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29th June 2021

The Dark Triad: Managing Challenging Behaviours at Work

Managing a team comes with its challenges. Having the occasional conflict or disagreement between colleagues is normal. It can be overcome with effective communication and management support and can lead to creativity and growth. But what happens if an employee persistently behaves with negative intent? What can you do when managing challenging behaviours at work effectively? To answer those questions, we need to consider what Psychologists refer to as “The Dark Triad”.

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The Dark Triad

The Dark Triad is a term used to describe a trifecta of personality traits, namely Narcissism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

Narcissism is typically characterised by an elevated sense of self-importance and grandiosity, often at the expense of others. Although a hint of narcissism is harmless, it may become a problem when a narcissistic person neglects the feelings of others. In the workplace, this may be displayed by taking credit for a colleague’s work or getting involved in bullying and harassment.

Psychopathy is usually demonstrated by a lack of empathy and general coldness in the way that they interact. People with this trait might display antisocial and manipulative tendencies in the workplace, however, such behaviours may be difficult to spot.

Machiavellianism is defined by deceit and manipulation. People with such tendencies are often ready to sacrifice personal relationships for power and money without any remorse.

Altogether, people who possess the Dark Triad traits may be described as domineering, manipulative and arrogant, which may affect their relationships with colleagues. Dealing with such personalities is a complex area and, there is no step-by-step guide of best practice. However, it is essential that you as a manager, feel prepared to address negative behaviour and manage it with care to maintain productivity and harmony within the team.

It is important to note that although the Dark Triad personality traits are perceived as negative, we should collectively try to stay away from diagnosing or labelling people who we might think are displaying those traits. People should not be described as “bad” or “toxic” by managers and colleagues. Not every person who appears extroverted or seems to be manipulating others is a narcissist. Likewise, someone might be struggling with psychopathic traits and not be aggressive in their behaviour. Sometimes what we usually see as strengths are overplayed and appear to be negative. Instead of putting negative labels on people, we should focus on the specific behaviours and how to manage and respond to those.

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So what can you do?

  • Do an evaluation of the team

The first and most important step to take, if you notice problems within the team, is to identify where they stem from. Which team members seem more challenging to work with than others? Why might that be? Is anyone displaying behaviours that you find concerning, such as taking credit for other people’s work or manipulation? The key is to look for patterns of behaviour and not just isolated incidents.

  • Have an open and honest conversation

Once you have identified the employee who is displaying challenging behaviour, it is time to address it. Make time for a private conversation with them and share your observations, doing so with care as you do not want to cause upset or make a difficult situation worse.

Remember unless you are qualified to do so, it is not helpful to use psychological terms. It is more helpful to explain how their behaviour affects the team in a calm manner and use specific examples. By doing so, you can work together with them to try and identify what might be triggering that negative behaviour. Is there a particular colleague they have difficulty relating to and do not enjoy working with? Are they put in situations that cause the challenging behaviour to emerge? As their manager, it might be in your power to resolve some of those issues. Although not every situation can be easily resolved, you can try and support your employees proactively.

  • Stand Your Ground

Remember that however careful you are when approaching the situation, some people might not be open to discuss their behaviour or change their ways. Be prepared to stand your ground when challenged and meet demands and claims with strong counter-arguments. Being confident in dealing with conflict is an essential part of effective management. If you feel that you lack confidence in that area, there are different ways in which you can improve your skills, such as practising assertiveness or building your ‘people skills’, including emotional intelligence.

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How Impact can help?

If you need support developing your skills in how to handle challenging conversations with your team or managing challenging employees effectively, please contact us and we will be happy to give you more information on the 1-1 coaching we provide to clients. We also offer tailored team workshops aimed at resolving team conflict and building collaboration. Get in touch with us here.


Additional Resources:

Jonason, P., Slomski, S., & Partyka, J. (2012). The Dark Triad at work: How toxic employees get their way. Personality And Individual Differences, 52(3), 449-453. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.11.008

Sengupta, S. (2021). The Dark Personality Triad. Retrieved 28 June 2021, from

Spain, S., Harms, P., & LeBreton, J. (2013). The dark side of personality at work. Journal Of Organizational Behavior, 35(S1), S41-S60. doi: 10.1002/job.1894

Understanding the Dark Triad: Managing “Dark” Personality Traits. (2021). Retrieved 28 June 2021, from

Why Bad Guys Win at Work. (2021). Retrieved 28 June 2021, from