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The Difficult Person at Work Probably Isn’t a Psychopath

  • By Katarina Fritzon, Joanna Wilde and Rosalind Searle
  • February 9, 2018
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As workplaces become increasingly difficult and damaging environments, there are plenty of articles and books on dealing with “psychopaths” among your colleagues.

But psychopathy is heavily contested as a diagnostic category. And labelling a coworker a psychopath fails to account for how our workplaces can encourage bad behavior.

From an “always on” work culture to badly designed work practices, there are many reasons why a colleague could be behaving badly. This is partly why clinicians are prohibited from diagnosing someone from afar—there may be many other factors influencing the behavior.

The research on criminal psychopathy is based on thousands of casesand involves statistical prediction of future actions based on these cases. The articles that set out how to tell if your boss is a psychopath simply do not have the same evidence base.

Of the 20 criteria used to assess criminal psychopathy, many do not translate to the workplace (other measures have not been tested in work environments either).

What about the workplace?

As we have seen in recent sexual harassment scandals in media and politics, when workplaces don’t punish employees for unacceptable or harmful behavior it gives tacit permission, in effect encouraging it to continue.


Should You Accept A Glass of Water at a Job Interview?

Q: Should you accept a cup of coffee or water at a job interview? 

Dear Parched Job Applicant:

Don’t be afraid to drink the Kool-Aid (read: double shot of espresso): It’s 110% OK to accept a cup of Joe at a job interview when it’s offered. Not only will it make you more comfortable personally—not to mention caffeinated and alert—but it will also make your hosts more comfortable in your presence, sending the message that you’re (a) appreciative of their hospitality (b) at ease and in their presence and (c) confident in yourself. Equally important, accepting the drink also helps establish a social dynamic in which parties are more apt to treat each other as equals who aren’t above assisting and helping each other out (i.e. team players)—even if one party is technically in a subordinate role.

Worried that you’re wasting a possible boss’s time or being a bother by needing something to sip on? Remember: Refreshments wouldn’t be offered if the other party wasn’t comfortable doing so—and such an offer is often provided as a casual bridge to more formal conversation during which small talk...

The Big Deal About Big Data

Behind the roller-coaster politics rocking Washington, a much quieter but just as important revolution is underway. Government managers are advancing the use of “big data,” and it’s having a big impact. It’s the center of an important effort to transform the health of the federal government and improve the outcomes of federal programs, as a recent National Academy of Public Administration report argued.

What’s the big deal about big data?

It’s tempting to look at the quiet data revolution as just the next, small, logical step in measuring government performance, a follow-on to the ongoing evolution that began with Al Gore’s National Performance Review. After that came a series of management agendas in the Bush and Obama administrations, each of which focused (in very different ways) on producing better information to drive better results. And it would be easy to say that the big data thing is just an incremental improvement.

But big data is bigly different, in 10 important respects.

  1. The supply of data has exploded, with far more data from far more sources. The government has no choice about whether to embrace the big data revolution. Everything that government does, from the cost...

This Disclosure Could Hurt Your Work Relationships

Disclosing a weakness might not be a good way to build rapport with coworkers, research suggests.

Sharing personal information with friends and family is a standard way to build rapport and healthy relationships. But between coworkers, that’s not always true.

In the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers report that for higher status individuals, disclosing a weakness negatively affected their relationship and task effectiveness with their lowers status partners.

“We may think that sharing personal information is always a good thing, but what we found is that when higher status individuals, which could in real situations include star employees, share personal information that highlights a potential shortcoming, it can affect the way they are perceived by coworkers,” says Dana Harari, a doctoral student at Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business.

“This is important because it could undermine their ability to be an effective manager.”

The team focused on task-oriented relationships such as those found in a workplace.

The researchers devised three laboratory experiments during which a total of 762 participants completed virtual tasks with either a higher status or peer status partner. During the task, the “coworker,” who was actually a confederate in the...

Focusing on the Positive: Rewarding Good Workers and Managers

The pundits focused on the line in President Trump’s state of the union address asking Congress to “empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority . . . to remove federal workers.” For the most part, they ignored the call to “reward good workers” preceding the reference to removal. It may be naïve, but another recent report from federal leaders, the Federal Pay Agent report, wants to “empower federal agencies to better manage, develop, and reward employees.” Read together the statements are similar to sentiments corporate leaders might express.

In other sectors, the Pay Agent statement would likely be welcomed. Support for better management, more training, and financial rewards would in any other context be seen as a positive management philosophy.  

Normally terminating poor performers is seen by co-workers as a positive step.  In the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the statement “In my work unit, steps are taken to deal with a poor performer who cannot or will not improve” receives the lowest score in the survey—31 percent. That suggests employees want action to be taken. Allowing a poor performer to continue is disturbing to co-workers. It’s been described as a workplace cancer. But of course, terminations should be...