We’ve all had our share of jerky coworkers, but what if you suspect that the person you’re working with is actually a psychopath? What do you do then?
First, let’s review what a psychopath is. We’ve got a detailed post on how to identify a psychopath using Robert Hare’s 20-point checklist, but if you want a one-sentence summary, Dr. Art Markman, author and professor of Psychology and Marketing at UT-Austin, provides a succinct definition:
To put it simply, psychopathy is a spectrum of behaviours that can lead people to do things that are good for themselves and bad for others.
If you think one of your coworkers is a psychopath (or, if you don’t want to do the armchair diagnosis thing, a person whose behaviour is consistently disempathetic or self-serving), Markman offers some suggestions. First up: don’t tell this person any more than they need to know, especially in regards to your personal life:
Psychopaths can be manipulative, and the more that this person knows about you, the more leverage they might find to influence your actions. That can come in the form of using causes or motivations that are important to you to get you to help. It can even come in the form of a threat if they learn a secret about you and threaten to reveal it to other people. So if you get the sense that you’re dealing with a psychopath, keep your personal information to yourself.
Markman also suggests keeping records of your contributions to projects, to prevent psychopaths from taking credit for your work — and to maintain positive relationships with your other coworkers and team members so that, if the psychopath begins spreading rumours about you behind your back, “they will have other interactions they can use to determine whether they should believe what they hear.”
Honestly, this advice applies to dealing with all kinds of difficult coworkers, not just the ones you suspect of psychopathic tendencies.
If you’re working on the same team as someone who regularly takes credit for other people’s work, views everything through a “what’s in it for me” lens, or is quick to gossip and spread rumours about people, Markman’s tips should help you avoid giving this person the fuel they need to make your work life miserable — whether they’re an actual psychopath, or just your run-of-the-mill jerk.