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Personality profiles: The ‘Dark Side’ – baggage as well as the talent

John Taylor

Psychologists have become very good at assessing people’s preferences – they call it personality. This analysis helps us work out if a person’s natural inclination is to be: extravert or introvert, open minded, tough, organised and conscientious and finally how well can they cope with pressure or stress. Article from by John Taylor, Director, PGI.

If we know their preferences we know the environment in which they will thrive. Personality does not change much over the years but fortunately we can all learn how to change our behaviour. So, I may be an introvert but I can learn to work well in a noisy environment with lots of people. – I just long to be in the quiet haven of my home! Motivation is a fascinating subject on which most people have a view. But there are many mistaken beliefs. Money is not for example a universal motivator; friendships through work are important; learning at work is often a key factor in staff retention. Recruiters and head hunters are usually good at assessing these two aspects of an individual, together with the technical skills new recruits bring. They will also do due diligence which will tell the client if they have a criminal record and something of their financial status. 

The Dark Side
What they do not do so well is assessing the potential dark side of an individual – the ‘baggage’ that comes with them. This is all too often skilfully hidden by the interviewee or potential business partner during the process of getting to know them. These negative traits are common. In fact, it is almost certain that you, the reader, have some elements of dark side in your character! The writer of this article certainly does. Psychologists have identified an extensive list of potential disorders. It runs from the psychopath to the histrionic (my own particular dark side). Both are surprisingly common. It is estimated that nearly one in ten people have significant psychopathic tendencies. Even more common are the narcissist, the paranoid, the obsessive and those with borderline personality issues.

But there is good news: These dark side traits can be identified early on; It is not black and white. Very few people are in the extreme percentiles. They are tendencies, influences and inclinations. We are not talking about the Hannibal Lecter of the psychopathic world, capable of multiple killings and cannibalism; Dark side traits can be managed. So, if the individual brings extraordinary talents, skills or contacts, you can go ahead and recruit them or bring them on to the Board – you just need to know how to manage them. Your job is to strike that balance between exploiting their qualities to the maximum while minimising the potential damage they can cause.

There are many tests to help identify dark side traits – do they work? The answer is a confident ‘yes’. No psychometric test would claim to be 100 percent reliable but they are well within the 90 percent range. And any responsible consultant will always have more than one source. Clients also worry that it is easy to ‘fake’ the test. The reality is that people are very bad at faking themselves. Whilst faking is possible, it is very rare. It is also possible to make a good judgement using remote methods. It might take a little longer and we do need access either to the person, colleagues, their written material, their Facebook account or their appearances on YouTube – but given some data we can make a pretty reliable assessment. We all give things away. Put me in a group of people give me a glass of wine (and so reduce my inhibitions) and I will chatter away and try to take the centre of attention – typical of histrionics.

A CEO wrote to me to introduce himself in the late summer, last year. We were going to meet at a Formula 1 event the coming weekend. His first words were: “I and my wife are greatly looking forward to meeting you….”. At the hotel where we were all staying, he and 20 other petrol heads were getting off a coach on the Friday afternoon ready for the Qualifying sessions on the Saturday, I saw this man in his flamboyant jacket and panama hat. I had not met him before but I knew it was the same man who in his letter put himself before his wife. His narcissistic indicators were becoming apparent.  For fun at the next social evening you attend ask someone to describe their sock, shirt or blouse drawer/cupboard. Is it tidy and regimented or is everything just thrown in – a good indicator of obsessive tendencies or not. 

Managing difficult people
Managing these people is not always straightforward. The narcissist needs constant reassurance that they are the best (their narcissism often comes from insecurity). They will assume that their ‘obvious qualities’ should put them into a position of authority. Along with vanity comes arrogance and an unwillingness to listen – these are not good qualities for a manager or indeed a leader. The manager of a narcissist will want to keep his technical skills or his network of contacts. But the narcissist will not be a good leader, but he will nonetheless want status. Give him a non-voting place on the Board where he can do little damage but can brag to the world that he is important. There are strategies for managing nearly all personality disorders. The problems come when the disorder is not identified early enough. 

When should we use Personality Profiling?
Profiling takes time and therefore costs money, so while it may be desirable to use it on everyone it may not be practical or affordable.  But for significant positions in a company, competitors, senior people in companies you are about to acquire, non-executives you want to bring on the Board the process can be illuminating and save you a lot of time.

Most of all you need to know about yourself. What dark side traits do you have – do they help or hinder you or your colleagues at work? What behavioural changes do you need to make?

Some resist the idea: “Oh I don’t need this, I know all my faults already”; “it’s all a load of psychobabble”; “I’m surrounded by people who are only too ready to tell me my failings”. If you’re thinking that right now, the chances are you need to take the test! Dark side behaviours can be managed. Some would say that these are the people that make a difference in a company. By all means recruit because of a person’s skills and knowledge, but take care to know what baggage they are bringing to the company. Don’t dismiss them because of it – just know about it so you can manage the fall out..

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