Mental Health

Psychopaths Are Well Liked By Coworkers, But Only When They've Learned The Art Of Charm

Psychopaths are typically stereotyped as knife-wielding killers, but in reality, they come in many different forms. Some are obvious about their lack of empathy, and others blend in so well that you’d never know anything was amiss. Some people exhibit a few psychopathic tendencies, but not all of them. According to a new paper, there are even two different kinds of psychopaths — and one may be much more amiable.

The study, by researchers from the University of Bonn and several other institutions, suggests psychopathic people can be split into two categories, and that only one type of psychopath is considered a “good” coworker. Primary psychopaths are known for their fearlessness, according to co-author Nora Schutte, of the University of Bonn. “People with this character trait want to get their way, have no fear of the consequences of their actions, and can withstand stress very well,” she said in a statement.

The secondary psychopath, she explained, has poor self-control, and therefore no consideration for others. The popular conception is that psychopaths can disturb the success of their team at work, but Schutte and her doctoral advisor, professor Dr. Gerhard Blickle, found that wasn’t necessarily true. Their study involved 161 working people who the researchers questioned on their personality, social skills, and work performance. Also, each was asked to name two colleagues who would then assess the participant’s behavior and workplace performance.

It turned out that those with the highest levels of fearless dominance were still sometimes described by coworkers as cooperative, pleasant, and helpful.

“But that was only true when these primary psychopaths also had marked social skills,” Schutte noted. “Above all that included skills that are generally important at work — such as the gift of making others feel well.”

The secondary psychopaths, on the other hand, were viewed much differently by their colleagues. Coworkers called these participants “destructive” and not very helpful. This trend occurred regardless of the participants’ social skills.

“These persons with high values in secondary psychopathy thus really do have the postulated negative effects upon their work environment,” Schutte said. “And to a much greater degree than when we examine both groups together.”

business Psychopaths may actually be your favorite coworkers. Pixabay Public Domain

The paper concludes that a differentiated view of psychopathy is required, and Schutte says even the term itself, built from Greek words for soul and disease or suffering — is misleading. Professor Blickle added that many psychopaths may even be in roles we traditionally reserve for “good” people.

“Persons with a high degree of fearless dominance can even be selfless heroes in everyday life, such as lifesavers, emergency physicians, or firefighters.”

Source: Schutte N, Blickle G, Frieder R, Wihler A, Schnitzler F, Heupel J, et al. The Role of Interpersonal Influence in Counterbalancing Psychopathic Personality Trait Facets at Work. Journal of Management. 2016.

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