Psychopaths are thrill seekers

Psychopaths on the job: recognize and respond

It's the kind of people nobody wants to work with: psychopaths have no empathy, are manipulative, and reckless. But they can be quite successful, especially at work. Because the typical traits of a psychopath are - unfortunately - often the perfect tools for a great and successful career. After all, it can be an advantage here to care little about the feelings of others and to assert oneself without consideration.

But what exactly is psychopathy and how can you recognize a psychopath? In practice this is not so easy. Although psychopaths are usually not nice people, they know exactly how to behave in order to get what they want. We explain what makes a psychopath, what causes can be behind the psychopathy and what tips you can use to master dealing with psychopaths ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

What is psychopathy?

In films, psychopaths like Patrick Bateman from "American Psycho" or Hannibal Lecter from "The Silence of the Lambs" are often used to present evil - but psychopathy is not an invention of book authors and Hollywood directors. Medically speaking, psychopathy is a form of personality disorder. Typical traits, such as aggressiveness and impulsiveness, often become apparent even in teenage years. Psychopaths are mainly characterized by a lack of empathy.


Psychopathy is a severe form of antisocial personality disorder. It shows itself mainly through the complete lack of empathy.



Psychopaths have no qualms about manipulating other people and ruthlessly pursuing their interests. A guilty conscience is alien to them. Men are often associated with psychopathy, but experts believe that women are just as common among psychopaths. However, these are less well researched. Core symptoms such as low inhibition and emotional detachment share psychopathic women with men. In contrast to them, however, they show less aggressive behavior.

How does psychopathy arise?

Science is not yet sure where exactly what causes the psychopathy come from and what makes a person a psychopath. However, research has provided some clues that are linked to the development of psychopathy. It is sometimes assumed that the tendency to psychopathy is innate. In childhood, psychopaths often show signs of a lack of empathy, cold feelings, unrepentant behavior and no fear of consequences.

Studies have shown that certain areas of the brain that are responsible for processing fear are barely active in psychopaths. At the same time, studies show that psychopaths were often confronted with neglect, abuse, or other forms of psychological or physical violence early in childhood.

How do you recognize a psychopath?

The Canadian psychologist Robert D. Hare has dealt intensively with psychopaths, he is considered a pioneer in forensic research and has developed a psychopathy checklist that clearly explains what makes these types of people tick. We introduce you to the most important points by which you can recognize a psychopath. But please remember: This is the worst-case scenario. To psychopaths of the final stage. There are numerous gradations and not every psychopath knows all the criteria, symptoms and behaviors in the same way.

He is charming

It is not uncommon for psychopaths to be eloquent and accomplished small talkers. They are funny, entertaining and good storytellers, and like to put themselves in a good light. And they are charming, compliment them and often even come across as very personable. You have the ability to wrap others around your little finger, but behind the facade there is only selfishness and underhanded thinking.

He never apologizes

An apology never - or very difficult - comes off the lips of a psychopath. Compassion, remorse, guilt? Foreign words! A good, albeit extreme, example is Hare's encounter with a criminal psychopath. The test person, who had previously stabbed someone in a robbery, said to him: “Wake up! He's in the hospital for a couple of months and I'm rotting here. If I had wanted to kill him, I would have cut his throat. I gave him a break. "

He takes no responsibility

Commitments and promises mean nothing to psychopaths. Sentences like: "I'll never lie to you again" are nothing more than lip service to help you get out of the situation. Instead, psychopaths are characterized by consistent indifference, rejecting responsibility for mistakes and blaming others. On the job, psychopaths are characterized by frequent absences and abuse of company property. They do not adhere to any company guidelines, sometimes deliver inconsistent performance and are fundamentally untrustworthy.

He's a pathological liar

The possibility of being caught leaves psychopaths indifferent. If someone shows them a lie, they are neither perplexed nor embarrassed - they simply change their story and use the hoax to construct an even bigger lie. And: Psychopaths are often proud of their ability to fool others. However, you have to find out about them first. Because many psychopaths are intelligent above average and are therefore able to plan, anticipate and prepare meticulously.

He's out of control

Psychopaths are impulsive. They don't like to waste time weighing up the pros and cons - they act instead. Often associated with this is the goal of meeting needs immediately, of receiving an immediate reward. You quit immediately and offend others. And: They often react completely uninhibited to provocations and insults. You can hardly control or slow down your own emotions.

He manipulates others

Psychopaths are able to manipulate other people emotionally. You play caretaker, understanding, back-free, but in truth don't give a damn about the problems of others. Popular tricks can be (but not only used by psychopaths): They ask you a favor in the office, but on a private level. Consequence: Those who are picked up on a personal level are much more receptive and well-disposed towards the other than if it was just a professional favor. Second trick: You imitate your body language: This is also a means of securing the sympathy of the other person. Another trick: you scare people - only to sell them the antidote afterwards. According to the motto: “The boss will be terribly angry. ‘Leave that to me, I'll fix it again."

He needs the thrill

Psychopaths seek thrill and risk. Sometimes to achieve a specific goal. But sometimes just for the thrill of it. They get bored easily and are therefore unable to perform routine activities or concentrate for long periods of time. By consciously taking a risk, you also want to demonstrate your superiority. When asked if she was doing dangerous things just for fun, Robert Hare replied to Robert Hare: “Oh yes, I do! The most exciting thing is walking around an airport on drugs. My God, what a crazy feeling! "

He's overly arrogant

Arrogance is not only expressed in ignorance of rules, but also shows itself in open complacency or stilted demeanor. The excessive self-confidence is particularly popular with others, by demonstrating that you consider yourself to be something better. Also problematic: arrogance reinforces itself as long as one is successful and has good experiences with it. And as a CEO or top manager, you can afford to be arrogant - perhaps one reason why the psychopath density is (supposedly) higher in the upper echelons of business.

