The Dark Triad of Personality – part 1

The Dark Triad of Personality – Narcissism

It has been almost 20 years since Paulhus and Williams first published their paper on The Dark Triad of Personality.  In the first of three articles, I explore the first of the Dark Triad of personality.

How can you tell if someone is narcissistic?

Can you spot this behavioural pattern in your workplace?

This person creates a great first impression, but as you get to know them as a colleague or boss, it becomes increasingly apparent that it is “all about them”.  They can be charismatic and initially incredibly engaging towards you.  You may fall under their “spell”.  However, as time goes by things begin to change.  As long as you remain useful to them, you will be manipulated and put to work serving their needs in return for intermittent and insincere praise.  They have worked out how to exploit you, know your weaknesses and play to that to keep you chasing that praise and approval.  As they rise up to a powerful position in the organisation, all must worship!  They believe they are better than others, entitled to special treatment and of course if things go wrong nothing is ever their fault.  Negative feedback or criticism can be met with explosive anger, hostility towards the source and extreme denial.

Yes well spotted, meet the Narcissist! Of course, often the person (you are probably already thinking of someone) doesn’t have the full set of the above personality traits.  Just some of them.  But these narcissistic traits are bad enough, right?

Research on personality derailers

In our own research for Mosaic tasks, we found that the evidence suggest that those who scored high on Narcissism as measured by a combination of a questionnaire and certain behavioural measures on our Objective Personality Tasks (OPTs) admitted to the following:

  • that in the past year other people had mentioned to them they showed off about their personal achievements

  • that they had, over the past year, used others for their own ends and taken advantage of others

  • that they had over the past three years always made sure that their family and friends knew about their successes and achievements

  • that in the past year they often caused disagreements with people around them.

A low score on the “Big 5” personality traits of Agreeableness is a common feature for all aspects of the Dark Triad.

Can narcissists change?

So, what can be done about it?  Can these people change?  According to psychologist Andrew Jamieson, absolutely not.  His book “Prepare to be tortured: the price you will pay for dating a narcissist” is a great read, part novel and part descriptive.  I can recommend it for that bored moment.  He is adamant that these people will never change, even if they manipulate you into believing that they are really trying. 

Instead, we need to try and select narcissists out at hiring stage.  But this can be easier said than done.  Recall that narcissists often specialise in that great first impression.   Many hiring processes are brief and relatively superficial.

And what about personal development?  Can narcissists with feedback and coaching, learn to change?  A highly controversial approach is outlined by Hamstra et al in the March 2021 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.  They recommend “sincerity training” for narcissists.  Not surprisingly they found that employees who work for narcissistic leaders and managers had a lowered perception of trust in their boss.  However, this could be mediated or improved if the narcissistic leader learned to manage the impression of being sincere!  And to sell it to the narcissists, convince them that it is in their own best interests to try to get along with others in order to get ahead and advance their career.

What do you think?  Would that work in your organisation?  Is this the solution?  

Measuring leadership derailers objectively

Mosaic Personality Tasks is the first (we think!) assessment to measure leadership personality derailers obectively by using our behavioural tasks. We measure Feelings of Superiority; Potential to Manipulate; Displays of Low Empathy and Impulsive Acts and highlight any potential concerns. We believe that measuring derailers using an objective personality test is crucial as self-report questionnaires are known to be easy to manipulate and an interviewer may not neccessarily spot these traits.


Paulhus, Delroy L. and Kevin M. Williams. “The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.” Journal of Research in Personality 36 (2002): 556-563.

Article can be download here:

Hamstra, M.R.W., Schreurs, B., Jawahar, I.M., Laurijssen, L.M. and Hünermund, P. (2021), Manager narcissism and employee silence: A socio-analytic theory perspective. J Occup Organ Psychol, 94: 29-54.

Article can be read here:

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