What to do if your coworker is a psychopath

In almost any workplace, there are people you want to watch out for. There are always going to be folks who care more about lifting themselves up than about helping others (or the organization as a whole) to succeed. There are going to be those who want to appear productive but also find clever ways to get you to do a significant chunk of their work for them. And finally, there are people who will brag about their accomplishments and may even try to take credit for things that were actually accomplished by others.

But, the people you want to really be careful of are the psychopaths.

Though a lot has been written about psychopaths, and the differences between psychopaths and sociopaths, a simple way to think about it is this: A psychopath is someone who has no empathy for others. They focus on the ends they will achieve rather than the means, so they do not feel guilt at actions that affect others negatively. They also are quite willing to manipulate the people around them to get what they want.

To put it simply, psychopathy is a spectrum of behaviors that can lead people to do things that are good for themselves and bad for others. Here are a few things you can do if you think you’re dealing with a psychopath at work.

Don’t disclose much

Many psychopaths seem like nice people at first. They can be quite attentive to you when there is something they ultimately want. They may engage you in conversations and seem genuinely interested in you.

The conversations you have may feel a little off, though, because psychopaths aren’t empathetic. They may commiserate with you by focusing on the consequences of an action rather than on how you were feeling.

But, there is a danger in telling your psychopathic colleague too much about yourself. 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.

Open up other lines of communication

Many people in the workplace are looking for advancement, but a psychopath is perfectly willing to get that advancement at the expense of the people around them. That can take many forms, such as talking badly about colleagues behind their backs, or taking credit for other people’s work.

To protect yourself, you’ll want to develop your own channels of communication with people who will have a hand in determining your future. Make sure that you get to know them, so that if they hear suspicious things about you, they will have other interactions they can use to determine whether they should believe what they hear. Keep your supervisors apprised of what you have been working on and who you have been working with, so that others will have a hard time taking credit for your hard work.

Keep good records

Your friendly neighborhood psychopath also isn’t above breaking rules in order to get what they want. But they do know that breaking the rules has consequences. So, they may also try to make it seem as if their own misdeeds are actually the work of someone else. The last thing you want is to be left holding the bag when wrongdoing is uncovered.

One of the best protections you have is to keep detailed notes on your activities. When have you been working? Where? If you have access to petty cash, keep meticulous records on how you spend it, and keep all your receipts. It is a pain to document what you do at work, but it can pay big dividends if you suspect that someone else is trying to cause trouble.

Know when to fold ’em

Finally, you may discover that the you not only work with a psychopath but that person is your boss.

That is a very tough situation to be in. A boss that manipulates you, takes credit for your actions, and has no qualms about taking advantage of you in a variety of ways can make your work life miserable.

Try opening up channels of communication with others in your firm if you can, though a manipulative boss will often make it hard for you to reach out to other people high up in the organization. When that happens, the best advice might be to look for another job. A psychopath is not going to have your best interests at heart, so your career is not going to benefit from working for this person. Frankly, the less time you spend working for someone like that, the better.

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