Have you ever wondered if you know a psychopath?  I don’t mean those people you may jokingly (and insensitively) refer to that way, I mean someone who would be diagnosed by a mental health professional that way.  I’d like to think I haven’t met someone in that category, but according to a recent article in Scientific American Mind, there is a chance I have.  Which means you may have too.

According to the article ‘Inside the Mind of a Psychopath‘, there are an estimated 250,000 people walking freely in the US who fall into this category.  Of course, like many mental illnesses, there are various degrees of affected behavior.  What grabbed my attention is that if there are people walking among us, that means that they are with us in the workplace. I think back to the years that Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy were living what appeared to be normal lives.  Yet, the horrors that arose in their minds that they then brought to bear on human beings were ghastly.  They were still in someone’s workplace.

What is it and why do I care?

Psychopathic behaviors are believed to stem from problems in the paralymbic system.  This portion of the brain controls our emotional responses, pain responses, ability to control our impulses, cognitive control, and social decision making ability, to name a few.  Think about that in terms of being in HR or being a manager in an organization.  Much of what we try to do with employees is work on goal setting and ways to motivate that employee.  Now, knowing that it is unlikely that an employee is a psychopath, how would that play out if they had some characteristics of malfunction in their paralymbic system?  Can motivation be negatively impacted and what, if anything, can we do to help the employee?

The research leans to the fact that people with lesser developed paralymbic systems  may be more prone to higher pain tolerance, may participate in riskier behavior, and may not understand social norms.  Just reading the article, I feel like some of the very behaviors we hope to modify in the workplace may , in fact, be out of the employee’s control.

Behaviors Among Us

While HR pros and managers do get our fair share (and then some) of extreme employee issues, I’m comforted knowing that most of us will never have to deal with a psychopath.  However, we do get people with some of the behaviors such as:

Impulsivity
Poor behavior control
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Superficial charm and exaggerated sense of self-worth
Pathological lying
Not taking responsibility for their actions
Committing crimes

I challenge myself, and you, to learn more about ways to positively deal with people who may have undiagnosed brain dysfunction or who have characteristics that seem to be uncontrollable.  Learn the EAP offerings so that you can steer them in a positive direction.  And, for those employees who may just demonstrate a characteristic or two, find ways to engage them in their work so that you can mitigate many of the negative impacts of their behavior.