Dark triad of personality: Everything you need to know

Dark triad of personality: Everything you need to know
Last Updated: July 21, 2023

Have you ever wondered what the issue is with the one employee at your workplace who seems to find pleasure is bothering others or even sabotaging the company? This individual is unremorseful, and even lies caught misbehaving. Most of us have heard of or met leaders who are unsociable, power-hungry, or lack empathy. Have you ever wondered what is wrong with people who enjoy trolling people on social media, e.g., Twitter or Facebook? One or two people come to mind when you see these descriptions. Studies have shown that such individuals have what is known as the Dark Triad personality (a trifecta of psychopathy), so basically, these individuals border on being low key psychopaths.

What is the Dark Triad Personality?


The Dark Triad, a combination of three conceptually distinct but empirically overlapping personality traits, was first identified by Paulhus and Williams (2002) 10 years ago. Machiavellianism, narcissism, and subclinical psychopathy have different associations, yet they all have the same core of callous manipulation. According to an article by Psychology Today, people with these characteristics are ruthless and manipulative, prepared to do or say almost anything to obtain what they want. They have an inflated sense of self-worth and are frequently shameless in their self-promotion. These people are inclined to be impulsive and may engage in risky behaviour—in some situations, even committing crimes—without thinking about the consequences of their actions.


Let us define the three that form part of the Dark Triad:

  1. Machiavellianism- (i.e., manipulativeness, interpersonal coldness, cynicism, and deception for self-benefit). The APA dictionary of psychology defines it as a personality feature characterized by a cold attitude toward human connections and the notion that, no matter how vicious the means, the aim justifies the means. A Machiavellian sees other people as more or less objects to be controlled to achieve their aims, even if it means lying. An example of a Machiavelli is someone who lies and cheats to get power, like in politics. According to Forbes, Machiavellian people are the type to focus on \"whats in it for me,\" and \"how can I con these people, so I get the most out of it?\" 


  1. Narcissism-i.e., grandiosity, vanity, and self-centeredness, A person who scores high on the narcissism concept has an inflated sense of self-worth and grandiosity (Wai & Tiliopoulos, 2012). Wai & Tiliopoulos (2012) link narcissism to arrogance, entitlement, and a sense of superiority over others (Ziegler-Hill & Marcus, 2016). (Miao, Humphrey, Qian, & Pollack, 2019). Individuals who score highly on this attribute will also employ controlling and manipulative ways to influence others (Dowgwillo & Pincus, 2017), meet their desire for admiration and reinforce their self-views (Wai & Tiliopoulos, 2012). The APA dictionary of psychology defines it as excessive self-love or egocentrism or taking ones ego or body as a sexual object or focus of the libido or choice of another relational purpose based on their similarity to the self as described by psychoanalytic theory.


  1. Psychopathy-i.e. antisocial behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callous and unemotional traits. Psychopathy is frequently referred to as the most dreadful dark triad personality trait (Miao, Humphrey, Qian, & Pollack, 2019; Zeigler-Hill & Marcus, 2016 ). Individuals with a high psychopathy score have a pattern of dysfunctional interpersonal behaviour and use superficial charm and manipulation skills for their gain, regardless of the cost to others (Wai & Tiliopoulos, 2012). Psychopathy is the only factor that predicts future delinquent behaviour (Williams & Paulhus, 2004). According to Forbes magazine, psychopathy can not be genuinely diagnosed in the American Psychological Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders. However, it is a disorder comprising other disorders such as antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.


According to recent research, a fourth trait that can be added to the Dark Triad traits is Sadism. Sadism \"satisfies the criteria of \"callousness or deficient empathy\" while also adding a \"unique feature not covered by the Dark Triad members, namely, intrinsic enjoyment in hurting others,\" according to new research published in the European Journal of Psychological Assessment. These three traits share common characteristics: a lack of empathy, manipulation, callousness, and disagreeableness. According to research through the environment can play a role in developing such traits, these traits can also be genetically inherited.


