You've probably called someone you know a psychopath in passing at some point in your life, either in jest as an acknowledgment of a strange behavior, or as a fleeting response to a decision that made you angry. But the reality is, psychopathy is startlingly common; about 1 percent of the population exhibits psychopathic tendencies. The real shocker is that psychopaths have a high rate of "success," at least in terms of garnering popularity, making lots of money, and advancing to high positions in companies and political circles.
Is this something you should be concerned about? Is it a reflection of the state of humanity? Maybe. But what's really important is to look at why psychopaths tend to be successful, and use that information to better your own understanding of how the professional world works.
What is psychopathy?
The first step is to understand what psychopathy really is, as there are a number of misconceptions about what constitutes a true "psychopath." Being a psychopath doesn't mean you're a serial killer, or that you're crazy. Instead, psychopaths tend to exhibit the following traits:
1. Lack of empathy or guilt
Psychopaths aren't able to feel true empathy with others. They don't feel bad for people they've wronged, and they don't feel guilty about any of the negative actions they've taken. They're emotionally distant 100 percent of the time (at least on the inside).
Psychopaths also tend to exhibit manipulative behavior. In part because they aren't able to empathize, they see other people as tools or resources that can be exploited for personal gain.
3. Emotional mimicry and charm
Making up for their lack of emotions, psychopaths tend to develop strong skills when it comes to mimicking emotions and sincerity. As a result, many psychopaths come off as charming or appealing to others. They may also be good at feigning empathy, even though they feel none internally.
4. Boldness and confidence
Again in part due to a lack of internal empathy, psychopaths tend to exhibit excessive boldness and overconfidence. They have a grandiose sense of self-worth, and border on narcissism.
5. Impulsiveness and disregard for rules
Many psychopaths also tend to exhibit impulsiveness, and are flippant toward social norms and rules.
Now, let's take a look at how these traits have led so many psychopaths to success.
Lesson One: Confidence is everything.
Psychopaths are often more persuasive because of the sheer amount of confidence they exhibit. It's no secret that more confident people are more readily trusted, and tend to be more persuasive in negotiations. They're also seen as smarter and more capable than their less-confident counterparts. Even if you don't feel confident on the inside, you can develop yourself to exhibit confidence on the outside (with practice), which in turn will help you command more respect in your workplace. The only caveat here is to avoid seeming overconfident; there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance.
Lesson Two: Know how to relate to people.
Manipulation is morally questionable, but there's nothing morally questionable about your ability to relate to others. Psychopaths earn trust from people by feigning sympathy and understanding; they work to understand others' emotions, and then use those emotions as tools to manipulate those people into doing what they want. You have the option of going a better path; work sincerely to understand people's wants and needs, and genuinely sympathize with them rather than artificially working to mimic that sympathy. People will get along with you better, and you'll have a higher chance at succeeding in negotiations because you'll know what the other party wants.
Lesson Three: Distance yourself from your decisions.
The best decisions tend to be the ones backed by cold logic and empirical data, in business and in your career. Oftentimes, our internal emotions--especially our sympathies, fears, and distractions--get in the way of us making purely rational decisions. Psychopaths are unrestricted by this emotional variable, and are therefore able to tap into logical decision making in its purest form. Again, you don't need to mimic psychopaths literally here; instead, work to make your decisions with greater emotional distance. One good tactic to use in this approach is the "friendly advice" method. Rather than making your decision from your own internal perspective, consider your problem as if a friend is experiencing it, and consider what advice you would give that friend. This can help you filter out your own emotional biases.
Lesson Four: Be yourself.
Psychopaths tend to be charming, energetic, and even charismatic at times. Why? Because they're confident enough to express their opinions, and they aren't afraid to break some of the rules. That may get them in trouble on occasion, but it also helps them carry respect and differentiate themselves from others. Certainly, you need to continue respecting others and adhering to the most important rules of your organization, but don't be afraid to deviate from the norms and speak about what's really on your mind. It commands respect from others and makes you more sincere.
Psychopathy has a strong negative connotation to it, thanks to the number of psychopaths who have committed crimes and atrocities. But a shocking number of psychopaths have used their unique skills and perspectives to get ahead in the business world. This isn't to say that you need to act like a psychopath to get ahead, but you can learn the preceding valuable lessons about what traits can help you become successful.