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Dark personality traits are characteristics of a person, which, when triggered, lead to undesirable, counter-productive and destructive behavior, negatively impacting his/her surroundings. Dark personality traits can be defined as socially, morally and ethically questionable actions.
Dark traits are often seen as the result of placing one’s interests and desires over others’ and justifying them to avoid guilt or shame. The study of dark personality traits is useful in clinical, criminology and workplace settings.
Dark traits are present in all of us in varying degrees. But the mere existence of dark traits in a person does not guarantee undesirable behavior. A person with a higher predisposition to these traits is more likely to employ and display them. Dark personality traits are more likely to get triggered in unobserved and stressful environments. Such triggers generate interpersonal issues for the person displaying them and create an overall counter-productive environment. When people hold power over others, they tend to misuse it, leading to the triggering of dark traits.
These condemnable incidents are examples of a person’s dark traits taking over.
While most people possess one or the other dark trait, a few have a very high degree of these attributes. And certain situations or job roles are known to trigger these characteristics. Certain situations, such as those mentioned above, where people can easily take advantage of a situation, require patience to deal with others, or are in powerful positions, can prompt negative characteristics in individuals and overpower them.
A cab company knows that a driver will be driving hundreds of passengers around, many of whom will be alone. Students are at the whims of the school staff. In situations where these negative characteristics of a person’s personality can easily overpower an individual, or a position of power can be misused, it is critical to gauge individuals’ conduct to minimize the chances of such hostile incidents.
This has given rise to the need to assess employees thoroughly and understand their personality characteristics, motivations, drive, and dominant dark traits before hiring them or placing them in an important or customer-facing role.
The presence of dark traits can have life-threatening outcomes in jobs concerning child and health care, army and police personnel and intelligence services. Hence, it’s essential to assess them as part of the hiring, development and performance evaluation process.
While there are many versions of a dark core personality test on the market, the most employed and popular theory and tool is the dark triad test, commonly known as the dark personality test.
The dark triad test, a comparatively new psychological concept, was popularized by two psychologists, Paulhus and Williams, in 2012. They identified three dominating personality traits in people with a higher tendency to commit crimes. Similar to other personality traits, the dark triad also exists in everyone in varying degrees. Some level of dark traits may indicate a head-strong or an ambitious person. Still, people who score high on the dark triad test can be counter-productive, especially in a work environment.
This trait is named after the Italian diplomat and philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli and manifests in deception, fraudulence, manipulation, etc. You can witness many examples of Machiavellianism in the workplace. Ever had a co-worker (acting as your closest friend) purposely give you disastrous advice that almost got you fired? Yes, that is ‘Machiavellianism,’ rearing its ugly head. Usually, people with this trait are master manipulators, charming on the outside, vile on the inside and always looking to step on people for their advantage.
People who score high on Machiavellianism in the dark triad test also use flattery, lying and cheating to get their way, often exploitative of others, only concerned about their goals and lack emotions or empathy.
A dangerous but difficult trait to notice, psychopaths have little to no empathy or consciousness. They’re usually charming, and their mysterious personality makes it difficult to spot them. Many of the famous criminals in world history were known to be psychopaths, like Ted Bundy, The Boston Strangler, The Zodiac Killer, The Night Stalker and Charles Sobhraj, etc. They feel no remorse for their actions.
Psychopaths can be extremely difficult to work with. For instance, that manager who systematically wrecked your life by making you work ungodly hours under stress, always threatening you with dire consequences, forcing you to work under his/her reign, for no rational reason. Completely unprovoked relentless, and remorseless cruelty is psychopathy in its gravest form.
People with high psychopathy scores on the dark triad personality test exhibit a lack of empathy or guilt. They are often impulsive and find it difficult to maintain real relationships.
A characteristic feature of narcissism is an exaggerated sense of self. They believe they are superior to others around them and constantly expect recognition, praise and attention. People with a high degree of narcissism in the dark triad test show a lack of consideration for others. They are often viewed as cocky, selfish, egotistical, self-righteous, with the over-arching idea that the world revolves around them.
Similar to people high on psychopathy and Machiavellianism, narcissists also justify their actions, however bad they may be, with a sense of entitlement. In the workplace, narcissism can be an exceptionally negative trait for those in the senior leadership team.
It’s impossible to have someone question their work or call them anything but brilliant. It is pertinent to ask that what is the source of their unlimited and nonstop supply of confidence: hard work, advanced skill sets, high aptitude, great alma mater, a great experience or great work performance? The answer is none of the above. Their sense of self has no basis at all. Working under a manager who cannot self-analyze or accept his/her mistakes and is high on narcissism can greatly impact team members’ confidence and make them feel incompetent.
The dark triad of personality at work can lead to the creation of a destructive and toxic workplace. Research has focused on how these traits – the Dark Triad – adversely affect many workplace outcomes.