He sets unrealistic goals

Psychopaths revel in great visions of their future. However, they have no idea how to get there. For example, one inmate whom Hare looked after wanted to become a real estate tycoon regardless of professional requirements. Another planned to write a book about himself and calculated in advance the amount that he would earn with it.

He has a parasitic lifestyle

Psychopaths consider themselves the kings of the world, but shamelessly use the resources of others. Be it in an illegal or a legal, but immoral way. When a psychopath wants something, he will always look for a way to get it.

He is narcissistic

Psychopaths are characterized by an inflated self-image and excessive expectations. Only they are the center of the universe. A psychopath's self-confidence knows no bounds. One test person told Hare, “I don't obey any laws. I just follow my own laws. I never break my own rules. ”The so-called e-test can provide another indication. In the video we explain how this works.

How common are psychopaths?

The good news: In fact, overall psychopaths are the clear minority. Their distribution depends above all on the group of people analyzed - and there can be big differences here. While only about one percent of the total population shows psychopathic traits, studies of business leaders assume at least three percent, others even from six percent. A study in the journal Behavioral Sciences & the Law came up with these figures a few years ago. For comparison: of the inmates in US prisons, as many as 15 percent are psychopathic.

The numbers suggest: The typical characteristics of a psychopath often lead you straight to jail. On the other hand, they are often an advantage in the business world, almost predestined for a glorious career in business. If you are now curious as to whether there may be a particularly large number of psychopaths hidden among your colleagues, a look at our list can help. The "Great British Psychopath Survey" by psychologist Kevin Dutton summarizes the top ten professions with the most psychopaths (PDF), which we make available as a free download.

Famous psychopaths

Experts believe that many of the leaders in history were psychopaths. With your charisma you could convince others, you were manipulative and self-confident enough at the same time to achieve your goals and through the lack of empathy you could decide or rule without fear or scruples. But even today, psychopaths are successful and well known. The psychologist Kevin Dutton names a number of famous personalities who he counts as psychopaths:

  • Steve Jobs
    The late Apple boss had some psychopathic traits, including magical charisma, but at the same time carefree ruthlessness.
  • Dominique Strauss Kahn
    Former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, ended his career due to various justiciable scandals. Both the characteristics of impulsiveness, poor behavioral control and promiscuous sexual behavior fit into Hare's checklist.
  • Richard Fuld
    The former head of Lehman Brothers. Fuld was the prototype of a successful psychopath: ruthless, high-handed - and responsible for a $ 600 billion bankruptcy.
  • Neil Armstrong
    The first person on the moon is also said to have been a prime example of a psychopath. Armstrong was always cold and focused. What seems even more surprising: When he stepped on the moon, according to the control center in Houston, no increased heartbeat should have been detected.

Psychopaths at work

Scientists assume that leadership positions are a real magnet for psychopaths. This is because psychopathic people can work very well in professions and positions with great power dynamics and a strong hierarchy. In addition, there is definitely an overlap in the central characteristics of psychopaths and executives: enforcing decisions against the will of others, putting feelings in the background and putting yourself and your own success first.

On the other hand: The general assessment as cold, inconsiderate, manipulative and sly is not really correct. As a study by psychologists at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn found, psychopathy has another side to the job: It can be a key success factor. According to this, there can be a kind of benign psychopathy that leads to self-confidence, stress resistance and - as the researchers call it - fearless dominance. According to scientists, whether this ultimately turns into valuable top performers for the company depends on one essential factor: education.

  • Less educated people with fearless dominance tend to the toxic form of psychopathy - and damage both the working atmosphere and the economic development of their employer.
  • Highly educated positive psychopaths with above average intelligence on the other hand, they have a strong will to assert themselves, but are also particularly capable, innovative and crisis-proof.

Tips on how to deal with psychopaths

At work, in particular, you can hardly protect yourself from dealing with a psychopath sooner or later. If you change jobs several times in the course of your career, the probability increases that one of the many colleagues or even the boss has psychopathic traits and characteristics. And then? The best would be to avoid contact completely, not to get drawn into the insidious and sly game of the psychopath and to go his own way.

In private life, where you can freely choose who you surround yourself with and who you want to give your time to, not a big problem. But in the job? Here you have only limited influence on who is sitting in the neighboring office or even in the executive chair. In extreme cases, there is only one change of job - with the risk of getting caught up in another psychopath. It is better if you learn to deal with a psychopath. These tips will help:

Keep your distance

You may not be able to ensure that the contact ends entirely, but you can influence how intense it is and in what form it takes place. Ensure the greatest possible distance, only allow contact when it is absolutely necessary and rely on phone calls or, even better, emails. The less you have to deal with the psychopath, the better for you and your overall satisfaction.

Don't show weakness

Psychopaths focus on the weaknesses of others, exploit them and seek their own advantage at the expense of the environment. By not revealing any weaknesses to the psychopath, you offer less surface to attack. At work, this is most likely to be achieved through good performance, but also by not expressing possible criticism and questions to the psychopath.

Don't blame yourself

Psychopaths are good at manipulating not only the actions but also the thinking of others. It is therefore particularly important that you do not blame yourself. You have not asked anyone to take advantage of you, tell lies, or intrigue behind your back. Nor is it automatically a sign of poor knowledge of human nature. Psychopaths are cunning and, unfortunately, often masters in their field. There's no point in making yourself bad.

Don't be alone

If you have a psychopath in the office, chances are that others will feel the same way. Try to address the issue and seek allies. Not only can the situation be better endured together, it is also more promising when you want to take action. You can contact the HR department or, if available, the works council. Describe the problem, ideally with concrete examples, and explain how the behavior bothers you in your work.

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