“Dark Side” Personality Traits: Not so Bad after all?

Some have suggested that there are two sides to personality: the bright side and the dark side.  The bright side relates to those generally “favourable” aspects of working behaviour like attention-to-detail and emotional maturity.  The dark side relates to the supposedly dysfunctional parts of work-related behaviour like self-importance, moodiness, and impulsiveness.  However, this distinction isn’t as black and white as it may appear.

Over the past ten years a team of researchers have collected solid evidence that some dark side traits can actually be favourable for certain jobs.  Before we discuss these, it is important to note that the authors did find some dark-side traits consistently associated with lower occupational success.  These were:

  • Moodiness.  Anyone who has read the latest Steve Jobs biography may disagree with this, but in general those mercurial types who are moody and hard to please experience lower success.
  • Cynicism.  Those persistently doubting of others’ behaviour also tend to be self-doubting, risk-aversive, and poorer performers.
  • Excessive independence.  Those who want to do everything their own way and ignore others’ requests don’t tend do well either, particularly in a team environment. 

Other dark side traits were found to be favourable in one aspect of the job, but counterproductive in another.  For example, more eccentric and imaginative individuals tended to be less reliable, but also far more successful in sales roles.  Know some colleagues like this? 

Furthermore, it seems some dark traits are actually largely beneficial.  For example, perfectionism (excessive orderliness and dutifulness) was found to be associated with high levels of integrity and low amounts of counterproductive work behaviours (for those who attended my colleague Dr. Paul Wood’s presentation on counterproductive workplace behaviour this may sound familiar).  This behavioural style was also related to success in any area of business requiring strict quality control or tight methodical systems.  Makes sense right? 

Finally, some other dark side traits were found to be predictive of management potential, sales potential, and clerical potential:

  • Unusually high self-confidence.  Found especially  amongst CEOs.
  • “Colourfulness”.  This is the dark side trait representing those more “dramatic”, and “animated” types.
  • Risk-taking and imaginative thinking.  These were associated with all three success-potential areas, but were especially predictive of sales potential.  (Perhaps the good sales people are the ones that are typically hard to manage?  Can you relate to that?)

If you would like assistance in considering the impact of dark side behaviours in your next selection process, then please feel free to contact your local OPRA office.

Furnham, A., Trickey, G., and Hyde, G. (2012)  Bright aspects to dark side traits: Dark side traits associated with work success.  Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 908-913.


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