Is your boss a psychopath?

We all know colleagues, bosses or people in management positions who misuse their role to pressure others, act in aggressive ways or even disparage subordinates. Maybe we ourselves know the challenge of acting kind despite tight timelines, bad quality in contribution of team members and colleagues as well as sleep deprivation. But somewhere in that mix of ‚people being people’ there are some who seem to enjoy the misuse of the power that comes with their role.

How can you tell with whom you are dealing?

Let‘s start with a definition first. For simplification, let’s say there are 2 groups: There are normal people acting under pressure – resulting in aggression, bad words and hostile work environment. And then there are people who use aggression as a tool of power. On first sight, both people look the same. But there is an inherent difference.

In order to find out with whom you are dealing, you need to see how they react to feedback. They need to hear how their behaviour is making others feel. Usually, people will apologize if you tell them that you have been hurt by their words. Normal people under pressure might step over the line in the moment of heat – but they will apologize if you let them know that their tone and loudness was inappropriate.

How does the other type will react?

The other type is often referred to as ‚psychopath‘. As this is a diagnose, we should be very careful to use that term. But there is one aspect in the definition of a psyopath that is worthwhile to look at.

(psychology) a person who has a serious personality disorder that means they do not care about other people’s feelings, do not feel sorry when they have done something bad, and may want to be violent or cruel towards others


Psychopaths do not care about the feelings of others. They do not feel sorry – and they might even want to be cruel to others. In a corporate culture where leaders step over the line of good behaviour more often than not, it is a very nice environment for psychopaths to prosper. For them, it is not the outliner moment when they pressure others but the norm. It is their type of leadership – and they even enjoy being cruel and dominating others.

How to handle a psychopath?

If you have the suspicion to work with or for a psychopath and honest, fair as well as peaceful feedback does not work, you need to be aware that this person will never change – or maybe only for the worse. It is your decision whether you want to stay in the working relationship. You can probably stop complaining about the situation – as you have analyzed it and come to a conclusion. You can stay or leave – but don‘t expect the change the psychopath for the better.

How to prevent your company from having psychopaths?

Culture is key. If your culture is build on appreciation for people, a honest feedback culture and a no go area for disparaging people – you forster the best foundation for a healthy environment that will stay psychopath-free. Appreciation of the successes of others keeps your heart soft and kicks out envy which is the basis for wanting to be superior to others. Honest feedback is the tool that let‘s people know what the culture is and how adequate behaviour looks like. Defining no go areas in terms of behaviour is the safe harbour in which the whole team can act – and how outlining behaviour becomes visible and can be feedbacked.

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