You surely know one or even several such people for whom empathy and compassion seem to be a foreign word. And yet it is not uncommon for this type of person to get through life more successfully and usually reach higher and influential positions at work. Experts call this mix of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy the “dark triad”. The three specific personality disorders often occur in everyday professional life among executives who, through their unscrupulousness and prioritizing their own goals and needs over those of their fellow men, literally free themselves the way to high career positions.

In this part of the series of articles, this time the focus is on the characteristics of the Machiavellianism walk.

What exactly does the term “dark triad” mean?

Before I get into this article, however, Machiavellianism and in order to include the second of the three personality disorders, I would like to begin with the term “dark triad” define more precisely in terms of meaning and origin.

More than 15 years ago the psychologists Delroy Paulhaus and Kevin Williams (University Vancouver) conceived the scheme of the “dark triad”. The grid describes the three specific personality disorders narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. In their research, the experts found that the occurrence of one or more of the three components of the “dark triad” is particularly well represented among executives. The results of the research showed that employees often misrepresent themselves in their job in order to achieve a good position in their job by satisfying their superiors. Managers, on the other hand, often have greater freedom and have to “prove” themselves less strongly. As a result, they tend to remain “themselves” on the job and consciously and deliberately use their own personality for their own benefit.

The following fig. 1 shows how the individual specific personality disorders can emerge in reality. You may also be able to recognize such a type yourself in your professional environment.

Dark triad
Fig. 1: The “dark triad”

Personality disorders of the “dark triad”: Machiavellianism

Selfishly manipulative, exploitative and selfish. What sounds like a rather small mixture of negative character traits is actually not that rare in reality. Because in the “dark triad” it is precisely these characteristics in connection with a complete lack of principle that characterize the Machiavellian.

Machiavellianism in the world of work

A type of person who, due to their personality and the associated strong, even intimidating, character often even holds high-ranking management positions. Often, however, such superiors or colleagues are well able to skilfully hide the effects of their specific personality disorder.

In contrast to the mild psychopath, it is possible for you to show empathy and compassion, but mostly this is only in your own interest. It is also not uncommon for collegial relationships to be maintained and fostered for one’s own benefit and are based on calculated ulterior motives. Often they can even build stable networks by gaining the trust of others.

Machiavellians are therefore extremely flexible in their behavior. You can skillfully adapt yourself and your personality to many situations for your own purpose. These types of people usually know no boundaries. In their urge for power and influence, any means are right for them. For this, other people are generally shamelessly exploited. However, without real misconduct on the part of the Machiavellian can be proven. Mostly it is even possible for them to build up a good social status and to leave a positive impression on the professional environment.

People with this specific personality disorder are masters at devising sophisticated strategies to maximize their own benefits and consequences. Because of this skillful way of self-staging, it is usually difficult to recognize a real Machiavellian.

Machiavellian: incorporation into corporate strategies

For companies, Machiavellians sometimes also perform positive tasks. Because in line with the bad sides of these specific personality disorders, there are also strengths. This includes, for example, a strategic mindset or a good sense of calculation. As a result, Machiavellians are able to make important business decisions in a cool and clear manner, without being influenced by emotions. In addition, their calculative nature makes them good negotiators. They are therefore strong personalities, especially when it comes to restructuring, company takeovers or crisis management.

It is precisely these characteristics that often lead to great professional success for these people. Nevertheless, viewed as a whole, the negative aspects of Machiavellianism often predominate. This is precisely why it is sometimes difficult to work with these people.

Due to your urge for selfishness and success and the reckless behavior associated with it, you often promote a negative climate in the workplace. This can often harbor a high potential for conflict, especially when working in teams. Especially when Machiavellians are critically confronted with their own behavior. Mutual trust and smooth cooperation can be negatively influenced in the long term. At the same time, Machiavellians are only slightly prepared to go beyond self-serving engagement. As a rule, colleagues or employees are only supported or promoted if they can develop into an advantage in their own interest.

In principle, Machiavellians can make a positive contribution to corporate success. At the same time, however, there are often strong tensions, especially when it comes to working with colleagues and employees. Ultimately, these can have a lasting negative impact on general job satisfaction and the climate in the workplace.

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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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