In our professional environment and in public, we often come across people who obviously have strong expressions of problematic personality traits and are successful despite (or precisely because of) them. How can that be? 

To answer this question, it is worth first taking a look at the so-called dark triad in personality psychology. This describes three specific personality traits.

Narcissism: This is characterized by an inflated self-image, a lack of empathy towards others, a need for admiration, and a tendency to be arrogant. People with narcissistic traits are often self-centered and strive for recognition, power, and prestige. They can also be sensitive to criticism and have difficulty forming genuine emotional connections with others.

Machiavellianism: Individuals with this trait are often manipulative, tactical, and strategic in their interactions with others. They tend to use others for their own gain and often have a cynical worldview. Machiavellian individuals are calculating and may show a lack of morals or ethics when it comes to achieving their goals.

Psychopathy: This trait is characterized by impulsive behavior, lack of remorse or guilt, emotional coldness, and a lack of empathy. People with psychopathic traits often have difficulty forming genuine emotional connections with others and demonstrate high levels of risk-taking. They may also exhibit antisocial behaviors.

Every person has a certain level of these characteristics, although even higher levels do not necessarily indicate a personality disorder. The dark triad describes tendencies or traits that can be present in stronger or weaker forms.

People with high levels of these characteristics can be successful in certain contexts. There are multiple reasons for this:

  • Adaptability: People high in Dark Triad traits are often adaptable and can adapt easily to various social and professional environments.
  • Manipulative Skills: Machiavellian individuals are often very adept at manipulating others to achieve their goals. This can be advantageous in certain scenarios, such as negotiation situations.
  • Risk-taking: People with psychopathic traits tend to be more willing to take risks. This can lead to success in corporate environments where quick decisions and risk-taking are rewarded.
  • Self-confidence: Narcissistic individuals often have high levels of self-confidence and self-esteem, which can help them succeed in leadership positions.
  • Lack of Empathy: A lack of empathy can be an advantage in certain professions where hard decisions must be made, as such individuals are less likely to be influenced by the emotional impact of such decisions.
  • Competitiveness: People with Dark Triad traits are often very competitive and strive for power, recognition, and success.

The success of the dark triad is expensive and fragile

It is understandable that certain professional circumstances favor high values ​​in the dark triad. High empathy values ​​for surgeons or lawyers can lead to a distraction from their actual core task, whereas colleagues with less empathy can concentrate fully on the operation or the brilliant defense strategy. And today’s zeitgeist also rewards characteristics that are associated with the dark triad (self-portrayal on social media, excessive self-confidence, populist arguments). 

However, this in no way means that such behavior should be universally viewed as positive, desirable, or generally promising. Because there are many negative aspects and potential disadvantages associated with dark personality traits, including problems in interpersonal relationships and unethical behavior to conflicts with the law.

In addition, people with high levels of the dark triad have a very difficult time with long-term relationships and have a strong tendency to have toxic relationships. Their success is therefore often bought at a high price and, in the overall view, is not very desirable. In addition, successes based on manipulation, high-risk decisions or tough cut-throat competition are more short-lived and fragile than socially acceptable successes based on cooperation and fairness. 


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