The impact of the Dark Triad personality in the workplace


Depending on how high or low someone is in each feature, the Dark Triad can yield various outcomes in the workplace. Increases in Machiavellianism and psychopathology, for example, are linked to lower employee job quality, whereas unproductive work behaviour is linked to increases in all three Dark Triad variables. According to an article by Forbes magazine, when manipulating others, those high in Machiavellianism and psychopathy tend to use \"hard tactics,\" whereas people high in narcissism and Machiavellianism tend to use \"soft tactics.\" Threatening people and ruining their work are examples of \"hard tactics,\" while compliments and presents are examples of \"soft techniques\" used to persuade others.


Your entire office will suffer if one or more of your employees exhibit narcissistic, Machiavellian, or psychopathic qualities. Your other employees will be uneasy, if not outright unsafe. And youll be continuously playing referee between them, which will take up a lot of your time. Additionally, people with high dark triad personality traits are more likely to make immoral decisions. According to research, employees who display dark triad personalities usually find amusement in the downfall or failure of others.

According to research, the dark triad personality has been linked to several negative workplace outcomes:

  • Poorer job performance
  • Increased counterproductive work behaviours (CWBs)
  • Fewer organizational citizenship behaviours (OCBs)
  • Lower levels of ethical decision making
  • Greater likelihood to commit white-collar crime
  • Negative perceptions from others


According to the Personality and Differences Journal, CEO narcissism has been connected to unethical behaviour and a desire for power (Amernic & Craig, 2010; Galperin, Bennett, & Aquino, 2010). (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). Corporate psychopaths have low levels of corporate responsibility and can harm productivity (Boddy, 2010). Machiavellianism is linked to lower organizational, supervisory, and team commitment (Zettler, Friedrich, & Hilbig, 2011), as well as a proclivity to be perceived as abusive by subordinates (Kiazad, Restubog, Zagenczyk, Kiewitz, & Tang, 2010) and a focus on power and manipulative behaviours (Kiazad, Restubog, Zagenczyk, Kiewitz, & Tang, 2010).


How is the Dark Triad Personality measured?

Psychologists Professor Dominik Schwarzinger and Professor Heinz Schuler, identified three factors and subscales that can be measured when assessing the dark triad personality in the workplace:  


  1. Self-centred work approach

This first aspect assesses an exaggeration of self-worth in terms of ones importance, leadership abilities, and Impact at work, as well as the enjoyment of exercising dominance over coworkers:

  • Claim to leadership
  • Belief in the persuasive power
  • Need for authority
  • Appetite for risk
  • Sense of superiority


  1. Enforcement-focused work attitude

Due to confidence in ones power and ability to perform in the workplace, this second element defines emotional toughness and distrustful attitude toward coworkers:

  • Unsentimentality
  • Assertiveness
  • Scepticism


  1. Uncommitted-impulsive work style

This third element describes an unstructured work style characterized by irresponsible or sudden acts, as well as a willingness to disobey regulations or deceive others to achieve professional objectives:

  • Flexibility
  • Impulsivity
  • Extenuation


Using the three main components and eleven subscales, The Dark Triad of Personality at Work (TOP) assesses work-related aspects of the dark triad of personality (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and subclinical psychopathy) connected to professional life. All of the items in TOP were created in the context of work behaviours, and development and validation studies were undertaken on people who had prior work experience.


Assessing the dark triad of personality (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and subclinical psychopathy) is becoming increasingly important in a dynamic workplace. From a practitioners standpoint, it is critical to identify an employees bright side and possible derailers that might negatively affect performance and result in significant financial and personal consequences for people and the organization. Rather than evaluating these derailers on a broad scale, the TOP concentrates on the three that have the most impact on individual performance and organizational impact. The TOP focuses aggressively and unabashedly on the evil side through the dark triangle of work behaviours. Dark qualities have been proved in studies to be perfect predictors of job performance, and industry experts cannot afford to ignore the most effective, valid, and beneficial tools available to them.


