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An Introduction To The Dark Side Of Personality


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Matt Stewart, Manager of Product Development at TalentLens UK, introduces the dark side of personality at work.

The dark side of personality is an area of study involving the amplification of dysfunctional tendencies; which has in recent years, attracted significant interest from the Industrial and Organisational psychology community.

The implications of leadership / managers possessing these traits are potentially severe to the individual, the team and the organisation as a whole. 

In many ways the dark side of behaviour at work is more interesting than the light

Indeed, the above quotation from the book Bad Apples (2004) by Adrian Furnham & John Taylor reflects the view subscribed to by many commentators that in terms of potential corporate impact, dark side characteristics can be as important as the so called bright side of personality.


Mr Brightside

The bright side of personality looks at someone’s typical approach to their everyday life, such as how they react to normal events on a daily basis.

It defines the characteristics other people might use to describe an individual.

For example, “Person Y is very outgoing and extroverted” (i.e. Sociability) or “Person Z is persuasive and a great influencer” (i.e. Dominance).

The bright side of personality is an accepted explanation, spanning 50 years of academic interest and converging agreement on the ‘Big Five’, suggesting that we think about and describe one another in terms of 5 broad themes:

Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness & Neuroticism.


Beast of Burden

The dark side of personality focuses on dysfunctional tendencies – these are negative characteristics that surface under certain conditions, such as stress.

It is concerned with potentially problematic areas of someone’s personality that appear due to exposure to pressurised environments; for example, situations at work where someone has let their guard down. 

It can manifest itself through apparently ‘routine’ behaviour, such often overplaying one’s strengths.

If someone is extremely meticulous, they might be more likely to be hard working and have high standards. However, under certain conditions, this tendency may turn into perfectionism, with more time spent on a piece of work than necessary. They may also fail to delegate due to a concern that their staff cannot work to their high standards.


What does this mean?

Dark side characteristics appear under certain conditions – this won’t necessarily be obvious, even if displayed on a more regular basis. However, a common theme is that negative tendencies arise in ‘abnormal’ situations.

People displaying potentially troublesome characteristics in the workplace are more likely to imbue negativity in some form. 


Stress is key

A scenario common to industrial & organisational environments is when someone is stressed or under pressure and reacts in an inappropriate manner. There can be many triggers, such as: 

  • Health or financial worries
  • If set a strict deadline to meet
  • Tunnel vision when focused on particular task - forgetting responsibilities
  • If someone feels like they’re being persecuted or their job is at risk
  • In unfamiliar surroundings or situations
  • Multiple or seemingly unachievable demands

It is important to note that when individuals who are predisposed to displaying potentially negative characteristics are operating in consistently high pressure roles, their dark side traits may be almost constantly displayed.

This may be particularly applicable for those working in environments where risk is involved and where mistakes may well be fatal or life threatening.        


The excess of success

Conversely, times of extreme pressure may not be the only trigger. Other scenarios which can result in the manifestation of negative tendencies include:

  • Promotion
  • Bored
  • During periods of over relaxation
  • When interacting with people that an individual doesn't need to impress



These depend upon many factors  - needless to say, individuals possessing dysfunctional tendencies operating in high pressure or risk situations (eg. armed services, banking, healthcare) could be potentially be of concern.

Or those in roles requiring absolute self control and self monitoring (eg. train / bus drivers, pilots, teachers, social workers), since their actions could affect colleagues and members of the public, as well as themselves.


As illustrated in the above chart by Furnham (2013), there are many permutations where a perceived competency can present itself as potential dark side if a suitable trigger occurs.  


What is measured?

Dark side characteristics or dysfunctional tendencies measure potentially problematic personality characteristics, not clinical personality disorders.

They’re based on the same model, but focus is more on workplace functioning and assessing the behaviours and the associated risk that they could have a negative impact on someone’s performance.



From an individual's standpoint, it is important for someone to be aware of their dysfunctional tendencies, as awareness can help the individual to learn strategies to alleviate the negative effects.

Equally, from the organisation's perspective, HR practitioners are conversant with competencies they want staff to display and with the undesirable behaviours that they would choose to avoid at all costs. As discussed earlier, awareness about measuring competencies is high - there is a slight knowledge vacuum within industry in terms of how to pin point dark side characteristics.


Roles to focus on 

  • Leadership roles - dark side tendencies can be key to identifying potential leadership derailment
  • High risk positionswhere abuse could lead to risk to the individual, colleagues, clients, general public, society and the environment (eg. security, banking, transport, prison guard etc.)
  • Roles requiring absolute discipline and expediency - where total self control is required (eg. bus, train, truck drivers, pilots, air traffic controllers)
  • Positions in which people deal with offensive, dangerous, costly goods or strict procedures
  • Jobs in which people deal with vulnerable people (education, social work, prisoners, public security)
  • Roles dealing with highly sensible and confidential information


A solution

TalentLens offers TD-12, which is based upon the work of Rolland & Pichot (2007). It can reveal deficits in interpersonal work styles, which provides useful information for selection purposes. 

Results can be used to generate interview questions. This is particularly important for senior level appointments because of the influence a poor managerial level employee can have on the rest of the organisation. 

TD-12 helps to uncover the dysfunctional tendencies which are vital for the recruitment of safety critical roles, in particular.

For more information, please feel free to get in touch on 0845 630 8888 or info@talentlens.co.uk



Furnham, A. (2013). The dark side of leadership Management Derailment. Paper presented at the 2nd EAWOP WorkLab, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Furnham, A., & Taylor, J. (2004). Bad Apples: Identify, Prevent & Manage Negative Behavior at Work. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Psychology Today. (2014). The Dark Side of Personality. 

http://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201204/the-dark-side-personality [downloaded November 17, 2014]


Matt Stewart