An organization with people in positions of power possessing dark traits or working as the face of the business, such as in sales or customer-facing roles, can get significantly harmed if these traits are not identified and addressed. Many brands have lost their reputation, invited litigation on account of frauds, or were turned down for their hostile responses to customers and a general lack of morality.
By evolution, all of us are born with a varying degree of dark traits. The ones with a higher degree of dark traits need to be conscious and practice control. When put in situations that can trigger a response, people more vulnerable to give in to their dark traits can cause distressing incidents. Their actions and reactions can put customer safety and work culture at stake.
The impact of employing individuals with high degrees of dark traits is based on their job roles and the industry in which they work. Food, healthcare and education industries are high-impact domains. Similarly, a company’s senior leaders or customer support and servicing employees are high risks. We will talk more in detail about this in the coming sections.
Studies suggest that hiring a new person or replacing a bad hire is a costly affair for organizations. When an employee with dark traits enters your organization, certain teams and functions are bound to get disrupted.
Negative workplace behaviors can have detrimental consequences on an organization’s culture, performance, profit and reputation. Investing in a dark core personality test can prevent the damage and create a positive, productive and healthy workplace.
The most crucial step, then, is to acknowledge the need to measure and identify these traits when hiring and assess them regularly within the organization to minimize damages. Having a proactive approach toward identifying these traits can ensure building a productive and positive work culture. HR managers must identify areas and job roles where these traits have the maximum chance of coming into play and cause damages, to put in place necessary checks and balances to curb them.
People with dark traits are often great communicators, charmers and good with selling themselves. There is a high chance of them going unexposed during the employment interviews. Hence, it is imperative to invest in a dark core personality test to identify these deep-lying personality traits and bring them to the fore.
As per a study cited by the Association for Psychological Science, psychologists at the University of Bern in Switzerland assessed about 800 German workers between 25 and 34. People who scored high on narcissism measures earned higher salaries. Meanwhile, those who scored high on Machiavellianism measures were more likely to hold leadership positions and were more satisfied with their careers.
While dark personality traits may be good for an individual, they are detrimental to long-term organizational success. Hence, it is essential to make the dark side personality test a part of the formal feedback mechanisms, such as performance appraisals, 360-degree feedback, check-ins with your manager, and project debriefs.
A strong value-based culture encourages people to live by the values of teamwork, cooperation and equal opportunities and integrates them into its policies, processes and decision-making. For example, a company with zero tolerance toward sexual harassment would have a policy process and reprimands associated with handling such cases. A company with a value focus of teamwork will have a team Inventory (MDPI) containing 6 dark traits, an extension of the dark triad test: Opportunism, Self-Obsession, Insensitivity, Temperamental, successes, as one of the core parameters of its evaluation process while promoting a manager. The dark personality test can determine people with undesirable traits and the propensity to work against the company culture or those who will strengthen the organizational vision and mission.
The knowledge of these negative traits can also help us create strong teams that complement each other. It can pair people in a manner so they can add to each other’s strengths by bringing diverse skills and behaviors to the table. Dark factor personality tests can enable organizations to keep the balance in the team.
Identifying dark traits can help both the employer and employee as psychiatric help, behavioral training, or other mechanisms can be identified not to let the workplace get affected by them.
Mercer | Mettl understands the changing work environment and its onus on selecting and honing the right employees. Workplace situations can sometimes trigger dark traits that tend to threaten the safety of an organization’s people, culture and clients.
Mercer | Mettl joined hands with SHRM to detect dark traits’ impact across all major industries and job roles. The job roles and industries are divided into three zones:
Mettl’s Dark Personality Test is based on this comprehensive research to contribute to the greater goal of ensuring workplace safety. Mettl’s dark core personality test aims to measure negative personality constructs in potential hires (during the hiring process) and existing employees. Through this dark trait test, Mercer | Mettl measures the degree of the following dark traits in individuals to take the necessary steps to contain them:
At workplaces, this can translate into an employee making hurtful remarks about a person, their performance, or other attributes, either demotivating, upsetting or triggering anger in other employees. This will impact other employees’ work performance and make them question whether the company is the right place for them. Insensitive people are inconsiderate and callous.
Self-obsession translates into employees who think the world of themselves and look down upon everyone else. They are unperceptive of their own mistakes and never miss a chance to bring down a co-worker. They do this by either bad-mouthing about others’ work, spreading horrible rumors, sabotaging others’ work or making it look like they have saved the day by glorifying their every task. Narcissistic or self-obsessed people have the knack to be attention-seekers and dramatic, and not to forget conceited. The only person that matters to them is themselves.
Can you think of a situation where someone acted impulsively, and it landed you in deep trouble? Let me paint a picture for you –You are nearing the deadline, and your impulsive teammate makes major mistakes (by being impatient and impulsive), and now you must clean the mess as your teammate’s judgment cannot be trusted. Impulsive people tend to act on a whim with no forethought. Their actions are often rash and careless.