When combined with a personality test (such as the NEO Personality Inventory), the TOP helps inform crucial selection decisions more effectively and confidently, lowering the risk of incorrectly making high-risk talent decisions. Notably, the information gained from this dark side metric can be used to manage better and grow current staff. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), the MACH-IV, and the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (SRP) were the most regularly used narcissism, machiavellianism, and psychopathy measures, respectively. These three were shortened to form the Short Dark Triad, developed in 2011 by Delroy Paulhus and Daniel Jones to provide a more uniform assessment and trim down the total length of the three combined.


According to studies, those who score high on the Dark Triad are more likely to commit crimes or get into legal difficulty and cause social discomfort among their friends or workplace. On the other hand, research has revealed that members of the Dark Triad are frequently seen as having leadership skills and a high social position and relative ease in obtaining appealing sexual partners.


How to deal with employees with Dark Triad personality

The following are recommendations on how to deal with employees with the dark triad personality:

  1. Conduct an evaluation

Firstly evaluate your team. Birgit Schyns, a psychologist at NEOMA Business School, advises that when coworkers spot red flags in their colleagues behaviours, they should speak up, \"Dont just let it slip. Talk to the person. And talk with others to find out if it happened to them.\" As a leader assess, which team members are the most difficult to work with? Why are they so challenging? Examine your entire crew to see if any of your problematic employees exhibit any of the dark triad characteristics.

Do they consistently exaggerate their importance to the detriment of others? They may be prone to narcissism. Do they have a habit of manipulating coworkers to acquire what they want? Machiavellianism in its purest form. What about compassion? If your thorny employee(s) dont show any, they may be on the verge of psychopathy.

Remember that isolated events do not necessarily indicate that your employees have dark triad characteristics. Patterns are what youre looking for—team members who frequently exhibit narcissistic, Machiavellian, or psychopathic tendencies.


  1. Address the problem

Its time to handle the dark triad once youve honestly assessed your team and decided who might be affected. However, this must be approached with caution. You dont want to set off an episode or exacerbate an already difficult situation. So strike up a conversation with them when theyre in a good mood. Tell them the truth. Inform them that their actions have a detrimental impact on individuals around them. Give specific examples to support what youre saying. Make it plain that they must alter their behaviour. Keep in mind that you are in charge. While it may be awkward to discuss dark triad behaviours with your employees, you are in a position of authority. And dealing with their bad behaviour is in your companys best interests.


  1. Identify the triggers

Working with them to identify triggers is the next step. Is there a particular situation at work that triggers their narcissism, Machiavellianism, or psychopathy? Perhaps your difficult employee cannot stand working with a specific team member. This other woman drives him insane every time he does it, and he loses it. Youre in a great position as the teams manager to diffuse these situations.


  1. Dont support the behaviour

It would help if you didnt condone a problematic employees poor behaviour. Make no excuses for them or protect them. This will not only allow them to continue misbehaving, but it will also alienate your other employees and prevent healthy team development.


  1. Identify the Dark Triad personality when hiring

Most importantly, the evaluation of the dark triad personality should be done during the hiring process. If someone exhibits such a personality, it is just wise not to hire them in the first place. It might be difficult to distinguish between narcissistic, Machiavellian, and psychopathic traits, especially in a short period, such as a job interview. However, if you see the traits in a potential employee, we advise you to hire someone else.


Examine the habits that are rewarded in your company. Is it possible that youre unwittingly fostering machiavellian behaviour? High-stakes bonuses and commissions, as well as a lack of clear standards for employee behaviour and punishments for bad behaviour, might bring out Dark Triad behaviours.


Tatenda Sayenda-Havire is a consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone +263 4 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or email: tatenda@ipcconsultants.com or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com

Tatenda Sayenda
This article was written by Tatenda a Guest at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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