Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Worried about how to get a promotion? You must not be a psychopath.
Psychopaths tend to do well at work, a recent study has found — as long as it’s a very specific kind.
People can be “good psychopaths,” according to research out of the University of Bonn. These benign psychopaths “do not know fear, have pronounced self-confidence, good social skills and are extremely resistant to stress,” according to scientists who studied 161 corporate work relationships.
The good form of psychopathy is called “fearless dominance,” the researchers said.
Here’s the surprise: Psychopathy “can develop to be bad, but also to be very good,” said co-author Nora Schütte.
Psychopaths at work
Psychopathy is frequently considered a disastrous quality, which is a serious problem since psychopathy is highly prevalent in the corporate world. A 2016 study from Australia’s Bond University and the University of San Diego of 261 high-ranking professional showed that up to 21% “had clinically significant psychopathic traits.”
One of the co-authors of that paper, Nathan Brooks suggested psychopaths can wreak havoc at work, and should be screened out of most jobs: “typically psychopaths create a lot of chaos and generally tend to play people off against each other,” Brooks said to the Australian Psychological Association.
Psychopathic traits are far from rare. About 1 in 100 members of the general population are psychopaths, Brooks found. In 2014, in a book called “The Wisdom of Psychopaths,” author Kevin Dutton said that CEOs were the professionals with the highest rate of psychopathic behavior — followed by lawyers, then members of the media.
Why ‘good psychopaths’ blow our minds
Still, most people consider the term “psychopath” an insult at best. There’s good reason. The description of a psychopath may fit everyone you ever disliked working with.
“The toxic form of psychopathy is characterized by antisocial impulsiveness…such people cannot control themselves, they take what they like, act without thinking beforehand and pass the blame to others,” University of Bonn professor Gerhard Blickle said in a statement.
With the potential for people like this to make your job a living hell, Business Insider even listed ways to spot a psychopath in the office.
So how could this chaotic quality possibly be a good thing?
Highly educated people can make good psychopaths
Two words: fearless dominance.
“People with these characteristics do not know fear, have pronounced self-confidence, good social skills and are extremely resistant to stress,” co-author Nora Schütte of the University of Bonn said in a statement.
The study from the University of Bonn suggests that a strong education — including degrees and other credentials — plays a key role in developing fearless dominance, compared to the traditional form of hostile psychopathy.
“These findings were consistent with our expectation that the positive socialization effect of and through education on individuals with high [fearless dominance] would translate into an improved acquisition of social skills at work,” the Bonn study said.
Not so fast…
While psychopaths with “fearless dominance” in the office may have an easier time getting ahead at work, they can still make everyone else very unhappy. That’s because they’re good at looking out for themselves, but fall short when it comes to teamwork.
“In essence, individuals with psychopathic traits might be good at rising through the ranks in business, but they are difficult to work with and don’t necessarily nurture their supervisees,” University of Nevada, Las Vegas assistant professor Stephen Benning told ATTN:.
The authors of the University of Bonn study were also sure to warn institutions about dangers of having “fearless dominance” on the job, especially in people with less education.
All in all, it’s still unpredictable to have a psychopath on the team; it’s hard for most people to know what a psychopath may look like until it’s too late. The good news is that it’s possible for psychopaths to have positive contributions to the office…but you still might want to tread cautiously around one.