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Beware Bullying Personalities Displaying - Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Subclinical Psychopathy

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Beware Bullying Personalities Displaying - Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Subclinical Psychopathy

From Post by hrdaily:

Understanding the motives and characteristics of "Dark Triad" personality types can help employers minimise workplace bullying risks, according to experts.

In their new book, Workplace Bullying, Fair Work Commission Vice President Joseph Catanzariti and clinical psychologist Keryl Egan note that many HR professionals are reluctant to consider bullying behaviour dysfunctional or pathological, as psychological labels are prone to misuse.

"Nevertheless, denial of the existence of psychopathology in the workplace is neither possible nor helpful," and it's useful to understand the problematic personalities at work and what motivates bullying behaviour.

Three personalities associated with deliberate bullying behaviour fall within "the Dark Triad" of subclinical narcissism, machiavellianism, and subclinical psychopathy.

Each of these personalities has a "bright side" (they are respectively considered creative and innovative, good strategists, and fearless), and these people often make their way into leadership positions, the authors say. Usually, by the time the costs of their destructive behaviour become apparent, it is too late and the organisation has difficult decisions to make.

"Knowing the type of bullying personality is valuable as it will help to determine whether there is a possibility of remediation or changing destructive behaviours."


Narcissists are motivated overall by a need to regulate their self-esteem and to assert their superiority, Catanzariti and Egan say.

"When the narcissistic personality encounters disagreement or perceives a threat, it leads to bullying, undermining and manipulation of others to preserve self-esteem and dominance," even in cases where the threat is more anticipated than real, they say.

Catanzariti and Egan advise that managers of these people should:

  • not be influenced by their charm or "playing the victim";
  • be aware that narcissistic personalities become socially averse in the long-term;
  • clarify the organisation's expectations of behaviour and psychological safety;
  • inform the alleged bully about detailed psychosocial safety policies;
  • assess through interviews and history whether they can collaborate without harming others; and
  • consider giving them short-term projects (the boredom associated with longer-term projects is one of the factors known to lead to bullying).


People who match a machiavellian profile are motivated by money, power and influence. They are cynical, amoral, skillful manipulators, possess a higher drive and leadership abilities, and exploit duplicitous tactics to achieve their goals.

These employees can be hard to detect, but the authors say managers can minimise their bullying risks if they:

  • insist on a firm psychological contract and emphasise obligations to people;
  • implement strong boundaries from the highest authority;
  • make sure the organisation has sufficient structure to contain this individual; and
  • monitor for deception and callous disregard for others

Subclinical psychopathy

Subclinical psychopathic individuals bully others in a serial and predatory way, often addicted to the excitement of seeking out new targets on a regular basis.

These personalities are motivated by power, dominance, and self-interest. They are manipulative, callous, antisocial, risk takers, lack anxiety or fear and have low impulsive control.

Catanzariti and Egan's tips for managers of these personalities include:

  • monitor and document patterns of serial predatory bullying;
  • create strong controls above them and emphasise the heirarchy's dominance;
  • name the unspeakable – describe the impact and consequences of serial, sadistic bullying;
  • assess the psychopathic level of chaos and risk taking;
  • be prepared to face down threats of litigation when holding the bully accountable;
  • assess the person's risk of injuring others and the organisation's liability; and
  • assess the company's appetite for risk and the level of energy and courage in the leadership, and ensure there is active support in senior leadership before taking action.

The authors recommend assessing candidates at the recruitment stage and being alert to signs of the Dark Triad personalities.

If these individuals are already employed and exhibiting bullying behaviour, HR professionals must resist being charmed and manipulated, "stay at the helm", and maintain the courage to terminate them in spite of threats.


Learn about Barringtons Prevention of Workplace Bullying online training  here.

Blayne Webb, Director, Barringtons



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