boss say that your department would be downsized, take a breath and appear as unaffected as possible.
Once a psychopathic coworker realizes they can intimidate you, they can use that knowledge to manipulate you. If you find yourself on the receiving end of subtle threats, don’t let them shake up the point you’re trying to make. Should their intimidation tactics move into harassment territory, inform HR.
Beware the psychopathic coworker who plays the victim role. When you start to feel sorry for them, they can use your good will as another tool against you as a tool of manipulation. This may be accomplished by blaming others, for instance they may say another coworker backstabbed them to earn a promotion that was promised to them to gain you as an ally. Focus on facts, and direct conversations toward events that can be verified.
If you find yourself the target of psychopathic manipulation, focus the conversation back on them. When they point out your flaws or the flaws of a coworker, redirect the conversation. If they mention that you seem to be getting upset, deflect the accusation and call attention to their own behavior with a specific example. For instance, say, “I’m actually feeling ok, but after your reaction in the department meeting earlier, it seems like you could use some time to chill out.”
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.