How Dark Personality Traits Help People Rise in Ranks in a Company

  • Posted by admin
  • 16 October 2015
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In every office, there is always one employee who seems to have an innate, natural talent for rising in the ranks. They may not have the experience or even the skill for the job, but somehow, they manage to climb the ladder faster than everyone else. How do they do it?

It may just be that they possess one of the three personality traits that psychologists refer to as the “dark triad”.

What is the “Dark Triad”?

In psychology, the dark triad refers to three distinct personality traits: narcissism, manipulativeness and antisocial personality.

When people are manipulative, they influence others for their own selfish gain. Narcissists are profoundly self-centered and prefer to be the center of attention. Those with an antisocial personality lack concern or empathy for others.

When these traits are at their extreme, they cause bad behavior that most of us are familiar with. However, when they appear at milder levels, they can help nurture skills that allow workers to rise through the ranks in a seemingly undeserving way.

How Dark Personality Traits Help People Rise in the Ranks

How are people with dark personality traits, like the ones listed above, able to rise in the ranks so quickly? What is it about the dark triad that gives them a competitive edge in the workplace?

People with dark personality traits are seen as attractive job candidates for numerous reasons. They use their charm, leadership abilities and assertiveness to impress employers who view these traits as an asset (initially) for the company. Each trait provides its own advantage that allows people to get ahead in the workplace with minimal effort.

First, let’s look at narcissism. People with this trait (even in milder forms) love being the center of attention. Naturally, when they go in for an interview, it’s all about them and their need to make a great first impression. These individuals can also be particularly persuasive when they pitch their ideas to others.

Narcissists do especially well in training programs because they have a strong desire to be seen at their best. Making such a good first impression (which is something they excel at) will gain them the respect they’re looking for, which will eventually lead to them being put in a position of authority.

Manipulators are also fantastic influencers, but they tend to do the influencing for their own personal gain. Many will resort to deceit or flattery to get what they want. These personalities are often called Machiavellians, and they can be incredibly charismatic leaders. They can also be forceful when it comes to negotiations.

Machiavellians can be particularly subtle in their methods of manipulation to gain influence. Take the manager who flatters subordinates and pressures them into revealing personal information. That personal information becomes gossip that can drive a wedge between co-workers and give the manager more control. That same method of influence and gaining control can be used to gain promotions and move up the ranks.

Manipulators are masters of using flattery to get ahead, and this is often the reason why they get named to corporate boards. However, flattery needs to be used skillfully in order for it to be effective. Managers that possess this quality will often frame flattery as a simple request for advice. Rather than issuing blatant compliments, they might ask how a particular person was able to execute a clever strategy so successfully.

Machiavellians are also great at forming political alliances because of their forcefulness.

As a far as antisocial personalities go, these individuals lack concern or empathy for others. While this can be troublesome, they often succeed in the workplace because of their creativity and ability to test limits.

What We Can Learn from These Dark Personalities

People with these dark personality traits can cause trouble and discontent in the workplace, but we can also learn from them. That’s not to say that we should be adopting these personality traits. On the contrary, knowing and understanding these traits allows co-workers and management to spot extreme cases early on and take steps to prevent future issues. Managers can also protect their own career paths through training and proper job placement.

Another thing we can learn is that these dark personality traits typically only give people an advantage in the short-term. Many see their careers derail eventually, especially manipulators, because they are only focused on their own short-term needs, rather than the company’s long-term goals.

At extreme levels, these traits can disrupt lives. Take Richard Scrushy, former HealthSouth Corp. CEO, for example. Mr. Scrushy was able to build a chain of rehab and outpatient surgery clinics that pushed the $4 billion mark.

Mr. Scrushy was described as being the “classic salesman”. He had an innate ability to get other people to agree with him. But Mr. Scrushy also made life miserable for his employees if they didn’t agree with him. It wasn’t uncommon for him to yell at or belittle people during weekly staff meetings. He also had a habit of spending his money lavishly.

In 2003, Mr. Scrushy was fired as CEO after regulators discovered $2.7 billion in accounting fraud. While he was acquitted of criminal charges connected to the crime, the courts imposed $2.8 billion in civil damages later on.

Eventually, Mr. Scrushy would spend five years in prison in connection to another scandal: bribing a state official.

Mr. Scrushy believes that his method of management was effective. He stated that any CEO worth “his salt” has to come on a little bit strong. Rather than seeing his manipulative traits as “dark,” he describes them as a skill or an asset.

It’s difficult to escape these dark personality traits. Manipulative, anti-social and narcissistic people are everywhere, both at mild and extreme levels. Experts recommend looking closely at co-workers who tend to bully other people. And keep your eye on the co-worker who appears to be too caring or nice for what they ask you to do.

Of these three dark traits, manipulators tend to climb to the greatest heights, but often also experience the greatest falls.


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