Have you ever had the feeling that one of your co-workers only cares about himself and is not interested in the well-being of others or the company? If so, then you are probably working with a narcissist, Machiavellian, or psychopath .

The interests of these individuals are not organizational interests. Their interests are for themselves.

All three types of people, collectively called Dark Triad personalities , may be guided by the wrong values, lack a moral compass and compassion for others, and use their position as employees to pursue their own goals.

  • Narcissistic – They have a strong sense of entitlement and a constant need for attention and admiration. They are arrogant and consider themselves superior to others.
  • Machiavellian : They are cunning, deceptive, distrustful and manipulative. They are characterized by having cynical and misanthropic beliefs, insensitivity, interest in money, power and status, and the use of cunning influence tactics . In contrast to narcissists, Machiavellians do not necessarily have to be the center of attention and are satisfied with the role of puppeteer, pulling the strings discreetly.
  • Psychopath : They are unlikely to consider the needs and desires of others and are not afraid to cross moral boundaries. By creating chaos in the organization, as well as in the personal lives of co-workers, they can pursue their personal agendas undetected. Not only do they enjoy hurting people, they strategically use humiliation and bullying to divert other people’s attention from their hidden selfish activities. Psychopaths are often seen as the most malevolent of the Dark Triad.

Members of the dark triad are not always leaders

Many researchers have studied these behaviors among organizational leaders, but this time we are talking exclusively about employees. These behaviors among employees can harm organizations in a number of ways .

Some members of the Dark Triad might be very interested in being promoted to leadership positions. Since those in leadership positions tend to have greater power, the position also offers the opportunity to cause greater harm. This makes it important to detect problem behaviors before possible promotion.

Narcissists want to become leaders because they feel empowered to fill these positions and they want to be admired. Psychopaths want leadership positions because they want more freedom to do whatever they want. But a Machiavellian is a little different. 

They will choose the positions that best suit their own needs and goals. For them, it might be more important to pull the strings. If a Machiavellian can, as employees, manipulate leaders, that might be enough for them.

But these behaviors can be harder to spot among employees than bosses.

Bosses are seen as the most capable people to develop and execute a strategy, and strategic behavior is less expected from employees. As a consequence, shady strategic behavior in employees can go unnoticed and organizations can lose the opportunity to mitigate those destructive influences from members of the Dark Triad . 

Furthermore, narcissists, Machiavellians, and psychopaths can behave very differently towards their employees and colleagues than they do towards their bosses.

These 15 behaviors can help identify members of the Dark Triad:

Alarming Behaviors You Should Pay Attention To

1. Over-claiming or falsely taking credit for contributions to the organization. (narcissism)

2. Advertise and promote yourself actively. (narcissism, Machiavellianism)

3. Be aggressive after negative feedback and criticize the source of the feedback. (narcissism)

4. Treat valued members of the organization (exemplary employees) differently from those who don’t boost your ego. (narcissism)

5. Demonstrate a selfish perspective with a “pick your battles” mentality. (Machiavellianism)

6. Try to control or minimize the influence of other people. (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy)

7. Do not share knowledge with other colleagues. (Machiavellianism)

8. Use manipulation to achieve strategic objectives. (Machiavellianism, psychopathy)

9. Conspiring for personal gain without considering the consequences for others. (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy)

10. Competing instead of cooperating. (Machiavellian, psychopathy)

11. Make quick and focused short-term decisions without considering the consequences for others. (psychopathy)

12. Make bold and risky decisions without regard to organizational rules or ethics. (narcissism, psychopathy)

13. Question authority figures, rules, and the status quo. (psychopathy)

14. Bullying or criticizing co-workers into focusing on interpersonal relationships rather than tasks at hand. (psychopathy)

15. Influencing co-workers to engage in unacceptable behavior or seducing co-workers or supervisors into romantic relationships. (Machiavellian, psychopathy)

What should a manager do after identifying such candidates or employees?

Don’t hire them if you can help it. If they already work for you, don’t promote them.

If you are a boss and you detect any of these alarming behaviors, it is best to talk to the person about their behavior, as well as check with other people in the organization with which the person interacts. Don’t wait for a performance review period, look for all the feedback you can get about the person .

This could be just the tip of the iceberg and there are likely other behaviors that are potentially problematic. The best thing is that you take a good look at the situation.

If you are an employee and you observe alarming behavior, you have to report it immediately. Don’t let it pass . Talk to the person in question. And talk to others to find out what happened. If it happened once, maybe it was just a misunderstanding. 

But if it happened multiple times and it happened to different people, then it certainly is something that will have to be dealt with. You need to talk to your boss. You need to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

You really have to be careful when promoting these people. Because you will only have more problems once these people have more freedom of action, more responsibilities and also their own employees.

Training to guide these complicated personalities

In some ways, training can be a useful thing when we are dealing with these types of people.

A Machiavellian will agree to learning new ways to achieve his goals, which is in itself his main goal. But it is more difficult for narcissists, since they do not handle criticism and comments very well . Therefore, you must implement training as a way to make them even better than they already are. 

Without a doubt, psychopaths are the hardest of the three to train. But if we can get them to a point where they understand that training is useful, they don’t need to genuinely accept it. Even if they are faking this it can be helpful if it means they are following the rules at work.

If it is the personalities of the Dark Triad, if we give them a lot of room for maneuver in the organizations, or a lot of strategic influence, they will use it. However, if we limit them, with checks and balances and performance feedback, for example, they may not have the opportunity to express these traits. 

They may not be so unpleasant if we keep them under control. It doesn’t mean that their bad traits go away, it just means that they won’t get a chance to express them. Once you know that any of these people work for you, you should use all your HR measures.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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