After meeting his new boss for the first time, Donald was impressed. Here was someone who ran his own business, was highly successful, knew nearly everyone in town, had considerable power, and enormous influence. He was charming, decisive, domineering, unfeeling, harsh, and intimidating. At first, Donald admired his boss. But then he had a private conversation.
It was late at night and his boss seemed to want to talk so Donald saw it as an opportunity to be noticed. The conversation started off benign, but then the whiskey was poured, and a different side emerged. His boss shared how he set up a local politician with a prostitute while simultaneously dropping a tip to a reporter about the affair. This was done to get the politician back for voting the wrong way. The irony was the politician never figured out Donald’s boss was behind his demise and still considered him a friend.
Gloating over the affair, his boss then recounted other events in which he manipulated the courts, lied during corporate deals about what he would deliver, took advantage of unsuspecting people, and even hired people to physical torture his enemies. Donald was mortified and frightened. His boss closed with the threat that if Donald revealed any of this information, he too would meet with his demise.
Searching desperately for what type of person his boss was, Donald stumbled on the Dark Triad. What is this?
The Dark Triad. No matter what the profession, a boss with the Dark Triad personality is terrifying. The Dark Triad is comprised of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. The Dark Tetrad adds sadism to the mix. Both combinations share two major characteristics: extreme selfishness and a lack of empathy for others.
This combination affords a person the ability to cause harm and abuse others in a variety of ways without any regard for the feelings, safety, or morality of the victims. As bosses, they are focused on dominance and power often using aggression, manipulation, exploitation, and vindictiveness. All behavior is justified if it grants them what they want, including criminal acts.
Here is the breakdown of each aspect of the Dark Triad.
Narcissism. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a DSM-5 personality diagnosis. They are superior, grandiose, demanding, prideful, boastful, arrogant, and self-centered. They need and expect constant admiration, attention, adoration, and affection. They can be abusive when threatened or their needs aren’t being met and are unapologetic even when caught taking advantage of others. This disorder is inherited and then encouraged or reinforced during childhood.
Machiavellianism. Prince Machiavelli wrote the Italian book The Prince in the 1500s. It outlines a political philosophy on how rulers are to govern their subjects. Machiavellianism is the adaptation of this philosophy into a personality and as such is a personality construct not a disorder. Therefore, it is not inherited; rather it is a learned behavioral pattern. Machiavellians are manipulative, exploitative of others, cynical, deceptive and believe it is better to be feared than loved. Unlike Narcissists, they do not make exaggerated claims about their significance or accomplishments. Unlike Psychopaths and Sadists, they are too calculating to risk vengeful or cruel behavior unless there is a specific gain.
Psychopathy. Psychopaths are under the Anti-Social Personality Disorder umbrella listed in the DSM-5 along with Sociopaths and Sadists. A psychopath can create an entire persona in direct contrast to who they really are. They are very calculating, callous, without a conscience, pathological liars, remorse-free, and dangerous. Their personality is both inherited and developed through a traumatic and abusive childhood. Psychopaths, unlike Machiavellians and Narcissists, can instantly read the emotions of others and calculate how to use it to their advantage without any emotional response. They have no problem hurting others, but it is always for a purpose, unlike Sadists.
Sadism. Sadists are a part of the Anti-Social Personality Disorder. In the past, they had a separate diagnosis under the old DSM formats. The name Sadism comes from Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) a French philosopher and writer. His works combined philosophy with sexual fantasies and violent behavior. Sadists are individuals who crave cruelty. It is not clear whether this behavior is inherited, developed or learned. Not all sadism is sexual or involves killing, rather it is about inflicting pain on others that Sadists find exciting or pleasurable. Unlike Psychopaths, they are not as calculating about the abusive behavior, instead, it is all self-pleasuring.
Identifying. Jonason and Webster devised a quick scale called the Dirty Dozen which can help to spot a Triad boss. Each item is rated on a 7-point scale as it applies to the person.
- I tend to manipulate others to get my way.
- I tend to lack remorse.
- I tend to want others to admire me.
- I tend to be unconcerned with the morality of my actions.
- I have used deceit or lied to get my way.
- I tend to be callous or insensitive.
- I have used flattery to get my way.
- I tend to seek prestige or status.
- I tend to be cynical.
- I tend to exploit others toward my own end.
- I tend to expect special favors from others.
- I want others to pay attention to me.
The higher the score, the more likely the person is a Triad. Unfortunately, there is no scale yet to measure the Tetrad, as Sadists can be difficult to spot.
After learning more about the Dark Triad, Donald began to look for another job. His boss, sensing the departure tried to make it difficult for Donald to leave at first. But Donald faked poor work performance and family issues to get away. It worked, and he left without consequence. Thankful to get away, Donald was happy to take another job that paid less for a while.