Why dark personalities can get ahead

Why dark personalities can get ahead

Toxic personalities are people who act greedily, immodestly and unfairly and take the truth very loosely. The researchers found out why such people can still be professionally successful. The trick that leads up is social skill. The results are presented online in advance in the journal "Personality and Individual Differences". 

Social skills are in themselves a good thing in professional life. It can open closed doors and help manage daily stress. However, it can also be used to deceive others, to use trust or to build a facade of harmlessness, behind which maliciousness is actually hiding. The research team found that toxic personalities, who are considered socially skilled by their colleagues, were judged by their superiors to be more efficient and occupy a higher hierarchical position. "We have to get used to the idea that social skill can be a double-edged sword," says the  senior author.

In personality tests, "toxic" people have low values in the "honesty" and "modesty" categories. "Such personalities tend to focus on themselves constantly," says the author. "Good social skills enable them to deceive others." Those who are extremely honest and humble, on the other hand, give their team a real treat: Such personalities are fair in their dealings and colleagues also share in their successes.

The psychologists examined the phenomenon by interviewing various work teams: First, the participants completed an anonymous online survey and assessed themselves on the characteristics of "honesty" and "modesty", among other things. Then colleagues gave information about the participant's social skills. The manager replied as to how his work was done. The scientists managed to collect data from a total of 203 such “triplets” consisting of employees, colleagues and superiors.

It was found that workers with low values for honesty and modesty can still advance in their jobs if they compensate for the toxic proportions of their personality through social skills. The author: "Tricks, camouflage and deception belong to the dark side of social competence."

But how can companies and teams deal with these findings? "In order to slow down the rise of toxic personalities, one should look more at the actual performance and less at the good impression in the selection of personnel and assessments," advises the senior author. This is particularly difficult in activities where it is important to impress and suggest, such as in sales or in managerial positions. "It makes sense, for example, to look at the sick leave and the rate of dismissal of employees or customer loyalty," adds the author.