Usually, it is very difficult to identify a sociopath within the workplace. Because they mainly interact with others on a need basis only, they generally don’t draw attention to themselves or socialize with their co-workers unless there is something to be gained from the experience. When they do eventually choose to intermingle, they present as charming, intelligent, balanced, sexy, and effortlessly harmless. Most often, however, this personality acts as a front.
Sociopaths are commonly overlooked because they get confused to be narcissists or psychopaths, but the three are very different. A narcissist consistently puts themselves in the center of attention and can frequently be found enjoying a constant flow of admiration from their flattering staff. Even when they are not in charge, a narcissist will assume a significant role in order to take things over, entertaining their desire for power and domination. Sociopaths, in contrast, do not need attention to feed their ego.
Unlike the narcissist, a psychopath would never draw so much noticeable attention. They prefer to be extremely selective about who sees what angle of their personality. They are chameleon-like with the ability to instantly change from one persona to another. Employers see only the best side of a psychopath while co-workers see another irresponsible, manipulative side. Sociopaths differ in their ability to maintain the chameleon image. Psychopaths can maintain the façade for decades. Sociopaths become too easily bored with the same role.
So, what is a sociopath? The term is encompassed under the definition of Anti-Social Personality Disorder along with psychopaths. However, psychopaths and sociopaths are not interchangeable terms. Think of them as two separate parts of a whole personality disorder. A sociopath has more erratic behavior, is unreliable, lies for no apparent reason, and takes greater risks than the psychopath.
At work, a sociopath may present the following characteristics:
- Charming and superficial only to people that can give them something such as power, money, or empathy. To everyone else, they are cold, distant, and aloof as if those people don’t exist.
- Completely lacking in emotion or the ability to empathize with others, but they do possess the ability to fake it for a short period of time.
- Unpredictable and unreliable at work, completing only the tasks that they enjoy or get instant gratification for finishing.
- Lies to see what they can get away with without any master plan – unlike psychopaths who are more intentional about lying.
- Blames others for their own mistakes without any remorse or guilt, taking pleasure in seeing punishment administered to others for their blunder.
- Takes unnecessary risks out of boredom just to stir things up.
- Continues to make the same errors over and over with no self-awareness.
- Uses their appearance or sex for self-promotion and/or manipulation.
- Openly makes threatening remarks of harm towards others and themselves (suicidal comments).
- Doesn’t remain in a job for too long, constantly changes career paths, and is frequently fired.
- Commits illegal activity because they can.
Working with a sociopath is only dangerous if a person gets in their way, attempts to expose the manipulative self-seeking behavior, or has something the sociopath wants. Otherwise, they can appear harmless. The best advice is to avoid the sociopath and ignore their behavior. Eventually, they self-destruct or become bored and move on to another work environment. Let the traits above help you watch out for any signs you may be working with a sociopath so that you can appropriately approach the situation.