There are around 69 million psychopaths in the world, around 1% of the human population. The psychopaths we normally hear about are quite violent. Therefore, it is no surprise that prisons are among the places where you find them in quantity: 20% of prisoners and 86,5% of serial killers are considered psychopaths.
But not all psychopaths become bloodthirsty killers like the legendary Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. Psychopaths chase whatever it is that gives them pleasure: money, power, status. This is the very reason why researchers have found that, right after prisons, companies have many of them. In fact, a recent research revealed that 3,9% of the executives in American companies are psychopaths. This means that if you take any random executive you are 4 times more likely to stumble with a psychopath than if you take any random human being.
There is no reason to start looking suspiciously at your co-workers when meeting them at the corridors: office psychopaths will probably not kill you. But be warned: they do use their positions unscrupulously. They cancel subordinate holidays, force everyone to work until 4AM, harass co-workers and are constantly at the brisk of committing real crimes. In fact, every year, one third of the organizations loose an average of US$ 1,2 million due to illegal schemes. Researchers now think that part of this number is due to corporate psychopaths.
Like their violent counterparts, office psychopaths do not care about others’ wellbeing and do not feel remorse. They ignore rules, ethics and common sense. As it turns out, psychopaths’ brains behave differently than normal ones: the logical area has a lot more activity than the emotional one. This makes it hard for psychopaths to fit in somebody else’s shoes or to be connected with emotional tragedies.
It is now understood that it is easier to recruit psychopaths than sane professionals. It sounds weird but psychopaths are poker-faced liars: they openly lie when being recruited and are coldblooded enough to keep it under control. To make matters even worse psychopaths are very good at reading people and logically inferring what makes them tick. At the end of a job interview, their whole package will scream: “I am the right person for this job.”
These abilities will continue to be useful for our psychopath friend as his career progresses. He will be able to convince someone else to make his work during the weekends; or extract confidential information from the CEO’s secretary; or blame someone else as problems appear. Is there an obstinate, hardworking co-worker who just got promoted after a lot of extra work? She would not like to hear rumors that she is actually lazy and just got promoted for being close, maybe too close, to the boss. Our psychopath friend spreads this tiny little gossip and enjoys his moment of glory: this is enough to affect and weaken a potential competitor.
When the psychopath has leeched as much as possible, he will leave the company. Differently than normal people, he has no emotional attachments. If he is ever caught, he will blame the system, the company, the destiny or even the victims. The famous Bernard Madoff responsible for a billionaire Ponzi scheme once mentioned when convicted: “F$%k my victims. I carried them for 20 years, and now I'm doing 150 years.”
If after reading these numbers you have thought of your boss do not assume her to be a psychopath so quickly. First, only a psychiatrist can give an accurate prognosis and second, there is a big chance your boss is afflicted by some other psychiatric disorder. In fact, top management executives have 7 times more personality disorders than the average population. In 3 out of 11 disorders researched, executives fared higher numbers than psychiatric prisoners: narcissism (those who need to be admired constantly), histrionic personality disorder (those who like exhibitionism and manipulating others) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (perfectionist people with dictatorial tendencies).
Therefore, think twice before assuming your boss is a psychopath. They might be simply crazy or just plain annoying.