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Here’s a surprising statistic: studies indicate that 4% of the population are psychopaths— 1% women and 3% men. That’s 1 in every 25 Americans. If you’ve been in the workplace long enough, it stands to reason that someone, somewhere that you’ve worked, has been a psychopath.
A psychopath in the workplace may not be easily identifiable…at first. Well, there are a lot of difficult people out there, and not all of them are psychopaths. So how would you know? Psychopaths will have demonstrated a disregard for and violation of the rights of others, as shown by several indicators, which include failure to conform to social norms, repeated lying, aggressiveness, an overinflated sense of self, a lack of remorse or indifference to having hurt another, and more. It may not be obvious—he may seem friendly at first, but later becomes callous, sabotaging or undermining people for fun.
A psychopath can be found in workplaces at all levels. He or she may have a charming front and be intelligent, dynamic, and gregarious, which makes him an attractive candidate at first, but he will quickly start to go awry. A typical psychopath may have trouble forming teams, and will seem unable to share credit and even less able to take blame. He may often overreact and take it out on their staff. You might hear him mention his several failed marriages or relationships. Over time, productivity on that team may drop sharply for no obvious reason, formerly solid workers start finding new jobs, and customers may comment on the poor quality of work.
So, what do you do if you have a psychopath in the workplace? Ultimately, these individuals need to be exited from your company. Importantly, make sure to build and maintain rapport with your staff. Listen to what they have to say and take good notes with detailed, specific examples. Utilize the performance management process you have at your company; have a solid paper trail in place. And don’t have any regrets about their termination—they will quickly move on.
How do you avoid hiring these individuals? If you know what to look for, you can guard against hiring a psychopath. Screen your potential candidate’s resume for frequent job changes, especially across varying industries, with no rhyme or reason. While interviewing, be cautious if he seems to be the ideal candidate. He may have flowery, overly solicitous language in an attempt to charm you. Watch for inconsistencies and an unwillingness to accept responsibility for failures. He’s apt to claim to be a “rule follower” but will actually manipulate rules. As mentioned, he’ll be overly focused on himself, even boastful. Interestingly, the less clearly defined, or higher level, the job is, the easier it is for a psychopath to be hired. He’ll home in on job descriptions with phrases like “strategic planning,” “leadership,” or “freedom to act.” To combat any deceptiveness, ask for work samples, require him to clarify the details of his past jobs, and check references if possible. And, of course, use a robust pre-employment assessment process.