Surely you know one or even several such people, for which empathy and compassion seem to be a foreign word. And yet it is not uncommon for this type of person to often come through life more successfully and to achieve higher and more influential positions in the job. Among experts, this mix of narcissism, machiavellianism and psychopathy is also called the “dark triad”. The three specific personality disorders often occur in everyday professional life among managers who, through their ruthlessness and the priosing of their own goals and needs, open their way to high career positions.

This part of the series of articles is intended to focus on the characteristics of Machiavellianism.

What exactly does the term “dark triad” actually mean?

However, before going into more detail in this article on Machiavellianism, and thus the second of the three personality disorders, I would first like to define more precisely the term ‘dark triad’, in terms of meaning and origin.

More than 15 years ago, psychologists Delroy Paulhaus and Kevin Williams (University Vancouver) devised 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 presence of one or more of the three components of the “dark triad” is strongly represented, especially among executives. The results of the research showed that employees often change their jobs in order to gain a good position in the profession 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 “self” in the job and to use their own personality consciously and intentionally for their own benefit.

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

Dark Triad
Figure. 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 traits is actually not so rare in reality. For in the “dark triad” these characteristics in connection with complete lack of principle characterize the Machiavelanists.

Machiavllism in the world of work

A type of person who, because of his personality and the strong, even intimidating character associated with it, often holds senior leadership positions. Often, however, such superiors or colleagues are well able to skilfully hide the effects of their specific personality disorder.

Thus, in contrast to the mild psychopath, it is possible for you to show empathy and compassion, but most of the time this only happens in your own interest. In this way, collegial relationships are often maintained and maintained only for one’s own benefit and are based on calculated ulterior motives. Often they can even build stable networks by winning the trust of others.

Machiavelanists are therefore extremely flexible in their behaviour. They can skillfully adapt themselves and their personality to many situations for their own purpose. These types of people usually know no boundaries. In their quest for power and influence, they also have every means right. In principle, other people are also shamelessly exploited for this purpose. Without, however, any real misconduct on the part of the Machiavelanist can be proved. In most cases, they are even able to build up a socially good status and leave a positive impression on the professional environment.

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

Machiavellism: Integration into corporate strategies

For companies, however, Machiavellists sometimes also perform positive tasks. In line with the bad sides of these specific personality disorders, there are also strengths. These include, for example, a strategic mindset or a good sense of calculation. This allows Machiavellists to make important business decisions cool and clear, without affecting emotions. Moreover, they are good negotiators because of their calculating nature. They are therefore strong personalities, especially in the area of restructuring, takeovers or crisis management.

It is precisely these characteristics that often lead to the great professional success of these people. Nevertheless, the negative aspects of Machiavellianism often predominate in the whole. It is precisely for this reason that it is sometimes difficult to work with those people.

Through their urge for selfishness and success and the reckless behavior that goes with it, you often promote a negative climate in the workplace. Especially when working in teams, this can often have a high potential for conflict. Especially when Machiavelanists are critically confronted with their own behavior. Mutual trust and smooth cooperation can be negatively affected in the long term. At the same time, Machiavelanists are only to a small extent willing to perform beyond their self-serving commitment. As a rule, colleagues or employees are only supported or supported if an advantage can develop in their own interest.

In principle, Machiavelan lists can therefore make a positive contribution to the company’s success. At the same time, however, there are often high tensions, especially in the area of cooperation with colleagues and employees. Finally, these can have a lasting negative impact on overall job satisfaction and the climate in the workplace.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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