“Bad” bosses are not the only people we hear about. We have also heard a lot about coworkers… with negative attitudes, antisocial tendencies, manipulation, irresponsibility, poor performance, and a tendency to disrupt others who are trying to work. Clearly, these individuals are particularly difficult to work with, but there may be plausible explanations other than psychopathy for their behavior. To understand this, we need to consider one of the factors people commonly use when evaluating colleagues…: industrial psychologists who study it refer to it as conscientiousness.
Individuals who are highly conscientious tend to focus on doing a good job; they like being accurate, timely, and thorough. They take pride in completing the jobs they start, are very responsible and detail-oriented, and like to appear to others as competent. Low-conscientiousness coworkers can get sloppy about meeting deadlines, achieving goals, or finishing what they start. They can come across as irresponsible, unfocused, disruptive, and poor performers. Sometimes they rely on others to help them get their work done – or others may feel the need to ‘cover’ for them so as not to hurt the…overall performance. Clearly, most of us prefer to work next to individuals who are conscientious in their work. It seems fairer to us for others to carry their own weight on the job, especially if they are drawing a salary similar to the one we receive.
A lot of research has shown that conscientiousness is a primary dimension of personality, rather than just a style or personal preference. People vary on this trait as much as they do on other personality traits- we all have various degrees of conscientiousness in our makeup. However, being at the extremely low or extremely high end of the scale, whilst disconcerting to some of our coworkers, is not necessarily a bad thing. Your effectiveness at work depends, once again, on the match between your degree of conscientiousness and the specific job you do. Examples of jobs requiring moderate levels of conscientiousness typically include artists, creative research scientists, or visionary leaders because the need to step out of the box or take risks when creating new works of art, pursuing new knowledge, or leading in uncertain times. Jobs like design engineer and nuclear power plant operator tend to require high degrees of conscientiousness because they manage many important details critical to their success….there is no reason to conclude that coworkers low (or high) in conscientiousness (alone) are psychopaths.
Psychopath or Difficult Person: The Assessment Challenge
Individual differences in consideration, structuring, and conscientiousness are normal parts of human behavior in any organization. However, some clusters of psychopathic traits do manifest themselves on the consideration, structuring, and conscientiousness scales. Specifically, many psychopaths would clearly rate very low on consideration (rude, arrogant, and self-centered…) at the extreme for structuring jobs (either uncaring or overbearing) and very low on the conscientiousness (irresponsible, impulsive, arrogant, self-centered, and seemingly unwilling to accept responsibility)… these factors alone do not indicate psychopathy, but they certainly are warning flags. What else does one need to look for?
In general, psychopaths are all egotistical, having a sense of entitlement and assertiveness to demand it, which often makes them appear selfish in relationships. They all have a grandiose sense of who they are and insist that others give them the respect due them. They are not as goal-oriented as the rest of us when it comes to actual diligence and hard work. Nonetheless, they frequently tell others how ambitious they are and weave a (phony) hard-luck story about how they overcame immense odds growing up poor or underprivileged or from an abusive home. Yes, they are all irresponsible when it comes to attending to appropriate behaviors (for example, not doing the job they were assigned or making promises they do not keep), both on and off the job. They rarely, if ever, experience guilt or remorse for any of their transgressions, even the most outrageous and hurtful.
However, some psychopaths are different from others. Some come across as more impulsive or erratic than others do. The more impulsive psychopaths require immediate gratification and use short-term predatory strategies to get what they want. The less impulsive types tend to appear less predatory in their pursuit of gratification, instead relying on opportunities coming to them. Some psychopaths (arguably the less intelligent ones) seek to satisfy the most basic instinctual needs, such as food and sex, while others seek higher-level satisfaction in power, control, or fame. Some are more subtle or clever in their manipulations of others, using charm and linguistic skills to get others to obey and conform. Others are blunter, attempting to con in clumsy ways and then resorting to abusive demands when their ‘charm’ does not work. This latter type acts out their aggressions in violent, vindictive, ruthless ways while the former are less reactive- perhaps more in control of their inner drives -relying on suggestions, intimidation, and ‘passive aggression to get their way.”
So yes, lots of workers don’t get on, but it is unlikely to be due to psychopathy in all but 1% of cases!
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