An eccentric rule-breaking teammate decides to ditch all the instructions given by the manager and ends up costing an important client by not following protocols. Moreover, he/she jeopardizes customer safety by not being careful with the client’s information. A thrill-seeking attitude can cause significant damage to a company’s reputation and brand name. Such individuals often exhibit a careless and daredevil attitude.
A manager who screams at you for every real or perceived mistake can definitely be the last straw and a major reason to exit a company. Having a bad temper does not only cause irreparable damage to organizational work culture but can also severely jeopardize customer safety. Temperamental people tend to become angry at the slightest provocation and are often volatile. They even tend to get violent.
Opportunism is a slow poison that hits you when you are least expecting it. It is the tendency to be deceitful, manipulative and greedy. Your colleague who extended help to you in a campaign bagged its entire credit or got a promotion based on going that extra mile.
These dark traits are responsible for demotivating, harassing and, sometimes, even threatening employees’ workplace safety. They are responsible for an ebb in performance, team spirit, increased absenteeism and high attrition of workforce and need to be weeded out of workplaces.
Mercer | Mettl’s dark personality test is a practical and efficient way of identifying medium to high levels of dark traits in individuals. Once identified, they can be dealt with via specific training sessions to curb them and curtail the damage they cause. If implemented during hiring, a dark core personality test can save you from a bad hire. It can help safeguard your workplace and surroundings by accurately identifying the dangerous level of dark traits in humans before they can trigger counter-productive behavior.
Kotak is a private Indian bank headquartered in Mumbai, offering a wealth of banking and financial products and services in the areas of personal finance and investment, insurance, wealth management, etc.
Due to the sensitive nature of customer data and financial portfolios, Kotak wanted to identify employees who could pose a threat to the ecosystem and hamper the company’s reputation and culture.
Kotak needed to identify their employees’ top and bottom dark traits across all levels and demographics that could lead to undesirable behavior. This could pose a threat to employee and customer disengagement.
Since it is extremely difficult to detect dark traits by talking to people, Kotak needed a scientific and reliable tool that looked beyond the surface and gauged employees’ levels of core dark personality traits that could predispose them to behave unethically.
Mercer | Mettl’s Dark Personality Inventory was selected to be the tool of choice. The dark core personality test covered Opportunism, Self-Obsession, Insensitivity, Temperament, Impulsiveness and Thrill-Seeking behavior.
Impact and Insights
Dark traits may play a role in attaining personal success, but the risks attached to them make them highly undesirable at the workplace.
Dark personality traits such as ‘opportunism’ and ‘self-obsession’ can be construed as behavioral facets that are often responsible for employees reaching great heights in their careers. Nevertheless, the same traits are also responsible for a person using their co-workers as a step ladder to achieve success and create an atmosphere of negativity, defined by favoritism and profiteering via wrong means.
It must be acknowledged first that dark traits affect an individual’s behavior when assessing the downside of the dark traits. A person who acts on his/her dark traits will display counter-productive behavior in multiple ways. Bad behavior creates stress and pollutes the work culture. Such an environment is unsustainable and does not promote productivity.
Stress has been positively correlated with a rise in employee turnover, workplace accidents, health problems, harassment and employee disengagement. Organizations need to address the elements that contribute to making the work environment stressful.
If we look at blue-collar or customer-facing professions, such as cab drivers, home delivery executives, hospital and school staff, the possibility of an error can gravely harm someone innocent. People with dark personality traits can choose to misuse and put a customer’s life in danger.
Making potentially dangerous individuals responsible for the safety of customers may put their lives in jeopardy and gravely harm your organization’s reputation – why dark personality tests are an absolute need of the hour, especially in customer-facing blue-collar and white-collar jobs.
Organizations should be extra vigilant when choosing customer-facing professionals and thoroughly assess them through a dark core personality test.
The dark core personality test is used in clinical, criminal and workplace settings to assess an individual’s dark trait levels. A dark traits test can identify the levels of negative traits in people and indicate if its degree can threaten their environment.
The dark triad personality test is based on three related yet distinct personality traits: Machiavellianism (manipulative), Narcissism (self-boastful and righteous), Psychopathy (lack of empathy and emotions). They were initially three different dark triad traits test, but they are cumulatively known as the dark triad test.
Originally published July 30 2018, Updated March 8 2021
Bhuvi is a content marketer at Mercer | Mettl. She's helped various brands find their voice through insightful thought pieces and engaging content. When not scandalizing people with her stories, you’ll find her challenging gender norms, dancing to her own tune, and crusading through life, laughing.
Personality assessments are a method of identifying candidates whose characteristics match the role and organization’s requirements. Personality assessments help HRs make effective people decisions by placing people in positions suited to their disposition.