If, as Jim Rohn says, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, you definitely don't want a psychopath in your inner circle. Neither do you want to hire or work with a psychopath.
So how can you tell, as quickly as possible, if someone is a psychopath? To be absolutely certain, you'd need to assess that person using a long list of scientifically validated traits.
But since that's not possible, you can definitely look for certain indications:
1. Psychopaths are twice as likely as most to talk about these three things
Research shows that psychopaths love to talk about:
And they're much less likely than the average person to talk about:
As Jessica Stillman writes, "If your suspected psychopath is verbally obsessed with the pleasures of the body or the balance of his bank account, this study gives you cause to count that as another strike against him -- and another reason to steer clear or handle this person with extreme caution."
2. Psychopaths love to say what they will do
According to Robert Hare, the head of the team that developed the widely used Psychopathy Checklist, psychopaths have a narcissistic and incredibly inflated view of their own importance and self-worth. They have huge egos. They're self-centered to an incredible degree.
As Hare writes, they have "a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement, and see themselves as the center of the universe, justified in living according to their own rules."
Yet while they love to talk about huge goals ... they typically have no idea of what it takes to achieve them. And definitely don't have a plan for how to achieve them.
Which is why successful people don't tend to talk about their goals; successful people talk about their plans, processes, and routines. They talk about how they'll get to where they're going.
Unlike psychopaths, who act like they're already there.
3. Psychopaths are much less likely to mimic your nonverbal expressions
While it might sound strange, research shows that caring, empathetic people tend to imitate other people's nonverbal expressions. If you grimace while telling a painful story, so will they. If you smile while telling a happy story, so will they.
Psychopaths won't. In fact, research shows that psychopaths don't even yawn when you yawn (a surprisingly common response for most people).
That's because psychopaths are focused on themselves -- not on you.
4. Psychopaths are incredibly rewards-focused
We all enjoy rewards. But according to this research, a psychopath's brain is actually wired to seek rewards at almost any cost. That's because a psychopath's brain can release up to four times as much dopamine in response to a reward as a non-psychopath's.
That means psychopaths aren't necessarily people who do what they want without caring about the consequences. Psychopaths might actually care more about the consequences than other people.
According to the researchers:
It may be that because of these exaggerated dopamine responses, once they focus on the chance to get a reward ... psychopaths are unable to alter their attention until they get what they're after. These individuals appear to have such a strong draw to reward -- to the carrot -- that it overwhelms the sense of risk or concern about the stick.
Again, though, we all enjoy rewards. Rewards drive most of our behaviors. Even people who are incredibly giving do so at least in part because the act of giving makes them feel good about themselves.
But people who seek a reward in spite of the consequences -- moral, ethical, legal, career, relationship, etc. -- may not be doing so because they don't care about the consequences. They may be hell-bent on getting that reward because they care too much about the reward aspect of the consequence. They're so drawn to the reward that they can't think about the risks -- or the other consequences.
Psychopaths struggle to take a step back and weigh the rewards against the costs. They're so driven to achieve, or gain, or be something that they can't see anything else but the reward.
Which is why ...
5. Psychopaths love working for bad bosses.
Some bosses are arrogant, rude, overbearing, overly demanding, don't act with integrity -- they're the kind of people we hate to work for.
But not psychopaths. According to research, primary psychopaths (the worst kind) lack empathy. They're cool-headed and fearless. They don't get affected by things that cause most people to feel stressed, fearful, or angry -- they coolly analyze the situation and find ways to flourish.
Which means a bad boss environment "may reward and retain exactly the kind of people who are likely to perpetuate abusive cultures," the researchers write. Psychopaths not only thrive under abusive bosses, they're much more likely to get ahead of their peers.
Does that mean that every person who seems to thrive under an abusive boss is a psychopath? Some people do their best regardless -- or even in spite -- of the way they are treated.
But most do not. Superstars have options. So they move on.
"Superstar" psychopaths stay with terrible bosses. Because they feel right at home.
What should you do if you have to work with a psychopath?
Maybe you've already picked out the psychopath in your workplace. And there's no way you can avoid that person. That's OK.
Factor that into the way you treat them.
As Eric Barker writes, pay attention to what people do, not what they say. That's the best way to know if you're being manipulated.
Also, work hard to create win-win scenarios. Most of us want to "win." Psychopaths just want to "win" more than most people. Find ways that both of you can win, and psychopaths are much more likely to work with you than against you.
And don't forget to do what emotionally intelligent people do: Empathize with and adapt to the people around you.
You can almost never control the way other people act, but you can always control how you respond.